Skepticism over 'breakthrough' Middle East peace plan
London report of Israeli-Palestinian plan linked to Iran sanctions disputed by European experts.
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Sarkozy, in an annual talk to the gathered French ambassadors, had sharp words for Iran, saying the same leaders that claimed its recent elections were honest and fair are also those who say its nuclear program is peaceful. “Who can believe them?” he asked.Skip to next paragraph
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If there is a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, French officials confirm that they are eager to host the talks. Russia, as the Guardian reported, is also keen to host any such talks.
Skepticism in Europe
In Europe, deep skepticism exists that Israelis and Palestinians are politically or psychologically ready to find serious common cause – either on the ground, or between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Yet Monday's story in the London-based Guardian outlining a breakthrough by President Obama in forging Israeli-Palestinian talks was widely translated and reprinted on the continent. It claims Israel's cooperation with Mr. Obama is based on gaining tough oil and gas sanctions against Iran, which allows the Israeli leader to sell the idea at home under the oft-stated formula that Iran is an "existential threat" to Israel, whereas settlements are not.
On Tuesday, after meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Britain's Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he was "more optimistic" about the Middle East peace process, but said that Israeli settlements remained an obstacle. Sarkozy told French ambassadors, similarly, that while Israel is a friend, “the truth is, there can be no peace while settlements continue.” Netanyahu also met with US envoy George Mitchell in London, and will head to Berlin for a meeting Thursday with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
US stuck on settlements
Mideast expert Robert Malley of the International Crisis Group in Washington, among others, doubts a clear linkage between Iran and Israel in the current Obama plans, feeling that the Guardian and other news reports were simply "amalgamating" evidence that is inconclusive.
"Netanyahu can use Iranian sanctions to sell this, but I don't think that Israel and Iran are yet factually related in the White House. These are still parallel matters.
"The question marks [on an Israeli-Palestinian deal] are as sharp as ever, we aren't anywhere near the heart of the matter," Mr. Malley says. "But the Obama people were getting stuck on settlements. It wasn't working so it looks like they decided to pivot, declare victory, and try to move as far as possible."
One Harvard University scholar reached by phone in Israel, who spent the summer in Gaza and Hebron, argues that a US-brokered deal that does not adequately challenge Israel's domination of Palestinians on the ground, in the wake of the Gaza bombing, will not satisfy the Palestinian need. The scholar asks: "How can anyone in their right mind consider 'a partial freeze on settlements' a fair exchange for potentially destroying the Iranian economy?"
Editor’s note: Since the story was first published, Nicolas Sarkozy commented on France’s policy toward sanctions on Iran. Those comments have been added.