Armed Conflicts, Development & Aid, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights, North America | Analysis

MIDEAST: Scepticism Marks Peace Talks Launch

Analysis by Jim Lobe

WASHINGTON, Sep 3 2010 (IPS) - While all parties maintained a spirit of cordiality and mutual understanding, no new promises emerged from this week’s talks between the leaders of Israel and the Palestine Authority (PA) that offered tangible hope for a major breakthrough in resolving the more than 60-year-old conflict.

Concretely, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed to meet again in two weeks – and roughly every two weeks thereafter – as part of an effort to work out what U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell described as a “framework agreement” that would lay the groundwork for a final peace treaty to be negotiated within a year.

They will be joined at the next meeting not only by Mitchell himself, but also by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton whose prominent role in hosting Thursday’s talks at the State Department appeared designed to highlight the degree to which the administration of President Barack Obama is taking ownership of the process.

Obama, who met one-on-one with Netanyahu and Abbas Wednesday, underlined the importance of progress toward a final settlement during a White House dinner that evening for the two leaders; as well as for visiting Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah II, and the Quartet’s Special Envoy, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

“…[W]e know that the status quo is unsustainable – for Israelis, for Palestinians, for the region and for the world,” he said. “It is in the national interests of all involved, including the United States, that this conflict be brought to a peaceful conclusion.”

Obama has made similar statements in the past, and perhaps the most important question left hanging as his guests flew homeward was how seriously he meant those words; specifically, how hard he is prepared to push Israel – by far the strongest of the two parties – to make what Netanyahu called a “historic compromise” for peace.

Thus far, the evidence is mixed at best.

While U.S. officials, before this week’s meeting, declared that Washington is prepared to offer “bridging proposals” on key issues – such as East Jerusalem’s status and the right of Palestinian refugees to return to land inside the Green Line – on which the two parties are certain to reach impasse, they have merely hinted under the cloak of anonymity that the administration might go further by tabling a comprehensive peace plan, presumably backed by the Quartet and interested Arab states.

Given the extreme weakness and division within the Palestinian camp compared to the relative strength of Netanyahu and his right-wing government, many experts here believe that putting forward such a plan – and imposing real costs on any party that does not accept it – is likely the only way to resolve the conflict.

But there is little indication that the administration is prepared to go that far.

While Clinton pledged Thursday that Washington will remain an “active and sustained partner” in the talks, she also stressed that “…[W]e cannot and we will not impose a solution. Only you can make the decisions necessary to reach an agreement and secure a peaceful future for the Israeli and Palestinian people.”

Moreover, few can forget the administration’s backing down on its demands early in the year that Israel implement a total freeze on Jewish settlement expansion on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.

Under pressure from Israel’s allies in Congress, including many Democratic lawmakers, the administration settled instead for a “voluntary” ten-month moratorium on settlement construction confined only to the West Bank. But, according to independent monitors, the moratorium has not resulted in any appreciable slowdown in settlement activity in the area.

The moratorium is due to expire Sep. 26, and Netanyahu made clear this week that he does not intend to renew it. Abbas, on the other hand, has promised to pull out of the new talks if the moratorium is not renewed.

As a result, U.S. officials are currently focused on working out a compromise with Netanyahu’s team that would give Abbas sufficient political cover to keep him at the table.

Such a compromise, according to U.S. officials, may result in a de facto moratorium that would nonetheless permit limited construction in the large settlement blocs along the Green Line that are likely to be annexed by Israel in any final settlement, in exchange for continued “restraint” on Jewish expansion in East Jerusalem, the closure of more Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank and the transfer of more control to Palestinian security forces there.

While that compromise may be sufficient to prevent a premature derailment of the talks, it will also likely be seen – particularly by Palestinians and Arab states – as yet another example of the administration’s reluctance to challenge Netanyahu even if, by doing so, it would enhance its badly tarnished credibility in the region.

Indeed, the fact that only the leaders of Egypt and Jordan – apart from Iraq, the two biggest recipients of U.S. aid in the Arab world – showed up to bless this week’s launch showed the degree to which Obama’s credibility in the region has declined over the past year.

Commentators also noted that Abbas’s decision to participate was opposed by virtually every active Palestinian faction except his own, Fatah, whose leadership was reported to be divided on the issue.

Still, some analysts insisted that all of the scepticism surrounding the talks – and Obama’s lack of commitment – could yet prove unfounded.

In contrast to his predecessors, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who pushed hard for a final Israeli-Palestinian settlement only in their last years in office, they point out, Obama has worked at it from his second day in office when he named Mitchell as special envoy.

Also unlike Clinton and Bush, he has repeatedly stressed, as he did again this week, that such a settlement served vital U.S. national-security interests, a point helpfully echoed by top Pentagon commanders who have publicly expressed concern that failure to advance a credible peace process makes their work in the region more difficult.

And, while Obama backed off from a confrontation with Netanyahu over settlements, that decision may have resulted more from political pressure from Democratic lawmakers concerned that hostility between the two men could hurt their ability to raise campaign funds from Jewish donors, in particular.

In this view, the test of Obama’s seriousness in pushing the current process forward – and possibly tabling a U.S. plan – will come only after the mid-term elections in November.

Moreover, the fact that he has set a one-year deadline, whose expiration will coincide with the launch of his presumed re-election campaign, “voluntarily and consciously rais[es] the bar of expectations,” according to Daniel Levy, a former Israeli peace negotiator who heads a Middle East Project at the New America Foundation here.

Finally, a growing number of analysts – a few of them from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party – believe this may be the last chance to achieve a two- state solution to the conflict, a point made explicitly by Obama Wednesday.

That – and Israel’s growing international isolation in the wake of the 2008-9 Gaza War and the ill-fated May 31 flotilla raid – may yet strengthen Obama’s hand in dealing with an Israeli leader as the process plays out, according to Levy.

Republish | | Print |

wordpress-the.menudeai.comcheaterboss.comgrammarly discounts for students