Israel and the Palestinians Countdown to Peace

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:07 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - One day after permanent status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were renewed, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak told his cabinet today that three scenarios are possible concerning the peace process: a comprehensive agreement, a long-term interim agreement, or a total breakdown of talks.

Israel and the Palestinians now have 364 days to resolve issues that have plagued the two peoples for "100 years," according to the terms of the Sharm el-Sheik agreement, signed last week in Egypt.

After a brief meeting last night, Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy and Palestinian Authority negotiator Mahmoud Abbas outlined the starting positions of their governments in the permanent status talks in a ceremony on the edge of the Gaza Strip.

Levy told a crowd of foreign dignitaries, including US special Mideast envoy Dennis Ross, "Israel's fundamental principle is that there will be no return to the 1967 borders."

"A united Jerusalem will remain the capital of the state of Israel. Blocs of settlements will remain under Israeli control. No foreign army will exist west of the Jordan River," Levy said.

Abbas declared that the Palestinians have a strong will to establish a state. "We aspire to live within the borders of an independent Palestinian state in the June 4, 1967, boundaries with holy Jerusalem as its capital," Abbas proclaimed, "and to achieve a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem in accordance with UN General Assembly Resolution 194 and to dismantle the Israeli settlements in accordance with Security Council Resolution 465."

However, despite the gap in positions and mindful of the difficulties, Abbas was still hopeful. "The road ahead of us is difficult and marked with obstacles, but as Palestinians and Israelis we are determined to remove our obstacles and difficulties so we can achieve a comprehensive and lasting peace for the peoples of the region, including the Syrians and Lebanese, on the basis of the principle of the return of land for peace," Abbas added.

Levy also said the coming talks would not be easy and said both sides would have to take "painful decisions." But he expressed the hope that the talks would bear great fruit.

"With God's help," Levy said, "this settlement will end 100 years of conflict, filled with suffering, between the two peoples."

Ross told reporters that "it's definitely going to be very difficult" to come to an agreement in one year, but maintained that it remains a possibility.

"With the right kind of spirit, with the right kind of determination, if the will is there and there is genuine effort to negotiate in good faith, I believe the parties are not being too ambitious. . . . [I]t is possible," Ross said.

However, the Israeli Minister of Regional Cooperation, Shimon Peres, the primary architect of the Oslo Accords, said the one-year goal was a bit ambitious.

"Barak can, of course, have his own assessment," Peres said in an interview with the Jerusalem Post, "but I believe that some issues will be impossible to sort out so quickly." Peres suggested the time frame of "roughly two years" to reach a permanent agreement and suggested postponing the issue of Jerusalem until the end.

Since the Sharm Memorandum was signed a week and a half ago, Barak suggested that if a permanent agreement could not be reached by next year that with the consent of both parties they could enter into a series of long-term interim agreements. However, the Palestinians have rejected such a move.