Based on the burst of optimism among the Palestinian leaders after the Washington summit, Israel's right wing might have reason to start worrying. Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa is not a person known for his praise of Israeli government policy, now or in the past, or for slips of the tongue. But over the weekend he had plenty of positive things to say at a political and economic conference in Italy - things that indicate a real change in Middle East diplomacy.
Participants at the Ambrosetti Forum didn't expect such remarks from Moussa, who had asked that he be allowed to make comments after a speech by President Shimon Peres. After Peres praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and said Israel was serious in its intentions to pursue peace, Moussa's audience expected him to make highly anti-Israel comments as he has made in the past.
Instead, he said that although he disagreed with some of Peres' points, he agreed with the Israeli president's positive view on the start of the direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, which he believed would be the final round of talks. He said that if a final peace agreement is reached establishing a Palestinian state in accordance with the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, the Arab peace initiative providing for a normalization between Israel and the Muslim world would be implemented in full. Also, Peres and Moussa expressed positive sentiments at a private meeting on Saturday.
In a similar vein, the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat quoted sources close to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as saying that the mood in the Palestinian delegation had taken a 180-degree turn for the better. The paper said the Palestinians expressed satisfaction over the American intention to include all core issues in an agreement to be reached by the end of next year. Moussa's remarks give added credibility to the report.
The optimism may be exaggerated or premature. Netanyahu faces difficulties in his coalition, notably from Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu and from Likud MKs who will make it hard for him to renew the construction freeze in the settlements. And it is unlikely Abbas can pursue the direct talks without an extension of the freeze.
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