'Despite World Pressure, Little Optimism Over Mideast Talks'

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Barak Shitreet looks at the body of his wife who was killed by Palestinian gumen

TIME.com: The Israeli media is reporting that Prime Minister Sharon is under pressure from the U.S. to renew cease-fire talks with the Palestinians, in the interests of the anti-terrorism coalition. How is this playing in Israel?

Matt Rees: There's something of a battle going on within the cabinet between more hawkish elements who want to stop the planned meeting between Yasser Arafat and Shimon Peres, and those Labor Party ministers who want the meeting to go ahead. But it's not clear where Sharon himself stands — whether he's unhappy at the prospect of an Arafat-Peres meeting, or whether he's simply making Arafat suffer a little in order to get the meeting.

Some Labor officials are asking why it's okay for Sharon's son Omri to meet Arafat — as he did last week — but not for the foreign minister. But on the other side, more conservative ministers are insisting that such a meeting would be a mistake. It's not yet clear what Sharon himself thinks.

If Sharon allows the meeting to go ahead, does the perception of doing so under U.S. pressure help him or hurt him domestically?

Well, Sharon's aides deny there is U.S. pressure, and even if there is U.S. pressure, he's not really responding to it. So it's a moot point — if the pressure is there, then until now it hasn't been working. Sharon is still holding out for his 48 hours of calm before allowing the meeting, but attacks are continuing. Also, later this week is the first year's anniversary of the current intifada, and major demonstrations are planned in every Palestinian town. Those demonstrations will, in all likelihood, lead to clashes with the Israelis, and more deaths. There are also strong indications that Hamas or Islamic Jihad might want to hit Israel around that day. And then there's also big unknown of what the Israeli Arabs will do. Demonstrations are planned to commemorate those who died when police fired on them during a demonstration last year, and the big question is what kind of demonstrations they'll hold and how the police will respond.

So there's no sense there that the September 11 attacks ushered in a new moment that forces both parties to find ways to restore some sort of peace process?

Not really. Right now, there's a game of brinkmanship over when to allow the Peres-Arafat meeting, which will probably be held eventually. The roadmap of what they have to do remains in front of them, in the Mitchell Report. The international community is now simply being more forceful, saying "Just do it."

But not much else has really changed. So many members of Arafat's own Fatah organization, for example, have ignored his cease-fire call, saying it's not valid unless the Palestinians get something in return. Many of them believe that they will force Israel to back down by continuing this intifada for a number of years.

Given the fluidity of the situation across the region, even if Peres and Arafat do meet, and even if they do agree to push ahead with the Mitchell proposals, it will still be a very long bet to say that will lead to much of an improved situation here. The international pressure is designed more to put a lid on things than to use the opportunity to make a dramatic peace deal.