JERUSALEM – As their leaders prepare to return to the negotiating table for the first time in 20 months, many Israelis and Palestinians already agree on one point: Chances for success are slim.

Despite U.S. hopes that President Obama’s peace summit next month will mark a turning point in the decades-old conflict, people on both sides say the real breakthrough is not bringing Israeli and Palestinian Authority negotiators face to face again, but closing the longstanding gaps in their positions and rebuilding shattered trust.

Moreover, Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that controls the Gaza Strip and refuses to recognize Israel, immediately rejected the peace talks. Some worry the Islamist group might boost its campaign of violent resistance to sabotage the process.

“So they’re in talks? What’s the big achievement,” asked Israeli opposition lawmaker Meir Sheetrit. “It’s just a ritual. I’m skeptical that they will arrive at any agreement. Chances are very poor.”

Though his Kadima Party is a staunch advocate of the peace process, Sheetrit doubted whether conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to make concessions, such as dismantling West Bank settlements, that leaders of the Palestinian Fatah faction say are necessary for them to consider making a deal.

“The price of peace is well known by everyone,” Sheetrit said. “We’ve been talking about this for 15 years. We don’t need to waste any more time. But Netanyahu and his coalition are not ready to pay the price.”


Right-wing supporters of Netanyahu agree that the peace talks are doomed, but for different reasons.

“President Obama is going to be the eighth consecutive American president who failed to improve the situation in the Middle East because he’s exploring the same path of establishing a Palestinian state,” said Danny Dayan, head of the Yesha Council, which represents many of the 300,000 Jewish settlers in the West Bank. “It’s a futile path. It will not happen.”

Dayan’s group and others have launched a lobbying and advertising campaign to pressure the prime minister against reducing settlement construction. Some have threatened to try to bring down his government coalition over the issue.

“We don’t deal with toppling or king-making, but we have quite strong leverage on the political system,” Dayan said.

Palestinians, meanwhile, are also struggling with political divisions between the Fatah faction, which has agreed to the new talks, and Hamas, which has authority over the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza.

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh on Friday called direct peace talks a “deception” designed to placate Palestinians. The group, which has long refused to disavow the use of violence, says it will not abide by any peace deal reached in Washington.


For Fatah, led by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, another round of failed peace talks could spell political disaster. Abbas has bet his career on renouncing violence and pursuing peace talks with Israel. But after nearly two decades of negotiations, Palestinians still have no state and frustration on the streets is high.

Dayan warned that failed peace talks could trigger renewed violence.

“They raise expectations, and when it’s impossible to fulfill those expectations, there is frustration,” he said. “In the Middle East, frustration usually leads to a new wave of violence.”

The collapse of peace talks during the Clinton administration in 2000 helped trigger the start of the second intifada.


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