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Israeli and Palestinian officials hold informal dialog

By Mick B. Krever and Richard Roth, CNN
  • No progress: Just stating and re-stating of well-established policy and pre-conditions
  • Both sides trade "racist" accusations
  • Discussions fell apart when Netanyahu became prime minister

New York (CNN) -- High-ranking officials from Israel and the Palestinian Authority came together Friday in one of their first meetings since an Israeli attack on a boat delivering aid to the Gaza Strip at the end of last month.

The discussion, which the two participants insisted did not constitute negotiations, was organized by the International Peace Institute, a think-tank based in New York.

Deputy Israeli Prime Minister Dan Meridor and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat spoke about the way forward in the Middle East peace process. Though the intention was to bring to light a way for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations to progress, the afternoon ended with little more than the stating and re-stating of well-established policy positions and pre-conditions.

Erakat insisted the Palestinians were ready to come to the table as soon as Israel agrees to stop settlement expansion into the West Bank and restart negotiations initiated by former-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Those discussions fell apart at the end of 2008 with the election of current Prime Minister Benajmin Nenyahu.

Meridor said that the Israelis were committed to a two-state solution, but accused the Palestinian Authority of failing to make "tough choices" and taking an "all or nothing" approach. He also said that the Palestinians did not sense the urgency of the situation, and were holding out for a perfect solution.

An animated Erakat, speaking loudly and gesturing with his hands, referred multiple times to the Israeli policy towards the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as "racist." Meridor responded by saying that the Palestinian Authority's insistence that Jews not be able to settle in the West Bank was itself racist.

Both Meridor and Erakat said that the dispute between Israelis and Palestinians is not based on religion, and therefore the solution should be political. This is of particular importance, according to Meridor, because "Gods never compromise." Erakat echoed this sentiment, saying "God is not a land broker."

Meridor nonetheless quoted the late Pope John Paul II saying that Jerusalem is holy to Jews, Christians and Muslims alike, but was promised only to the Jews. The remark drew audible gasps from the audience.

Erakat threw his hand to his forehead in desperation.

Both officials said security concerns were chief amongst the impediments to negotiation. Meridor talked about the "hundreds" of rockets that were pointed at Israel from the Gaza Strip. Erakat said that he was the "most disadvantaged negotiator," having no military force to back him up should diplomacy fail.

Though Erakat acknowledged that the United States had a vested security interest in the outcome of the conflict, he insisted that only the Palestinians could help themselves.