Quartet envoy Tony Blair held talks today to prod Israelis and
Palestinians back to the negotiating table amid concern about a
looming UN vote on Palestinian statehood.
Quartet envoy Tony Blair held talks in Jerusalem and Ramallah
today to convince Israelis and Palestinians to resume negotiations,
a mission given added urgency by a looming vote on Palestinian
membership in the United Nations.
Amid widespread pessimism that the two sides aren't even
interested in coming back to the table, the quartet of Middle East
peace mediators - the US, Russia, the European Union, and the United
Nations - fears that the Palestinian bid could further unravel the
peace process and isolate Israel.
"The Quartet is panicked because there's going to be a vote
soon," says Diana Bhuttu, a former Palestinian negotiator. "They
want to make this [membership] application go away quietly and slip
it under the radar... In the current situation, it's not going to go
Pressure on Abbas to drop UN bid
Mr. Blair, the former British prime minister, is trying to get
the two sides to agree on a framework for peace talks. But the
international community has so far failed to come up with a
compelling incentive for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud
Abbas to abandon his much-touted bid for UN recognition and to drop
his demands for a settlement freeze.
Their task became even more difficult last week when Mr. Abbas's
rivals in the Hamas party scored major popularity points by securing
the release of more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners in exchange for
Gilad Shalit, an Israeli soldier captured by Gaza militants in 2006.
Should Abbas to back down from the statehood bid, which has won him
widespread support among the Palestinian public, he could risk
ceding ground to his Hamas rivals.
One potential solution would be another prisoner release, this
time between the Israel and the PA - a step PA officials have
demanded in the wake of the Shalit swap. If prominent militants were
included in such a release, it could provide Abbas a way back to
talks, says Ms. Bhuttu.
But that's unlikely to happen because hard-liners in Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's administration are loath to boost
Abbas after he launched the UN statehood bid, which they see as a
unilateral act that reflects bad faith in the negotiating process.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman even went so far as to express
hope that Abbas would resign.
Michael Oren, Israel's ambassador to the US, said on Tuesday that
the United Nations membership bid is a "contravention" of the
territory-for-peace principle that has guided Mideast peacemaking
since Israel conquered the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967. He
said that were the bid to succeed, it would be an "immense blow" to
the peace process because it would hamper Abbas's ability to sell a
deal to his people in the future.
"Mahmoud Abbas is going to come back to his people and say,
you're going to have to make some painful sacrifices. But you're
going to get something in return - you're going to get a Palestinian
state," he said, speaking at a Monitor breakfast in Washington. "The
Palestinian people are going to look at him and say, 'Well, wait a
minute, we already have a Palestinian state. Why are you making all
these painful sacrifices?' "
US supports freedom in Tunisia, Libya, Syria - why not in the
While Mr. Oren and other Israeli officials insist on direct
negotiations as the only path to peace, Palestinian leaders are
exasperated with nearly two decades of talks that have yet to
deliver the independence they have long sought.
From the beginning of the Oslo peace process in 1993, the number
of Israeli settlers in the West Bank, which Palestinians see as
jeopardizing their aspirations for a state on the same land, has
nearly tripled to more than 300,000. …