Analysis: Mideast Meetings Feel Like 'Dialogue of the Deaf'

by Bill Neely /  / Updated 

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JERUSALEM — They haven't met in years. They won't meet this week. And they keep hurling insults at each other.

Welcome to the latest round of talks aimed at resolving Israeli-Palestinian violence. Front and center are Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority's Mahmoud Abbas — two leaders who haven't officially sat at the same negotiating table since Sept. 2010 despite repeated outbreaks of violence and outright war since then between Israelis and Palestinians.

Netanyahu has called Abbas a liar and accused him of inciting violence by "fanning the flames." Abbas has said that Israelis desecrate a Jerusalem holy site with their "dirty feet" and charged that Israel was committed to the "ethnic cleansing" of his people.

Secretary of State John Kerry held talks with Netanyahu in Berlin on Thursday. Kerry stressed that steps were needed to "take us beyond the condemnation and beyond the rhetoric."

Next Kerry will move on to Jordan's capital Amman where he'll hold talks with Abbas.

Jordan's King Abdullah, traditionally a mediator in the conflict, has refused to meet Netanyahu because of his handling of the explosive issue that sparked the current wave of violence — Jewish access to the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem which houses both the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Temple Mount.

However, Netanyahu last week told reporters that he was "perfectly open" to meeting with Abbas.

The Israeli leader has a famously fractious relationship with President Barack Obama, so little is expected from his talks with Kerry and his aides say he is not ready to make any concessions to Palestinians.

Image: The Dome of the Rock mosque
The Dome of the Rock mosque at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP via Getty Images

Netanyahu will demand the U.S. puts pressure on Abbas to condemn the latest stabbings of Israelis and to stop what he considers incitement by Palestinian officials.

But on the eve of his trip to Germany Netanyahu was accused of incitement himself, including by many Jews in Israel. He claimed that a Palestinian leader in the 1940s was responsible for persuading Adolf Hitler to begin the Holocaust against Europe's Jews. Even though Netanyahu is the son of a famous historian, on this issue he is factually incorrect.

Palestinians accused him of stirring up hatred against them.

Abbas, meanwhile, is a leader of much diminished influence, at least on the streets of Hebron in the occupied West Bank and Jerusalem. The teenagers who are stabbing Israelis and throwing rocks don't listen to him.

Many Palestinians point to 10 years of his leadership in which their cause of statehood has advanced little and their economic situation has hardly improved. Three-quarters of the Arab residents of East Jerusalem live below Israel's official poverty line. Settlements are still being built and Palestinians feel Abbas has been powerless to stop them.

Image: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Wednesday.Majdi Mohammed / AP

These meetings will almost certainly achieve little — they may even prove to be a dialogue of the deaf. They will almost certainly not stop the wave of attacks that have so far killed 10 Israelis and at least 50 Palestinians — including 26 labeled by Israel as attackers.

They may be more useful in asking the longer-term question: "If these attacks die down, what then?"

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