U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meet in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, today for the second round of top-level peace talks on the decades-long Israel-Palestine conflict. The first meeting, held two week ago in Washington, D.C., was met with cautious optimism. However, Netanyahu's recent pledge to continue building Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories has risked the peace efforts. Here are the challenges, tasks, and subtexts of today's Egypt meeting.

  • Settlements Could Derail Everything  Ha'aretz's Barak Ravid reports, "The Palestinians' 'all or nothing' strategy of insisting on a total freeze on West Bank settlement construction risks paralyzing Middle East peace talks in their infancy, officials close to the heart of negotiations warned Tuesday. ... 'Choosing to continue with settlements in any form means destroying the negotiations,' chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said on Tuesday. As well as the row over settlements, early talks have been marred by disputes over format and as she accompanies the leaders to the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's main aim will be to save negotiations from an early death. 'For me, this is a simple choice: no negotiations, no security, no state,' Clinton said en route to the talks."
  • ...And Yet They Continue  Ha'aretz's Nir Hasson writes, "In a move that could strike a blow at already fragile peace talks, Jerusalem city planners will in the coming weeks discuss a scheme to build over a thousand Jewish housing units beyond the Green Line, Haaretz learned on Tuesday. ... News of the Jerusalem debate, scheduled for early October, could be seen as a provocation by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who has repeatedly vowed to quit peace talks over Israeli settlement construction."
  • Must Agree on Mutual Border ASAP  The Christian Science Monitor's Joshua Mitnick writes, "In order to defuse the settlement dispute, some in Israel and the US have suggested that the sides immediately agree on a mutual border that would allow Israel to annex some larger 'blocs' of settlements while swapping other territory in return. Such an agreement would delineate where future development is permissible and where it's off-limits. The Palestinians would get an idea of the contours of their future state, and the settlers would no longer live in limbo about their future. It would also build momentum for more difficult issues like control over Jerusalem and the the status of Palestinian refugees."
  • Many Israelis Cynical, Apathetic About Talks  Al Jazeera's Mya Guarnieri writes, "When asked whether they think the talks will succeed, some Israelis respond with a cynical laugh, but most reply with an odd mix of apathy, exhaustion and pessimism, coloured by hope." She speaks to several on-the-street Israelis. She writes of an Israeli attorney, "Like many Israelis, he is not following this round of talks closely because negotiations have failed in the past." An elderly Israeli shop owner she speaks to "questions the wisdom of excluding Hamas from talks. A handful of interviewees expressed the same concern; some cast doubts upon Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' legitimacy as a representative of the Palestinian people."
  • The Religious-Cultural Barriers  The Washington Post's Susan Thistlethwaite writes, "Is religion helping or hurting the current attempt to forge peace between the Jewish state and the Palestinians? Yes, is the answer. Yes religion is hurting the peace process; and yes, it is helping for without the engagement of religion, no enduring peace can be made. Not one of these three great religions is all about 'peace,' nor all about violence and the justification of war. The tradition of Just War is alive in the Abrahamic faiths, as is the even more problematic concept of 'Crusade.' So too are scriptural supports for pacifism. What is needed now is a breakthrough concept, one that does not talk about either war or peace in the abstract, but proposes 'practice norms,' that is, practical steps that have a proven historical track record of reducing conflict, and increasing the presence of justice and peace. Some of us, Christian, Jewish and Muslim, call this new concept Just Peace."