No resumption of Israel-Palestinian talks in sight

10:24, June 17, 2011      

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By Adam Gonn

Two senior United States diplomats are visiting Israel and the Palestinian territories in a bid to re-start peace negotiations.

Dennis Ross and David Hale arrived in the region on Wednesday and held talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Ross currently serves as an adviser to U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, while Hale is the U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East Peace Process. Hale assumed his position last month as his predecessor George Mitchell resigned, after two and half years in the position.

The main purpose of the visit is reportedly to find a way to be able to re-launch direct peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. The negotiations came to a standstill last September, as a ten-month Israeli freeze on construction in Jewish settlement on the West Bank came to an end.

The freeze, limited and only in certain areas, was implemented by Israel as a confidence-building measure requested by the U.S.. However, disagreements on the agenda of the talks between Israelis and Palestinians meant they ended without any results. Palestinian National Authority (PNA) President Mahmoud Abbas has refused to resume negotiations since the resumption of construction. Washington tried to get Israel to extend the freeze for one month so that negotiations could continue, but so far the American efforts have failed.

Since the stalemate in negotiations the Palestinians have been pushing for a United Nation resolution in September that would recognize an independent Palestinian state.

Israel and the U.S. oppose the move and Netanyahu was quoted by the Israeli daily Haaretz as saying that a "unilateral declaration of Palestinian state will create an impasse in negotiations."

Palestinian and Israeli analysts were doubtful if there was anything Ross and Hale could do to get negotiations going again. In addition, the analysts said that the fact that the U.S. hasn't been able to convince the Palestinians to drop the U.N. bid is a sign of deteriorating American regional influence.


Dr. Samir Awwad, of Birzeit University, told Xinhua that Ross and Hale would return home empty-handed.

"The Americans don't have any innovative or creative solution for the Palestinian question that will enable them to meet, at the same time, Palestinian legitimate demands and Israeli security concerns," Awwad said.

"The Americans want to prevent the Palestinians (from going) to the United Nations is very obvious," Awwad said, arguing that the reason why Washington wants to stop the vote is clear, "the answer is because the U.S. will lose in the U.N."

If the Palestinians want a U.N. resolution that is binding for Israel, then the vote needs to be taken in the U.N. Security Council where the U.S. has veto power and where Washington has clearly intended to use it.

However, if the resolution wins that backing of the U.N General Assembly, its result won't be compulsory. However, the Palestinians believe they have enough votes for the bid to pass.

Either way, Awwad argued, it would be a defeat for the U.S. as "it can't stop this, and it will show a serious challenge to U.S. hegemony over world affairs, and in particular over Middle East issues."

Awwad said that the fact that Ross and Hale are meeting with Fayyad and not with Abbas is of secondary nature. However, it could be interpreted as a sign by Abbas that "the president doesn' t think that they have anything to add."


Dr. Jonathan Spyer, of the Inter-Disciplinary Center in Herzliya, said that he was equally skeptical over whether the visit would generate any tangible results.

He described that visit as "pointless" and argued that it was obvious that the Palestinians are going to go for the unilateral declaration in September. While Spyer said that he was sure that positive statements would be made following the various meeting, it remains very unlikely that direct negotiations would resume before September.

"What the American are looking for is that if they could at least have some kind of gesture from Netanyahu of willingness to return to negotiations," Spyer said. "Then they would be better equipped to try to persuade the Palestinians not to go for the vote in September."

Spyer agreed with Awwad that the inability of Washington to halt the Palestinian bid is a sign that the U.S. is losing power and prestige in this region.

"This is further evidence of the lose of U.S. power and prestige in the Middle East, the fact that they can't really effect the situation," Spyer said.


Last month U.S. President Barack Obama gave a speech outlining his vision for how negotiations would be resumed and under which guidelines.

One of the main points in the speech was the suggestion that the borders of a future Palestinian state would be based on the ceasefire lines that existed between Israel and its Arab neighbors prior to the 1967 war, including swaps of territory.

In the 1967 war Israel captured eastern Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, areas on which the Palestinian aim to establish their independent state.

Netanyahu rejected the idea of returning to behind the '67 lines, however. He argues that it will leave Israel with " indefensible borders" and would put central Israel, including Tel Aviv and the nearby international airport under the threat of Palestinian rocket attacks, similar to that from Gaza against southern Israel.

Awwad argued that "Ross and Hale doesn't have a formula that will enable them to work around the parameters set by President Obama," hence making it almost impossible for them to find a way for the parties to change their positions and return to negotiations.

Source: Xinhua
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