Sunday, October 3, 2010

CMEP: Peace Talks at a Crossroads

CMEP's newsletter starts off with analysis of negotiations toward peace, but let me point readers first to the bulletin's concluding point: Don't Let the Peace Talks End -

Your voice makes a difference. If you haven't yet written a letter supporting the peace talks, add your voice to the choir.

Churches for Middle East Peace Bulletin
October 1, 2010

Peace Talks at a Crossroads
The moratorium on construction in the West Bank expired at midnight September 26. In the days and hours leading up to that moment, intense diplomacy, including President Obama's call for the extension of the moratorium before the UN General Assembly on September 23, attempted to keep together the fragile direct peace talks that began one month ago.

That diplomacy has been followed this week with news of continued behind the scenes negotiations. U.S. and Israeli officials reportedly drafted an agreement for extensive additional U.S. security and political assistance to Israel in return for a 60-day extension of the settlement freeze in order allow direct talks to resume, only to have the idea thus-far rejected by Prime Minister Netanyahu. The details of the negotiations were revealed in the U.S. media on September 30 by David Makovsky, an analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has put off the decision about his government's participation in the peace talks until he meets with the Arab League on October 6. The Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz reported that Netanyahu's office had asked settlers to keep a low profile in the media and avoid provocation as the moratorium ended.

Declining Hope
At an event at the Palestine Center in Washington this week that discussed the peace talks after the freeze, Middle East analyst Michele Dunne, a senior associate with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, called the talks, "dead in the water." The asymmetry between the two parties will now intensify, she said, making it "difficult to the point of impossible" to come to any sort of agreement. Also, this breakdown, and the settlement debate that led up to it, will result in the "diminished credibility of U.S. negotiators."

Interfaith Support for Continuing Negotiations
On September 29, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim leaders visited with Gen. James Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a meeting organized by the National Interfaith Leadership Initiative. The leaders presented a statement to the two officials that called on the U.S. for strong leadership to continue the negotiations and issued a reminder that while peace is difficult, it is also possible. The statement said:"We refuse, now and always, to give into cynicism or despair. We are people of hope. We call upon the members of our religious communities to pray for the peace of Jerusalem and to support active, fair, and firm U.S. leadership to advance comprehensive peace in the Middle East. The time for peace is now."

Challenging the Talks
A letter signed by 87 Senators supported by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), was also sent to President Obama late last week. While it generally supported the negotiations, it failed to call on both sides to avoid actions that undermine the talks or make it more difficult for the other side to remain at the table. Lara Friedman of Americans for Peace Now gives an excellent analysis of the implications of the letter. In his speech before the UN General Assembly on September 28, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told the assembly that peace with the Palestinians is decades away and that the issue of Iran is more pressing than a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority. One of Lieberman's more controversial points was that the settlements are not an obstacle to peace, and that guiding principle for negotiations should be not "land for peace, but rather exchange of populated territory." Prime Minister Netanyahu dissociated himself from Lieberman's statement.

The Best Hope for Peace - CMEP Newsletter
CMEP's quarterly newsletter focuses on the renewed direct peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians that unfolded in early September. Read the full commentary as well as reports from the field and CMEP's 2010 Advocacy Conference in the newsletter, now available online.Thank you for your letters! In response to our action alert supporting a strong U.S. role in keeping the parties at the negotiating table, CMEP supporters sent more than 2,600 messages to President Obama and Secretary Clinton. Your voice makes a difference. If you haven't yet written a letter supporting the peace talks, add your voice to the choir.

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