Mideast peace: one more push
Condoleezza Rice heads to the area for a summit of powers promoting peace.
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For example, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, who will lead the Kadima Party into elections slated for Feb. 10, would see no benefit in laying out details and painful decisions before facing an electoral judgment, Mr. Levy says. "Both sides will rather retreat to a comfort zone for their publics," he adds.Skip to next paragraph
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Ms. Livni will head the Israeli delegation to the weekend summit of the Quartet of powers promoting Middle East peace – made up of the United States, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and chief negotiator Ahmed Qureia will head the Palestinian delegation.
Both Bush and the outgoing Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, could be prompted by "legacy desires" to press for some kind of milestone or agreed principles that would mark the progress they believe has been made in the past year of talks, some observers say. Bush in particular may be keen to cement the idea that the Annapolis process, even though falling short of its goal of a final accord, is not a failure.
But just how much any future government and leaders would feel bound by a set of principles or even concrete decisions remains in question.
As if to signal its rejection of the binding nature of any agreements by a caretaker government, Israel's Likud party said this week that it would not be bound by any accord reached in discussions with Syria in the event of a Likud election victory.
Still, some close observers of the Israeli-Palestinian talks over the past year insist that the two sides have reached a point where only small differences separate them on some outstanding issues – suggesting to them that the time has come for outside proposals to close the remaining gaps.
"In many ways, the parties seem to be as close as they've ever been" on final-status issues including borders, the status of Jerusalem, security, and refugees and the right of return, says Mr. Joseph of the Israel Policy Forum, who met with officials of the two sides in a trip to the region last month. "As the two sides indicated, this suggests an opportunity for the Bush administration to offer some bridging proposals to help things move forward."
But even if Rice were to adopt a more traditional role of American peace negotiator, the peace process is likely to spill over to yet another American administration, Joseph acknowledges.
"Much depends upon the priorities of the next administration," he says, "whether they choose to focus on this early, unlike the Bush administration, and whether they try to build on what's been done before them."