Israeli and Palestinian leaders have cleared the first hurdle in what promises to be difficult negotiations, vowing to try to settle core differences within a year and meet every two weeks.
In opening some four hours of talks in Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton acknowledged the “suspicion and skepticism” leading up to the meetings after scores of previous US administrations tried and failed to help resolve the decades-old Middle East conflict.
“I know the decision to sit at this table was not easy,” said Clinton, flanked by Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a chandeliered room at the State Department. “Thank you for your courage and commitment.”
The next round of talks was set for Sept. 14 and Sept. 15 in Egypt, possibly in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh. More negotiations are due every two weeks after that, after the leaders agreed they could achieve a peace deal within a year.
However, Netanyahu returned home yesterday to confront internal opposition to his peace moves, just as Abbas faced harsh criticism for agreeing to the talks at all. Netanyahu did not speak to reporters on his plane or at the airport.
In Washington, he had talked of creating a Palestinian state, a phrase he uttered for the first time just last year after strident opposition to the concept for two decades, and called for “mutual and painful concessions from both sides.”
Most Israeli analysts admitted to not knowing what was really on Netanyahu’s mind. Writing from Washington, veteran Yediot Ahronot columnist Nahum Barnea was uncharacteristically ambivalent.
“If this was just for show, Netanyahu played it well,” Barnea wrote. “But perhaps this was not only a show. Not this time.”
Netanyahu’s Likud Party has been among the strongest backers of Israel keeping much or all of the West Bank and east Jerusalem and expanding Jewish settlements on land the Palestinians want for a future state.
Concessions of the type Netanyahu indicated, like giving up parts of the West Bank, while not sufficient for the Palestinians, would likely bring down his coalition government or force him to replace his hawkish partners with moderates.
Gilad Erdan, a Likud Cabinet minister, said Netanyahu would forge a middle path. He told Israel Radio that Netanyahu is committed to keeping as much of the West Bank as possible while finding a solution for living with the Palestinians.
“But the prime minister, unlike previous leaders, will not sign fictitious agreements that instead of bringing peace, brought terrorism and led to thousands of rockets being fired at us,” Erdan said.
Abbas has threatened to pull out of the talks if Netanyahu does not extend a partial West Bank settlement construction freeze set to expire at the end of the month.
Palestinian political activist Mustafa Barghouti joined a demonstration against resumption of the talks, though he has supported peace efforts in the past. He charged that Israel’s settlement construction is sabotaging chances for peace.
“We fear that all sides are losing the last opportunity for a two-state solution [of a Palestinian state next to Israel] … What we heard [in Washington] did not change our minds at all,” he said yesterday.
Barghouti said Abbas is in a weaker position now than any other Palestinian leader who has opened peace talks with Israel because of internal opposition to his concessions from elements of Abbas’ Palestine Liberation Organization as well as radicals like Hamas.
KEEP AWAY: People should wear a mask in places where they cannot follow social distancing rules, the CECC said, adding that it would publish detailed guidelines today The Central Epidemic Command Center (CECC) yesterday announced 16 new cases of COVID-19, including two domestic cases, as it urged people to practice social distancing in public spaces by keeping a distance of at least 1m when outdoors and 1.5m indoors. Minister of Health and Welfare Chen Shih-chung (陳時中), who heads the center, said that seven of the new cases tested positive upon their arrival at the airport, four were under home quarantine, one was under home isolation and two were under self-health management, while the two domestic cases sought treatment on their own. The domestic cases are a man in his
Taiwan will negotiate with the WHO about its participation without Beijing’s help and intervention as more countries, including Australia and Japan, are partnering with Taiwan to curb the COVID-19 pandemic, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said yesterday. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a telephonic roundtable with reporters on Monday also supported Taiwan’s role in the WHO, saying the US Department of State would do its best to assist Taiwan’s “appropriate role” in the world’s highest health policy setting body, Voice of America reported. In a Japan Business Press report published on Sunday, Chinese Ambassador to Japan Kong Xuanyou (孔鉉佑) said
‘HEROIC’: A lack of personal protective equipment has led to high infection rates among health workers in places like Spain and Italy, a nurses’ association said More equipment is needed to protect the world’s nurses working on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic to save lives, the head of the International Council of Nurses (ICN) said. “They are heroic. I think there is no other way to describe what they are doing at this moment,” said Howard Catton, a British nurse who is the council’s CEO. Infection rates of 9 percent and 12 to 14 percent have been reported among health workers in Italy and Spain respectively, he said, adding that nurses have died in the two nations, as well as Iran and Indonesia. “We have no doubt
Japan’s ruling party yesterday proposed the nation’s biggest-ever stimulus package of ￥60 trillion (US$554 billion) as the COVID-19 pandemic locks the economy in a recession. The sum includes ￥20 trillion in fiscal measures with private initiatives and other elements likely making up the rest, the proposal by the Liberal Democratic Party showed. More than ￥10 trillion, or the equivalent of a 5 percentage point cut in the sales tax rate, would be handed out to the public in a combination of cash, subsidies and coupons, the plan showed. The proposal puts an initial figure on a stimulus package that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo