Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Barack Obama on brink of deal for Middle East peace talks.

I really don't know what to make of this:

Barack Obama is close to brokering an Israeli-Palestinian deal that will allow him to announce a resumption of the long-stalled Middle East peace talks before the end of next month, according to US, Israeli, Palestinian and European officials.

Key to bringing Israel on board is a promise by the US to adopt a much tougher line with Iran over its alleged nuclear weapons programme. The US, along with Britain and France, is planning to push the United Nations security council to expand sanctions to include Iran's oil and gas industry, a move that could cripple its economy.

In return, the Israeli government will be expected to agree to a partial freeze on the construction of settlements in the Middle East. In the words of one official close to the negotiations: "The message is: Iran is an existential threat to Israel; settlements are not."

Details of the breakthrough deal will be hammered out tomorrow in London, where the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, is due to hold talks with the US special envoy, George Mitchell. Netanyahu met Gordon Brown today in Downing Street, where the two discussed both settlements and the Iranian nuclear programme.

Although the negotiations are being held in private, they have reached such an advanced stage that both France and Russia have approached the US offering to host a peace conference.

Obviously, the first thing to note is the use of the word "partial" in terms of the ban on settlement building. I'm not sure what that means, but I'm presuming that the ban does not include East Jerusalem and projects already begun; however, it does imply some kind of compromise on the part of Obama, who had insisted on a complete halting of all settlement building.

And lets be clear just what this deal is that we are on the brink of. It merely means that we have arrived at a stage where both sides will be prepared to begin negotiations. However, I note that at the start of these negotiations Netanyahu is stating that he hopes Israeli settlers could "continue living normal lives".

Quite what is "normal" about living outside of international law, he didn't expand upon.

But, after the dismal failure of the Bush years when it came to Israel/Palestine, there is at least the glimmer of hope that talks can begin again, even if Netanyahu is making it crystal clear that he intends to hold on to the illegal settlements.

However, it should be noted that, in rhetoric at least, Netanyahu thinks what is happening might be huge:
Netanyahu said that progress in the Middle East peace process would "confound cynics and surprise the world."
That's a very large statement from a man who has, until recently, refused to even accept the need for a state of Palestine. And when he did accept it, he did so with these words:
“The territory under Palestinian control must be demilitarized with ironclad security provisions for Israel.”
That's really going back to making the occupied people responsible for the security of their occupiers, which sort of turns international law on it's head.

So, I welcome this news, whilst remaining one of the cynics that Netanyahu promises to confound.

But that cynicism is fuelled by the fact that Netanyhu has managed to tie the formation of a Palestinian state to Iran's nuclear programme, implying that the two are somehow related. That strikes me as just another Israeli delaying tactic, yet another thing which has to be accomplished - the more impossible the better - before Israel can comply with her obligations under international law.

However, the strategy is fraught with risks. Coupling the two huge complex issues could end up complicating them further.

And that's what I suspect is the game here. I think this is merely an attempt to further muddy the water. However, that's the cynic in me. I remain hopeful that I will be, as Netanyahu states, "utterly confounded."

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