Posted by: Martin Fox | October 8, 2009

US envoy returns to Mideast amid little hope of progress

The peace process continues to grind along, however painfully slow that progress may be at times.

Peace out – Martin Fox with the Center for Global Leadership.

One Earth, One People, One Global Community – learn more about our Center’s work at

MIDEAST ISRAEL PALESTINIANSUS envoy returns to Mideast amid little hope of progress

by Ron Bousso

JERUSALEM (AFP) – US envoy George Mitchell sought on Thursday to push Israelis and Palestinians to quickly relaunch peace talks, but Israel said Washington’s vision of a regional Middle East peace was unrealistic.

“We will continue with our efforts to achieve an early relaunch of negotiations… because we believe that is an essential step to achieving a comprehensive peace,” Mitchell said as he began talks with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

“There will be problems and difficulties along the road,” he said, but nevertheless added that US President Barack Obama remains “deeply and firmly committed to achieving comprehensive peace in the region.”

The obstacles facing such a goal were underlined when Israel’s hardline Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said just hours before meeting with Mitchell that the US vision was not realistic.

“Those who think that we can within the coming years reach a global deal that will end the conflict do not understand reality.
They are sowing illusions,” Lieberman told public radio.

“We have to be realistic — we will not be able to reach agreement on core and emotional subjects like Jerusalem and the right of return,” he said. “What we have to do is to reach a long-term agreement and delay the difficult subjects for later.

“I am going to say very clearly: there are conflicts that have not been completely solved and people have learned to live with it, like Cyprus.”

The US administration has said it would like to see a comprehensive deal that would see Israel strike peace agreements with the Palestinians, Syria and Lebanon and normalise relations with Arab states.

Mitchell met later on Thursday Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, who said: “It is time to move forward in the process and overcome all obstacles… no obstacle in insurmountable.”

“We must start real negotiations on an agreement between us and the Palestinians while guaranteeing our security interests that will allow a two-state solution for both people,” Barak’s office quoted him as saying.

Mitchell, who played a key role in the 1998 Good Friday peace deal in Northern Ireland, will hold separate talks on Friday with
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.

The former senator has been spearheading Obama’s so far ineffective efforts to get Israel and Palestinians to relaunch peace talks that were suspended in late December after the Gaza war broke out.

At a three-way summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in late September, Obama told Netanyahu and Abbas to stop dragging their feet and relaunch negotiations.

But observers on both sides expect little momentum from Mitchell’s first trip to the region since the New York summit.

Since the New York meeting, several developments have arisen as new obstacles to relaunching talks.

Israelis and Palestinians have traded accusations over who was responsible for stoking tensions that have led to sporadic clashes over access to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, a flashpoint site holy to Muslims and Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem.

And Abbas has come under a hail of criticism from among Palestinians and across the Arab world for apparently caving in to US and Israeli pressure in agreeing not to press for a vote at the UN Human Rights Council on a damning UN report on the Gaza war.

Abbas has since backtracked, but the furore makes it difficult for him to make concessions to the United States and Israel, political analysts say.

“The credibility of the Palestinian president, as it relates to the negotiations… has today become very shaky,” said Palestinian observer Samih Shabib.

Meanwhile Netanyahu has been strengthened by the softening of the US tone on the thorny issue of settlements, with
Washington no longer demanding a full freeze on new construction and the premier seen as successfully rebuffing US pressure to give way on the issue.

“Mitchell has a lot of problems because we now know that you can say no to a US president and still survive,” said Eytan Gilboa, of the right-leaning Bar Ilan University.


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