September 17, 2010
Peace Talks Face Rising Pressure and Uncertainty
Political pressures on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are rising rapidly in the midst of renewed peace negotiations. As the September 26 expiration date of the 10-month Israeli freeze on new construction activity in the West Bank rapidly approaches, Palestinian negotiators have said repeatedly that they will break off the talks if Israeli construction is renewed.
A chorus of voices have called on the Israeli government to extend the moratorium in order to preserve the peace process. In a press conference on September 10, President Barack Obama called on Israel to extend the freeze on new activity in the Palestinian territories.
The president told reporters:
"What I've said to Prime Minister Netanyahu is that, given, so far, the talks are moving forward in a constructive way, it makes sense to extend that moratorium … Because ultimately, the way to solve these probles is for the two sides to agree what's going to be Israel, what's going to be the state of Palestine. And if you can get that agreement, then you can start constructing anything that the people of Israel see fit in undisputed areas."
His called was echoed September 13 by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Their call on Israel to extend the moratorium demonstrates that both the president and the secretary of state are deeply invested in the effort to keep negotiations going as long as there is forward momentum. The U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East Senator George Mitchell has added his own positive comments about the progress of the talks and how the leaders are dealing with matters of real substance rather than mere procedure.
This is the first of what may be many do or die moments in the renewed direct negotiations,the outcome is not at all clear. The Israeli Prime Minister faces the very difficult choice of either resuming construction and risking an end to the talks, or continuing the construction suspension and risking a crisis within his own government.
On possible outcome is that the construction freeze would end, but in effect there would be no new or significant construction. In some ways that is the current situation in East Jerusalem; the Israeli government has said it will not freeze new construction in the Palestinian section of the city, but in fact little building has been initiated since the confrontation between the Israeli and U.S. administrations last March during the visit of Vice President Biden. Palestinians have said they will walk away from the talks if there is any new construction, but they have not insisted on a declaration of no new construction.
President Obama has also suggested that the two parties could seek an agreement on final borders between Israel and the Palestinian state. Land swaps on either side of the 1967 border are generally expected. Then Israel could build in the areas that by agreement would become part of Israel.
Prime Minister Netanyahu indicated that even if the moratorium ends, he would be willing to slow construction to some extent. President Abbas too has softened his stance somewhat, saying Thursday, "We all know there is no
alternative to peace through negotiations, so we have no alternative other than to continue these efforts."
Amidst the political wrangling, violence continues on the streets. As the meetings continued September 15 in Jerusalem, Israeli aircraft bombed suspected smuggling tunnels along the Gaza-Egypt border following rocket and mortar attacks launched from Gaza. The strikes killed one Palestinian. Hamas pledged to derail the talks and prior to the opening round in Washington at the beginning of September. The group claimed responsibility for the killing of four Jewish settlers in the West Bank at the end of August. On Friday, Israeli forces killed a local Hamas commander in the West Bank.
In spite of these problems, both sides remain engaged at this point. [http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rm/147096.htm] Special Envoy Senator Mitchell stated that both sides still believe that the negotiations can be completed within a year and are "commited to a solution to the conflict that resolves all issues for the state of Israel and a sovereign, independent, and viable state of Palestine living side by side in peace and security." With the end of the moratorium fast approaching, we will soon find out how strong this commitment is.
"Israeli aircraft strike Gaza as leaders convene." Matti Friedman, Associated Press, September 15, 2010. http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5iDqGHEOAOLoXtaPxa6q_YKsfdyxAD9I8BTPG0
"Briefing by Special Envoy for Middle East Peace Mitchell on Meetings with Israeli, Palestian, and Egyptian Leaders." U.S. Department of State, September 14, 2010. http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rm/147096.htm
"Squaring the Circle: Palestinian Security Reform under Occupation." International Crisis Group, September 7, 2010. http://www.crisisgroup.org/en/regions/middle-east-north-africa/israel-palestine/98-squaring-the-circle-palestinian-security-reform-under-occupation.aspx
Letter to President Gains Momentum
The CMEP-organized letter from heads of church denominations and organizations urging Prsident Obama to continue efforts work for an agreement between Israelis and Palestinians has garnered increasing attention. Bishop Larry Goodpaster, President of the United Methodist Church Council of Bishops, is the latest leader to endorse the letter. A broad spectrum of media has also covered the letter, including articles in Catholic, Lutheran, African-American, and Presbyterian publications. Most recently, the letter was analyzed in the "On Faith" blog of the Washington Post.
Text of the letter - http://www.cmep.org/letters/2010_Letters/Letter%20to%20the%20President%20083010.pdf
"Bishop Hubbard, Christian leaders welcome new Middle East peace talks," Catholic News Service - http://org2.democracyinaction.org/dia/track.jsp?v=2&c=ruYKSQGlHDylV9OPxj6W34lwZdTp4Tzw
"Christian leaders laud Obama's Middle East peace talks," Presbyterian News Service" - http://www.pcusa.org/news/2010/9/1/christian-leaders-laud-obamas-middle-east-peace-ta/
Over two dozen church leaders encourage Obama to do the right thing regarding Israel," blackchristiannews.com - http://blackchristiannews.com/news/2010/09/over-two-dozen-church-leaders-encourage-obama-to-do-the-right-thing-regarding-israel.html
"ELCA Presiding Bishop joins Christian leaders in letter on Mideast talks," ELCA News Service" - http://www.wfn.org/2010/08/msg00153.html
Christian leaders press Obama on Mideast peace talks," Christian Post - http://www.christianpost.com/article/20100831/church-leaders-press-obama-on-mideast-talks/index.html
"Christian leaders pray for peace," Robert Parham, On Faith Blog, washingtonpost.com - http://onfaith.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/panelists/robert_parham/2010/09/christian_leaders_pray_for_peace_where_walls_and_weapons_prevail.html
For more information about Churches for Middle East Peace: email@example.com
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