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Date posted: May 23, 2013
By George S. Hishmeh

It is anyone’s guess what Secretary of State John Kerry has up his sleeve when he visits the Holy Land for the fourth time this week, among other key stopovers elsewhere in the Middle East. True, his objective is to kick-start peace talks between Palestinians and Israelis, moribund for several years, but what are the chances of success when he has so much on his plate, particularly Syria?

His focus on resurrecting the peace process has triggered some excitement in this strife-torn region, but not surprisingly everywhere. His first success was to get the Arabs to amend their Arab Peace Initiative, much to the disappointment of some Palestinians, which was launched in 2002 by the 22-member League of Arab States and endorsed thereafter by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.

However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu remained mum though his chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, welcomed the gesture as “good news”. Even former prime minister Ehud Olmert was quoted as saying that’s “an opportunity that must be seized [since] it’s a very important development.”

What is more amazing is that Netanyahu has never spelled out his vision for a peace agreement, insisting that his expansionist plans in the West Bank — now accommodating about half a million Israeli colonists — would not stop, even temporarily, while the two parties are pursuing their negotiations. This is why the Palestinians want him to commit himself to a discernible settlement before the talks start.

Danny Yatom, a former director of Mossad, described Netanyahu’s silence as a “mistake.” Other critics quoted by the Associated Press used far tougher language. For example, Erel Margalit, a lawmaker with the opposition Labour Party, said Netanyahu’s silence was unacceptable. “We are thrilled this initiative is on the table.”

Other Israeli officials are pushing Netanyahu to pursue a half-baked “interim arrangement” rather than a peace agreement with the Palestinians. American officials have reportedly confirmed that an interim arrangement, while not their preference, was one of the ideas being explored. But the Palestinians are known to have rejected this option since this would give the Israelis more time to expand their usurpation of Palestinian territory, now hardly a quarter of the original British mandate.

The British Foreign Minister, William Hague, is tagging along with Kerry, who is bound to realise in due course that he needs to be more upfront since his efforts have so far been negligible. The only commitment he has won to date from the two feuding parties is the Palestinians’ readiness not to pursue their case before key international institutions, like the International Criminal Court and the recent amendment to the Arab Peace Initiative (API). 
Israel has, meanwhile, continued to pursue its expansionist policies, for example, the construction of 300 houses at the Israeli-occupied West Bank colony of Beit Al.

The only recourse that the American secretary of state has before him is to come up with his own formula for opening the peace talks, as expected by many in the region. Kerry and President Barack Obama must feel gratified and empowered that the recent political turmoil in the Middle East, especially the Benghazi debacle, has not affected the president’s approval rating. In fact, the rate has amazingly climbed up a few points. The American formula, promoted by most US administrations, have mistakenly argued that the US cannot want peace in the Middle East, more than the two feuding parties themselves — Palestinians and Israelis. In other words, they should be more concerned about coming up with a solution. However, the situation is more complicated than that, particularly since Israel is the most powerful party in the region — thanks to unlimited US military support. And more significantly, a pacified Middle East or Arab world is a much-needed step for the US since this will upgrade America’s international standing.

The Obama administration, moreover, should not remain hand-tied because of Israel’s influence within the US Congress.

Alon Ben-Meir, a senior fellow at New York University’s Centre for Global Affairs, argues that “every Congressional leader must ask: Where does Israel’s current policy lead? The longer the conflict persists, the greater the risks are for Israel, which these leaders paradoxically seek to safeguard.”

He added: “They must urge the Netanyahu government to accept the API,” pointing out that “their unmitigated support over the years provides them with the moral responsibility and the obligation to join the [American] president in his quest for peace.”

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Source: Gulf News
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