Leading article: Unpeaceful gridlock

Related Topics

Two thousand Jewish and evangelical Christian extremists gathered on the West Bank at the weekend to count down the end of Israel's moratorium on the building of settlements on occupied Palestinian land. Next day bulldozers began levelling land, and cement mixers pouring concrete, in symbolic gestures which most of the international community regards as illegal.

The move threatens to undermine the Middle East peace talks only weeks after they were launched with great fanfare at the White House. It leaves Mahmoud Abbas in an almost impossible position. If the humiliated Palestinian President pulls out of the talks he will be accused by the Israelis of scuppering the Washington initiative; if he stays in he will be accused by hardline Palestinian groups, including Hamas, of selling out. He has pronounced that Israel must choose "either peace or settlements" but, wisely, has deferred any decision until he has had talks with the 22 leaders of the Arab League in Cairo next week. There is no rush after nearly two decades of on-off talks in one of the world's most intractable conflicts.

All parties to the dispute are, or can claim to be, gridlocked. Mr Abbas's position is weak; his democratic mandate has run out; yet the overdue elections cannot be held because of the feud between his Fatah party and Hamas. The Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, faces heavy pressure within his right-wing coalition to resume construction of the settlements in which as many as half a million Israelis now live. And the broker of the talks, a weakened Barack Obama, is facing elections in November in which he is reluctant to provoke the disfavour of the pro-Israeli lobby.

Behind the scenes Mr Obama is pressing Mr Abbas to remain at the talks despite the refusal by Mr Netanyahu to extend the moratorium on new settlements. He should be putting pressure on the Israelis too to renew the moratorium agreed by Israel in November 2009 under urging from Washington. For Mr Netanyahu is not so boxed in as he maintains. Previous Israeli prime ministers negotiating peace deals had Mr Netanyahu himself always to their right threatening to sabotage their work. There is no comparable figure of stature to Mr Netanyahu's right. There is nothing preventing him from breaking with the right wing of his coalition and bringing the centrist Kadima party into government if he wants to make concessions.

The truth is that he is unwilling. Washington needs to assert some leverage here, privately reminding him that Israel's $2bn annual military aid, and its consistent vetoing of critical resolutions at the United Nations, are not unconditional. Mr Netanyahu should not simply be allowed to refuse to extend the moratorium for another three months – as he should do – without it being seen that there will be significant political cost for his refusal. Even if Mr Netanyahu is unwilling publicly to extend the moratorium for another three months he could, in practice, curb any large-scale new construction, refusing new permits, and hinting to banks and developers that they would be unwise to commit to new building projects. He should also continue the unofficial de facto construction freeze on settlements in east Jerusalem, the sector of the city that the Palestinians claim for their future capital.

Palestinian negotiators are to meet in Ramallah tomorrow. If they can be convinced that the extent of construction in the West Bank will be limited, it might be enough to keep them at the table in Washington. That would be a fudge but it now looks the best hope of keeping the talks going at all. The settlements are only the first of a whole host of thorny issues which will require shaky compromise and creative ambiguity as the talks continue. But keeping on talking is better than the alternative.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The PM proposed 'commonsense restrictions' on migrant benefits  

So who, really, is David Cameron, our re-elected ‘one nation’ Prime Minister?

Andrew Grice
Time travel: Thomas Cook has been trading since 1841  

A horror show from Thomas Cook that tells you all you need to know about ethical consumerism

Janet Street-Porter
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?
Season's finale brings the end of an era for top coaches and players across the continent

The end of an era across the continent

It's time to say farewell to Klopp, Clement, Casillas and Xavi this weekend as they move on to pastures new, reports Pete Jenson
Bin Laden documents released: Papers reveal his obsession with attacking the US and how his failure to keep up with modern jihad led to Isis

'Focus on killing American people'

Released Bin Laden documents reveal obsession with attacking United States
Life hacks: The innovations of volunteers and medical workers are helping Medécins Sans Frontières save people around the world

Medécins Sans Frontières's life hacks

The innovations of volunteers and medical workers around the world are helping the charity save people
Ireland's same-sex marriage vote: As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?

Same-sex marriage

As date looms, the Irish ask - how would God vote?
The underworld is going freelance: Why The Godfather's Mafia model is no longer viable

The Mafia is going freelance

Why the underworld model depicted in The Godfather is no longer viable