Middle East peace talks

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A new round of Middle East peace talks is now under way, and the goal is to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in one year. The World's Matthew Bell reports from Jerusalem, that the major players in this high-stakes drama are now facing the public relations challenge of their lives.

MARCO WERMAN: I'm Marco Werman, and this is The World. The clock is ticking. A new round of Middle East peace talks is now underway, and the goal is to reach a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict within a year. One key to success will be to build public support for the effort. And as The World's Matthew Bell reports from Jerusalem, the public relations challenge for the major players is formidable.

MATTHEW BELL: Today was the last Friday prayer for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. Two thousand Israeli police and security officers deployed in and around the Old City of Jerusalem to prevent possible clashes with Palestinian youth. The Muslim faithful made their way toward Al Aksa mosque, and the atmosphere was calm and quiet. But don't get used to it. That's the message from Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups.


BELL: Armed men in masks and military outfits lined up today in front of TV cameras in Gaza City. A spokesman for the militant wing of Hamas declared new cooperation between resistance groups, and he warned of more attacks against Israel in response to the peace talks. The threat follows two recent shooting incidents in the West Bank, both claims by Hamas, which killed four Israelis and wounded two others. The leader of the Lebanese militant group, Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, praised the attacks. He said, ?This is the way to free Jerusalem and Palestine.? From Iran, which supports both Hamas and Hezbollah, President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad sent a similar message.


TRANSLATOR: It is clear that the talks have failed. When no attention is given to the foundations of the problem, the rights of the Palestinian nation and the realities of the region, it's clear that the talks are doomed. I announce loudly here that the fate of Palestine is determined in Palestine and through the resistance of the Palestinian people, rather than in Washington, Paris, or London.?

BELL: And it's not just extremists who are denouncing negotiations with Israel. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is seen as a weak leader with a limited mandate. When the talks fail, as many Palestinians believe they will, experts say Abbas could be facing the end of his political career. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has his work cut out for him, too. His toughest challenge is the very group that voted him into office. Netanyahu's supporters ? or perhaps former supporters ? now remind him that he once disparaged the idea of Palestinian state, and he was a big supporter of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But Shimon Peres, the veteran statesman and Israel's current president, says he's behind what the Prime Minister is trying to do.

SHIMON PERES: The Prime Minister really expressed in a very clear and convincing way, the historic desire of the Israeli people to achieve peace on the basis of a two-states solution ? a Palestinian state, independent, demilitarized, but living in honor, in respect, deciding their own destiny, improving their economy.

BELL: Finally, there's Barack Obama. He's got a lot on his plate, which leads people in the Middle East to wonder why the American President is making a push for peace right now. Among Israelis, Mr. Obama faces a credibility problem. Gerald Steinberg is a political scientist at Bar Ilan University.

GERALD STEINBERG: In discussing a Palestinian state, a two-state solution, a withdrawal of Israeli forces, we have to take into account that this has to be very graduated, very carefully done, so that we don't end up with a situation where we're going to see another massive set of terror attacks and Israel's going to have to go back in, as what happened in the Oslo case, when that collapsed. Let's learn the lessons of the past.

BELL: One Israeli columnist today mocked President Obama as, quote, ?A smiling scarecrow with the ideology of a social worker and the diplomatic insights of Neville Chamberlain on acid.? A bit harsh, perhaps, but an example of how far Mr. Obama has to go to sell his plans for peace to Israelis. For The World, I'm Matthew Bell, in Jerusalem.