World and Nation

Mideast experts fear peace talks are too ambitious

JERUSALEM — As the Israeli and Palestinian leaders pledged at the peace summit meeting in Washington this week to try to resolve the core issues that have long divided their people and bloodied the land, a growing number of stakeholders here in Israel worried that the two sides were aiming too high.

Some of the nation’s veteran peace process practitioners, along with a range of policy experts and commentators, say that in order to stave off failure, Israel, the Palestinians and their American sponsors should first aim for a partial or interim solution because the gaps between the Israeli and Palestinian positions are too wide.

“We should have a Plan B,” said Oded Eran, director of the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University, who led Israel’s negotiating team with the Palestinians from 1999 to 2000.

“If you do not accept the status quo — which I do not — and you cannot obtain an agreement on all the core issues,” Eran said, “then the alternative is to go for a partial solution while keeping the ultimate political objectives of both sides in mind.”

Support for this interim approach has come from surprising quarters. Yossi Beilin, a former leftist member of parliament and government minister who was the architect of an unofficial 2003 blueprint for a final peace accord, told reporters in Jerusalem days before the summit meeting that he would advise President Barack Obama “to change the game.”

Concerned that outright failure in the talks could deteriorate into violence, Beilin said it was preferable to aim for an interim agreement, otherwise “negotiations may be worse than no negotiations.”

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, wants a comprehensive final settlement that will establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, with its capital in East Jerusalem. He also wants a solution for the Palestinian refugees of the 1948 war and their descendants — one that respects their demand for a right to return to their former homes in what is now Israel.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, says he wants an agreement that will mean the “end of the conflict and of claims on Israel.”