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A season of peace making?

Sep 19,2017 - Last updated at Sep 19,2017

The United Nations General Assembly is commencing its annual three-month session this week. World leaders head to New York to participate, with the Middle East situation high on their agendas.

There are expectations that the new Trump administration is going to pursue efforts to resuscitate the stalled Palestinian-Israeli peace talks in the hope that Trump’s “ultimate deal”, the envisaged settlement of the century-old conflict, may eventually see the light. Towards that end, US President Donald Trump will hold meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, as well as with many key Arab heads of states such as His Majesty King Abdullah.

“Yet it is hard to see how Trump’s mind could focus on the most intractable issue in international affairs, when one party — Israel — is not interested in engaging in any peace talks, and the other side is domestically threatened by hardliners who object to any Netanyahu-Abbas meeting”, wrote Uri Savir in Al Monitor article on September 17, 2017.

Savir also quoted a US State Department official who visited the region recently telling Al Monitor that “when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian issue, things at the State Department are quite chaotic. There is no coherent Middle East policy, and most decisions are made by the White House, or more precisely within the Oval Office. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is probably the most sidelined secretary of state on the Israeli-Palestinian issue in a very long time”.

But there is no surprise here. It is a well-known fact that the White House, and not the secretary of state, traditionally deals with the Arab-Israeli conflict. 

No doubt secretaries of state play key roles in formulating and implementing policy, but always within the presidents’ guidelines.

It is also well known that serious considerations have for long been constraining US presidents’ ideas on how to facilitate meaningful negotiations between the Arabs and the Israelis towards viable reconciliation.

Under the Obama administration, the efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry were resolute, sustained and relentless. And yet, his mission was blocked by the same Israeli prime minister who is “not interested in engaging in any peace talks”.

The stumbling block has been Israel’s persistent rejection of American proposals to freeze settlement construction while it was having talks with the Palestinians.

Trump’s first overture on peace making was to ask Netanyahu last February to “hold off on settlements for a bit”.

Not only was the gentle request totally ignored by Netanyahu, it was also a useful hint alerting the Israeli leader that continued settlement expansion is the effective tool for obstructing the new administration’s peace inclinations as well. Now in New York, US efforts for restarting Palestinian-Israeli engagements are likely to resume. Although Abbas would welcome any opportunity to restart contacts, it is going to be very difficult for him to accept anything less than a settlement freeze.

Under Kerry, other formulas for talks without freeze — proximity talks and talks about talks — were tried but failed. Who knows if those can be reinstated.

The question rarely raised is this: Would a peace settlement be around the corner if Israel suddenly agreed to stop all illegal settlement construction indefinitely and totally, and agreed to enter into serious peace negotiations with the Palestinians? 

Absolutely not.

The freeze issue is in fact hiding behind a store full of other much more difficult contentious matters that have long been ignored due to the focus on settlements.

What about the existing settlements spreading all over the West Bank and around Jerusalem, that nobody talks about? How much land is left in the West Bank for the envisaged Palestinian state to rise upon?

What about the Palestinian refugees, Jerusalem, the occupation, borders, security and statehood?

 

If 25 years of peace making since Oslo, 27 years since Madrid, 50 years since 1967 have not been able to advance peace any distance (in fact time has only consolidated the conflict), how could a few meetings in New York with an adamant Israeli leadership be expected to budge anything at all?

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Comments

A SEASON OF PEACE OR WAR MAKING???? WHICH, WHEN WE HAVE THE ROCKET MAN VS UNSTABLE LEADER(S)??. WHAT DO WE HEAR FROM UN?. IS IT NOT WAR SONG, GLOOM AND DOOM, SHOCK AND ORE AND NUKE TALK.

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