JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) - When Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators break bread at a Muslim feast in Washington on Monday, it will be a diplomatic breakthrough of sorts after almost three years of deadlock.
Back home, however, it seems Israelis and Palestinians hold out little hope for their leaders’ renewed peace drive, the outcome of months of intensive mediation by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to get the sides back to talks, with the hope of resolving a decades-old conflict.
“They (the Palestinians) want to wipe Israel out. These talks have no chance and we’ll be fighting for the next 200 years,” said Avi, as he sat in an Israeli cafe in Jerusalem, smoking a cigarette and reading the newspaper.
Twenty years of on-again-off-again negotiations, aimed at establishing a Palestinian state, coupled with several waves of deadly violence, have left people on both sides wary.
In Ramallah, a Palestinian city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank where the Palestinians have limited self-rule, taxi driver Nidal al-Zeer, 43, sat in his cab reading the newspaper.
“I have never seen them (Israel) agreeing to anything and there will never be peace. Jews do not want to make peace with us. They want the land and they want to rid us of our land,” al-Zeer said.
The last round of peace talks collapsed in 2010 in a dispute over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank, which the Palestinians want along with the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem for their future state.
About 350,000 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, along with some 2.5 million Palestinians, who say that the settlements deny them a viable and contiguous state. The international community regards the settlements as illegal.
Israel cites historical and biblical ties to the territory. It hopes to keep major settlement blocs in any future deal with the Palestinians, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also indicated he would give up smaller more isolated settlements.
One of those could be Amona, a settlement outpost that was the site of fierce clashes in 2006 between settlers and Israeli forces who tore down several homes there built without a permit.
“Amona lies at the foothills of Mount Hazor, where God promised the land to Abraham and his descendants and, as a Jew, living here moves me to my very core,” said Eli Greenberg, who lives in the outpost with his wife and eight children.
Greenberg, 40, says he is not worried about losing his home and believes Israel should extend its sovereignty over the entire West Bank, which Israel captured along with Gaza and East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war.
“They will be better off that way, a Palestinian state will not benefit them. Arab states are hardly Western democracies,” Greenberg said.
A poll published on Friday in the left-leaning Haaretz newspaper, however, found most Israelis may not share that view. Fifty-five percent of those polled said they would vote for a peace deal resulting in the establishment of a Palestinian state, with 25 percent against and 20 percent undecided.
But that same poll also found 69 percent believed the chances of concluding an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians was low.
“It’s about time we have these talks. Unfortunately I don’t believe anything good will come out of it, because both sides are not ready,” said Israeli Micha Perry, on a busy Jerusalem street.
ABBAS “WASTING PALESTINIANS’ TIME”
The Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research published a poll in June, while Kerry was still in the midst of his diplomatic push to get the sides back to the negotiating table, which showed similar sentiment among Palestinians.
Fifty-three percent supported the two-state solution, though 58 percent believed it was no longer practical due to Israeli settlements, and 69 percent thought the chances of establishing a Palestinian state in the next five years was slim to none.
The Palestinians have further reason to doubt as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has opted for talks with Israel, while his rivals, Islamist Hamas who rule Gaza, are against peace talks and do not recognize the Jewish state’s right to exist.
“Abbas is wasting the Palestinian people’s time. He should unite Gaza and the West Bank and then face the Israelis, stronger. They know he is weak, they can see it,” said Adel Abu Amr, a 40-year-old civil servant in Gaza City.
Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005 but has kept a naval blockade on the enclave since Hamas took it over in 2007 in a brief civil war with Abbas’ Fatah party. Israel and Hamas have fought several lethal rounds of violence since.
“Negotiations are good. We do not have a plane or a tank. Step by step we can take all the land,” said Rayya Abu Abaid, an 80-year-old woman from Gaza, whose only son, Fares, has spent more than 20 years in an Israeli jail.
Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Eli Berlzon in Jerusalem; Writing by Maayan Lubell; editing by Mike Collett-White