Saturday, September 26, 2009
The condition of the preconditions for Arab-Israeli talks
Word from the United Nations in New York is that U.S. President Barack Obama appears to have signaled a shift in policy and is no longer insisting that Israel freeze all home building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. In a speech delivered after meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Obama said talks between the governments should resume immediately "without preconditions." Obama had been hoping to announce the resumption of peace talks but apparently was unable to convince either leader to return to the negotiating table, according to the Reuters international news service. U.S. officials said Saturday that they are still hopeful of putting a deal together that would involve steps toward normalization of relations between Israel, the PA and other Arab states in the region, even if a settlements freeze is not possible now, Reuters said. "We don't want to have the perfect be the enemy of the good," U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Jeffrey Feltman told Reuters. "We're not going to wait for the perfect package before we start negotiations." The PA has insisted on a freeze before it returns to talks, but Israel has pressed ahead with housing developments in East Jerusalem, which the PA wants as its capital despite Israel's objections. Abbas apparently believes a freeze is necessary to convince his people to support negotiations, still a highly controversial prospect among Israel's Arab neighbors. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also met with officials from nine Arab countries this week to discuss the Middle East peace process as well as issues involving Iran, Iraq and Yemen, Reuters said. She said she was "pleased" by the reaction of the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- and what she heard from leaders of Egypt, Iraq and Jordan, but would not specify what that was. Egypt and Jordan have signed peace treaties with Israel but the rest have not. But Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal was pessimistic on Saturday, Reuters said. "No real results or notable signs of progress have been achieved in spite of the commendable endeavors of the United States of America (and) the evident personal desire of President Barack Obama and his team to further the peace process," he said. Feltman suggested that other Arab states should back Abbas in resuming peace talks even if Israel has not agreed to a freeze. Readers of this Weblog know that the settlements freeze issue has been raised in an effort to discourage a peace deal, since the PA stands only to gain from such development. Peace is probably only possible if the parties return to negotiations without forcing Israel to agree to a freeze, since that will demonstrate that the PA and the Arab nations have been able to elevate their desire and need for peace over the obviously powerful instinct for revenge over centuries-old grievances.