Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Obama Mediated Israel-Palestine Talks go Nowhere

The great Obama has struck again and accomplished nothing, just as he did by caving into Russia on the US missile defense systems in Europe. Foreign policy is obviously not his strong suit.

Mideast summit unlikely to relaunch peace talks

NEW YORK – The Israeli and Palestinian leaders shook hands at the start of their first face-to-face meeting Tuesday, hosted by President Barack Obama, but the small gesture was unlikely to translate into a quick resumption of peace talks.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remain far apart on key issues, including Israeli settlement expansion and the agenda of future talks.

Obama said at the start of the trilateral talks that the sides have made some progress, but have much further to go. He told both leaders it's time to find a way to break the deadlock. "There is a powerful sense of urgency," he said.

Obama's Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, is to return to the Middle East for another round of mediation next week, and Israeli and Palestinian envoys are to come to Washington. Obama said he expects a progress report in mid-October.

The leaders went into the meeting with entrenched positions, and it was not clear whether the deadlock can be broken.

Abbas has said he won't renew negotiations without an Israeli settlement freeze, as sought by the U.S. and mandated by a U.S.-backed peace plan. Netanyahu insists there's no way he will halt construction in Israeli enclaves on land the Palestinians want for their state.

An Abbas aide, Yasser Abed Raddo, said that in the trilateral meeting Abbas restated his demand for a complete Israeli settlement freeze. Netanyahu, in turn, demanded that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abed Raddo said. Abbas responded by saying that both sides should keep their commitments. The Palestinians argue that under previous understandings they are not required to do that.

Beyond the dispute over settlements, the two leaders are deadlocked on a more fundamental issue — the agenda of future peace talks.

The Palestinians want negotiations to resume on the same terms as last year's round between Abbas and Netanyahu's more pragmatic predecessor, Ehud Olmert. In those talks, which ended in late 2008, Israel agreed to discuss all so-called core issues, including the partition of Jerusalem. Netanyahu, a hardliner who came to power in March, insists Jerusalem is not up for discussion.

The wide gaps between Abbas and Netanyahu became only more apparent in last week's mediation mission by Mitchell, who held six meetings over four days with the two leaders.

Even though Mitchell returned to Washington empty-handed, Obama summoned Abbas and Netanyahu for a trilateral meeting Tuesday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly.

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