Thursday, November 29, 2007

VOA Interview

Mixed Reactions Voiced by Israelis and Palestinians to Annapolis Peace Conference
By Jim Teeple

Street musicians serenade the strollers on Jerusalem's Ben Yehuda Street. The pedestrian promenade is where Israelis come to stroll, shop and relax. Some, like Tamar Zeldon, said they are thinking about the Annapolis peace conference, where Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas pledged to resume peace negotiations aimed at the creation of a Palestinian state.

"I always hope something will change, because we really need change. Yes, I think if they take it seriously it will make a real difference," he said.

While some Israelis like Tamar Zeldon are optimistic, others like Jerusalem lawyer Daniel Mauden are less so. Mauden says he hopes for the best, but says he is not confident that leaders on either side can do the job.

"I do not think the Palestinians are to blame, and I do not think the Israelis are to blame," he said. "I think that in the past few years they do not have the leadership they deserve, and we do not have the leadership that we deserve. We have two leaders that really cannot do a lot."

About 450,000 Israelis live in West Bank settlements and in East Jerusalem, land Israel captured in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. West Bank settlers and their political supporters are already denouncing the conference. Settler spokesman, Yisrael Medad, tells VOA that if Prime Minister Olmert tries to dismantle West Bank outposts, as he has pledged to do, he will not survive politically.

"I presume his coalition will collapse. He is one of the weakest prime ministers Israel has had in a long time - politically, in a judicial sense in terms [of] ongoing criminal investigations, and his health issues. I do not think that the year will bring us the peace that he wants. The peace he wants I do not want," said Medad.

Just a few kilometers from downtown Jerusalem, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, there is also widespread skepticism among Palestinians about what might develop from the Annapolis peace conference. Lawyer Mahmoud Qua'reem's reaction is typical of many in Ramallah.

"We have long experience with Israelis. They do not want to make peace. The Israelis are not qualified to make peace because they want to take all of Palestine," he said.

Polls show that about 70 percent of Palestinians supported the Annapolis peace conference, but most also believe that few tangible results will come from the effort. Palestinian political analyst Hani al-Masri says he is not hopeful, but at least now people are once again aware of the plight of Palestinians.

"Now the Palestinian issue is at the head of the agenda of the whole world. Now they do not blame the Palestinians like before. That is good, but not enough," said al-Masri.

There are Palestinians in Ramallah who have hope that benefits may result from the Annapolis conference. Taxi driver Mahmoud says it is time for Israelis and Palestinians to end their decades-long conflict.

"I hope that something changes in our lives here," he said. "Stop the bloody killing, stop the soldiers and the problems we have here in the West Bank. We, each one in our beliefs, we believe in peace for all. We can live together."

Palestinians in Ramallah and Israelis who live a few kilometers away have little in common. But, many in both communities say they hope the Annapolis peace conference will lead to an easing of tensions and a change for the better.

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