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.
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In order to resuscitate the current talks, some analysts believe the US should consider compiling its own set of "principles'' regarding the major planks of a peace accord – borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, and security arrangements.Skip to next paragraph
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Those principles would likely strike a middle ground between the two sides' negotiating positions. Many observers expect that the US principles would be similar to the set of "parameters'' made public in January 2001 at the tail end of former President Bill Clinton's term.
Others say a new US plan should include the progress achieved in 2008 when the administration of former President George W. Bush presided over talks between Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
"It makes no sense for new negotiations to start with a blank page. Palestinians will not accept new Israeli positions that are different from those presented in previous negotiations and it would be an exercise in futility to do it this way,'' says Khalil Shikaki, a prominent Palestinian public opinion expert, in an e-mail. "The US role should be to maintain a record of progress and update it as negotiations move along.''
A risky tactic
Advocates and critics acknowledge it’s a risky tactic that would require an even larger investment of political capital to get the sides to discuss the plan. Moreover, Israel's conservative government is likely to resist a far-reaching peace plan that would put it at odds with its supporters.
The introduction of a peace plan is only appropriate after the gaps between the sides have been narrowed by negotiations, says Yossi Alpher, coeditor of the Palestinian Israeli opinion website Bitterlemons.org. What's more, he adds, the Obama administration hasn't gained enough credibility with either side.
"It would be foolhardy. The gaps are too wide,'' he says. "It would create a crisis atmosphere… I assume the US would present a proposal and ask the sides to come and discuss it. But you are back at square one. Where does this get you?''
Best alternative for now
US peace plans have been rare since the 1967 war, in which Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza. But proponents say that right now it’s the best alternative to continuing with the current talks on a settlement freeze or leaving the sides to their own devices and focusing US efforts elsewhere.
Samuel Lewis, a former US ambassador to Israel who coauthored the IHT article with Mr. Lasensky, says he's been skeptical until now of such a course of action.
"I've become convinced because we're in such a difficult stalemate,'' he says. "The Obama administration needs to step back, and it might be useful for it to nail its conviction on the wall, so it will help the parties do some thinking. It's conditions we can stand on instead of being nickel and dimed.''