Leading article: Unpeaceful gridlock

Share
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

Tradewind Recruitment: KS2 Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is a two form entry primary schoo...

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee