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Thu 27 Oct 2011 05:45 PM

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Mission impossible in Mideast logjam

Western powers may need to admit failure in Middle East peace talks

Mission impossible in Mideast logjam
Middle East peace envoy Tony Blair has been criticised for alleged Israeli bias

World powers trying to revive peace talks between Israelis
and Palestinians may be flogging a dead horse and their repeated failure is
eroding what credibility they have left as mediators.

Some political analysts argue it is now time for them to
scale back their ambitions. With faint hope of a deal, would-be peacemakers may
inevitably find themselves seeking to manage rather than resolve the
generations-old conflict.

The latest effort by the Middle East Quartet - a body comprising
the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - was arguably
a failure before it began.

Quartet representatives held separate meetings with the
parties in Jerusalem on Wednesday, falling short of their stated aim of
bringing them to the same table for talks on how to resume direct negotiations
on a permanent peace deal.

The mediators said the sides had agreed to make proposals on
issues of territory and security within three months. But Palestinian and
Israeli analysts saw little hope the latest push could succeed where years of
direct talks have failed.

"The Quartet is irrelevant because it is stuck on a
road which is not leading anywhere," said Shlomo Avineri, a professor of
political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a former director
general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

"I find it laughable, ridiculous," said George
Giacaman, a Palestinian political scientist at Birzeit University in the West
Bank. "There have been 20 years of negotiations and they haven't arrived
anywhere. It's a mantra they keep repeating.

"They have to keep trying or someone will say the
emperor is naked," he said. "They have to keep moving to stay in the
running, but I doubt they themselves believe they will be successful."

Established a decade ago, the Quartet has in recent months
taken a leading role in attempts to broker new talks. It has stepped into the
fray following the failure of US President Barack Obama's administration to
resuscitate negotiations.

Unsurprisingly, Quartet envoy Tony Blair has run into the
same set of problems that bedeviled Obama's efforts.

The immediate obstacle is the standoff over Israel's
expansion of Jewish settlements on the land where the Palestinians aim to found
an independent state. World powers view the settlement as illegal under
international law.

While Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he
wants talks now, the Palestinians say he must halt all settlement-building
before they come to the table. That is something his government will not do.

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The dispute points to the deeper problem: what some now see
as an unbridgeable gap between the Palestinian quest for independence and an
end to occupation, and Israel's attachment to land it deems of strategic and
spiritual importance.

Even at the pinnacle of the peace process in 2000, Israelis
and Palestinians were unable to agree terms for a permanent solution to their
conflict through the creation of a Palestinian state next to Israel in the West
Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem - territories Israel occupied in a 1967
war.

Today, mediators face a layer of added complications.

The list is long and includes the emergence of rival
Palestinian administrations in the West Bank and Gaza, controlled since 2007 by
Hamas, which is hostile to Israel.

In Israel, there has been a swing to the political right, a
shift helped by the last Palestinian uprising. Add to that the fact that half a
million Israelis have now settled in the would-be Palestine, and hopes for a
deal seem farfetched.

"I don't think the conflict is resolvable in the
foreseeable future," said Moty Cristal, a negotiator who served four
Israeli prime ministers between 1994 and 2001. "This is something that
Israelis and Palestinians cannot do at the moment ... at its current stage, the
maximum it could be is manageable."

The Quartet's failure stands in stark contrast to Egypt's
recent success in brokering a prisoner swap between Israel and Hamas, which
exchanged an Israeli soldier captured by gunmen in 2006 for 1,027 Palestinian
prisoners.

The deal disheartened Palestinian leaders in the West Bank
who, unlike Hamas, oppose armed conflict with Israel and believe peace talks are
the way to end the conflict.

President Mahmoud Abbas' strategy of negotiating with a far
stronger adversary has always hinged on an assumption that world powers would
not simply mediate talks, but also put pressure on Israel to give ground.

For the Palestinians, the Quartet's inability to secure a
full settlement freeze has come to symbolise its impotence. They mainly blame
the failure on the United States, Israel's closest ally and seen as the only power
truly able to influence it.

A settlement freeze was a requirement of a 2003 peace plan,
drawn up by the Quartet and known as the road map for peace.

"If the Quartet is going to play any credible role, it
must really be able to enforce the terms of reference, and the compliance with these
terms of reference, particularly those that have led to an agreed text, like
the road map," said Nabil Shaath, a veteran Palestinian official.

That frustration gave rise to the Palestinians' bid for full
membership of the United Nations, an initiative they hope will engage more
countries in the search for a peace deal. The United States and Israel firmly
oppose the unilateral move.

The Quartet's position, as outlined in a Sept 23 statement,
reflects the US view that bilateral talks must resume between the sides,
reiterating its commitment to seeking "a comprehensive resolution" as
its aim.

For now, Avineri said mediators should shift their focus.

"The Quartet is basically wrong-headed because it is
avoiding realisation that the attempt to bring the two sides together to
negotiation about a final status agreement is wrong. It hasn't worked now for a
long time," he said.

ZXC 7 years ago

It is not in the interest of USA & Western nations to have peace in the Middle East. All these so called peace efforts and road maps to peace etc are simply charades by the West & their lackeys. It is a well known fact that war is profitable for the West as it keeps the wheels of their armaments industry turning. So stop this Charade. You can fool some of the people all the time but you cannot fool all the people all the time.

procan 7 years ago

Given that you are completely right lets drop the charade. Now what ?