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US admits defeat on Israeli settlement freeze. Can it still broker peace?

In the wake of Argentina and Brazil's formal recognition of a Palestinian state, some are calling on the US to step in with a peace plan of its own.

By Correspondent / December 7, 2010

A Palestinian youth selling ka'ek, a traditional Palestinian bread with sesame seeds, stands near a Brazilian flag hanging on cart in the center of the West Bank city of Ramallah on Dec. 7. Argentina is the latest in Latin America to recognize an independent Palestinian state, just days after Brazil.

Abbas Momani/AFP/Newscom

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The US admission that it has given up on securing an Israeli settlement freeze, coupled with Latin American's growing support for Palestinian statehood – with or without a peace deal – has pushed the faltering Israeli-Palestinian peace process to the brink.

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Late yesterday, a senior US diplomat said that the Obama administration, which had made a settlement freeze the kingpin of its peacemaking efforts, had dropped its bid to secure a second moratorium from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose right-wing coalition partners had strongly opposed such a measure.

Argentina on Monday followed Brazil in recognizing a "free and independent" Palestine, handing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a symbolic victory as peace talks appear to unravel. Uruguay has promised a similar declaration early next year, and Chile, Paraguay, and Peru are also expected to follow suit.

While Latin America's support may be a boost to Palestinian morale, some analysts say the recent recognition letters from Argentina and Brazil are symptomatic of an Israeli-Palestinian peace vacuum that needs US intervention. Washington, they say, should reassert itself by issuing a plan that will force the sides back into bilateral peace talks.

"The Palestinians are moving ahead with the creation of the state, and an important part of the world is collaborating with them,'' says Gershon Baskin, co-director of the Israel Palestine Center for Research and Information in Jerusalem. "If the assumption is that the Israelis will oppose unilateralism, there is a danger of a breakdown, which calls for US intervention of some kind or another. The US cannot allow this process to spin out of control.''

Palestinians skeptical of US clout now

The Obama administration has been unable to bring the sides back to negotiations since Israel ended a 10-month moratorium on settlement housing starts in late September, prompting the Palestinians to suspend talks.

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