More than 10 years after Bill Clinton summoned the leaders of Israel and the Palestinians to the Camp David summit, and nearly three years after George W. Bush announced at the Annapolis conference the start of direct negotiations, U.S. President Barack Obama will reinaugurate the Israeli-Palestinian track today.
In light of all the ceremonies that have not led to any change in the reality of life in the occupied territories, and lofty declarations of peace that have not been translated into the language of action, it's clear why the expectations of the Washington summit are low.
The controversy surrounding the construction freeze in the settlements is adding shrill tones to the formal event. Very powerful elements on both sides who oppose the establishment of a Palestinian state hope to add the Washington summit to the long list of failed peace efforts since the signing of the Oslo Accords at the White House in September 1993.
Above all, the meeting in Washington is a leadership test for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He refused to reply to the document on borders and security the Palestinians sent him during the proximity talks. He insisted that negotiations on the core issues take place during direct talks. Now, when Obama has forced Netanyahu's position on the Palestinians regarding the format, the time has come for the prime minister to show his outline for a final-status agreement.
Israel's changes in government have not changed a thing in the Palestinians' fundamental positions on the core issues. If Netanyahu really is, as he says, interested in reaching an agreement within a year, he had best not waste time on barren discussions about bargaining positions or unrealistic stances.
He must relate with all seriousness to the understandings reached laboriously and with forethought between Ehud Barak, now his senior partner, and Yasser Arafat, and between his predecessor Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Washington summit and the ensuing talks are also an important test of leadership for Abbas, who must prepare his public for painful compromises. And this is also a test for Obama, whose involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian track has thus far not led to real progress.
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