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Last Updated: Monday, 19 February 2007, 13:46 GMT
Rare summit yields slim pickings
By Matthew Price
BBC News, Jerusalem

If you live outside the Middle East you might wonder why journalists based in Jerusalem are often so dismissive about the prospects for peace these days.

A Palestinian man climbs over the separation barrier in the West Bank
Many obstacles to peace remain in place in the Middle East

You might be inclined to point out that, for the first time since June

2003, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders have sat down together with a senior US diplomat.

That is true, but it is just about the only positive sign at the moment.

Let's just state for the record that there may be some "peace initiative" being worked on in secret that we have not been told about. But I doubt it.

Did you see the press statement held after this three-way meeting?

"Nothing expected"

Condoleezza Rice stepped up in front of the microphone, on her own, without Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas, Rice, Olmert
All smiles but no substance after the summit

They did not even appear on the same podium together.

Condoleezza Rice said the meeting had been "useful and productive".

She said she would be back in Jerusalem soon.

We were not expecting anything, but what happened today shows how far we are from any sort of meaningful progress.

There is a huge hurdle that needs to be overcome before there can be movement. And I do not see how it can be overcome easily.

No recognition yet

Ever since Hamas won the Palestinian elections over a year ago, the US, the UN, Russia and the European Union have refused to deal with the Palestinian government. So too has Israel.

That is because Hamas refuses to recognise Israel. Its charter calls for the destruction of the country.

While Hamas remains in the government, and until it renounces violence, accepts Israel's right to exist, and agrees to adhere to past agreements between Israel and the Palestinians, Condoleezza Rice says there will be no dealings with the Palestinian government.

When I talk to senior Hamas figures, they tell me that they are not prepared explicitly to make the statements that the international community requires of them.

They argue that the former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat made similar commitments, and it got the Palestinians no closer to having their own state.

Pressure on Palestinians

It is true, however, to say that there are subtleties in Hamas's position which might allow the international community to modify its stance.

The US is no longer seen as an impartial arbiter in this region

It is also important to point out that Hamas has not carried out a suicide bombing in two and a half years. It was however part of a group that captured an Israeli soldier last summer.

But Ms Rice has again made it clear that if Hamas does not comply with the wishes of the US and Israel, there can be no recognition of the Palestinian government.

And, without that, how can there be meaningful talks?

There is another important issue to mention - the pressure is on the Palestinians at the moment, not Israel.

'Continued colonisation'

And yet Israel is constantly breaking international law.

Just drive through the occupied West Bank, and you will see Israel's settlements growing daily.

Under the first phase of the international peace plan known as the roadmap the Palestinians have to "end terror and violence".

Under the same plan the Israelis have to "freeze all settlement activity." Neither side is living up to their commitments.

Many - the Palestinians of course, but a lot of observers as well - see Israel's continued colonisation of Palestinian lands as the major obstacle to peace.

And yet these days, you do not hear the US telling Israel to stop its building.

The US is no longer seen as an impartial arbiter in this region.

So it should be no surprise that Ms Rice leaves here apparently empty-handed.


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