Isreal's president Shimon Peres met President Obama at the White House today. The World's Aaron Schachter reports on reaction from Israelis and Palestinians.
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LISA MULLINS: President Barack Obama's to-do list in his young administration has included an extraordinary array of challenges, foreign and domestic. Today, Mr. Obama is turning his attention to another one: the search for peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. To that end, he met this afternoon at the White House with Shimon Peres. The Israeli President says his country will work with the United States to achieve peace in the Middle East. But The World's Aaron Schachter reports from Jersualem that neither Israelis nor Palestinians are brimming with optimism.
AARON SCHACHTER: Palestinians held a rally recently in Silwan, in Arab East Jerusalem. The demonstrators were protesting Israel's planned demolition of 88 homes in their village. The Israeli government says the homes were built illegally, and it wants to expand an archeological site it claims was built by King David. But what Palestinians see is an Israeli land grab. And that land is part of what the Palestinians envision as their future capital in Jerusalem. This speaker said, â€œJerusalem is like one body. If there is pain in one part, the whole system will feel the pain.â€ Other speakers also denounced Israel's plan to demolish the homes, as well as continued settlement expansion in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. But it's not just Palestinians who are grumbling. Many Israelis worry that their new leader and America's new leader are not on the same page. Some analysts say that the concern is legitimate.
NICHOLAS PELHAM: The Netanyahu way forward and the Obama way forward do appear at the moment to be at odds.
SCHACHTER: Nicholas Pelham is with the International Crisis Group. We met at a cafe in Jersualem. He points out that Mr. Obama is pressing for a two-state solution, which would require the removal of Jewish settlements on Palestinian land. But Pelham says Israel's current governing coalition includes parties that not only oppose removing Israeli settlements, but support more of them.
PELHAM: Although you have a fairly fragmented right wing, what they can agree on is that they are going to continue to seek to expand settlement in Jerusalem in the seam zones between the '48 border and the Wall, and in the case of some of the parties beyond the Wall as well, beyond the separation barrier.
SCHACHTER: Other analysts say, â€œHold on a minute. Give Benjamin Netanyahu a chance.â€ Gerald Steinberg chairs the Political Science department at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv. He says Netanyahu isn't necessarily against a deal on settlements. But first, Steinberg says, the Israeli Prime Minister needs the US to press the Arab world to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
GERALD STEINBERG: That's really the core issue. It's been the issue since 1947 â€“ does Israel have a right to exist as a sovereign, equal member of the international community? Any agreement from an Israeli point of view that's going to be stable has to recognize that. Otherwise, what's the point? We'll just be back into conflicts over narratives and history immediately after any document is signed.
SCHACHTER: Prime Minister Netanyahu told a pro-Israel lobby this week that his coalition is prepared to resume peace negotiations without any delay and without any preconditions. But Palestinians say they've heard that kind of talk before. Today, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that Netanyahu must address several problems if he wants Palestinians to take him seriously. The Israel Prime Minister should immediate freeze settlement activity, allow complete freedom of movement for Palestinians, and end what Erekat called â€œthe seige of Gaza.â€ But Israeli spokesman Yigal Palmor says Palestinians should reserve judgment.
YIGAL PALMOR: Why don't we wait until they really start working together and see if we have reasons to despair or not. To point out that there are problems in itself means nothing. There are problems, therefore, we need to work together to solve them. That's obvious. The fact that there are problems only makes the necessity to work for a solution more urgent.
SCHACHTER: The situation certainly is urgent for those families facing the demolition of their houses. They worry about how long they'll have to wait for a solution, and if their homes will still be standing when one is reached. For The World, I'm Aaron Schachter, in Jerusalem.