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After failure of direct Middle East talks, does Obama have a 'Plan B'?

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is delivering a speech Friday, days after the US pulled back its latest inducements to Israel to foster Middle East talks. Will her speech launch a new initiative?

By Staff writer / December 8, 2010

A Palestinian laborer works on a construction site in a Jewish settlement near Jerusalem Wednesday. The United States on Tuesday abandoned its effort to persuade Israel to freeze construction of Jewish settlements, officials said, dealing a blow to efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Baz Ratner/Reuters

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Washington

The collapse of the Obama administration’s Middle East peace initiative – direct talks launched between the Israelis and Palestinians in September that were to have resulted in an accord within a year – has spawned a scramble for a “Plan B."

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For the moment there doesn’t seem to be one – but might one be in the works?

Administration officials insist that talks US officials will hold separately with Israelis and Palestinians next week in Washington will take up substantive issues. And those meetings could offer a hint at where the administration’s initiative may be headed: back to indirect talks, but of a more robust and goal-driven variety.

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Suggestions of how the administration plans to proceed are expected to come Friday, when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton addresses the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum on Middle East policy in Washington. Secretary Clinton has hinted that the dinner speech will offer more than boilerplate fare of the “this administration is dedicated to peace” variety.

In an interview last weekend, Clinton said she would make “a very formal set of remarks” on the peace process in the Saban Forum speech. “We have been talking with both parties very substantively, and I think that the United States can play a role to help each make decisions about very difficult matters that then can be presented to the other side,” she said in remarks to Al Hurra, the US government’s Arab language news channel.

Some American diplomats and analysts with long experience in the Middle East peace process have called on the US to jolt the lifeless negotiations by formally declaring the parameters of a final status agreement and setting those as the goal for the two sides to reach. But others discount that idea, saying it would never work.

“One option is this idea that you put up your own plan,” says Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert who has State Department experience under six secretaries of State. But for political reasons and others related to a peace plan itself, he adds, “that idea is not realistic and would fail.”

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