Jewish World Review Jan 3, 2012 / 8 Teves, 5772
Why US won't be center stage in new Israeli-Arab talks
By Howard LaFranchi
A new round of Mideast talks is set to start today, and there are three main reasons why the US won't be playing the central role it often does in such negotiations
ASHINGTON (TCSM) The United States won't take its usual center-stage position when Israeli and Palestinian negotiators meet today for their first direct talks in more than a year.
The talks, set for Amman, Jordan, are designed to explore the potential for a return to formal direct peace negotiations, which collapsed in October 2010. They will include one meeting between Israeli and Palestinian representatives and another for those envoys to meet with the Quartet, the four world powers the US, the European Union, Russia, and the United Nations that have been pressing for a return to the negotiating table.
But the absence of the US from its traditional lead role is a telling sign of three realities, some Mideast experts say:
Israel is expected to be represented at the meetings by Yitzhak Molcho, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy, while the Palestinians are sending negotiator Saeb Erekat. Speaking with reporters in Ramallah Monday, Mr. Erekat said he does not expect the talks to deliver any major breakthroughs.
Today's talks occur under something of a deadline. In late September the Quartet called on the Israelis and Palestinians to deliver within 90 days "comprehensive proposals on territory and security" to serve as bases for direct negotiations.
Yet while few experts expect anything significant to happen by the Jan. 26 deadline, most observers say both the Israelis and Palestinians have reasons for agreeing to the Amman talks.
The Palestinians may have their eyes set ultimately on the UN and efforts they launched there last fall to win global recognition.
One scenario, Mideast experts say, is that the Palestinian leadership could use the expected failure of the talks to revive its push for official UN recognition of a state of Palestine. The Palestinians could point to both the presumed failure of the Quartet's initiative and to what they argue is Israel's refusal to take serious steps toward peace.
Palestinian leaders continue to call on Israel to halt settlement construction in the occupied territories as a necessary first step for actual peace negotiations to resume. Palestinian negotiator Erekat alluded to this position Sunday when he said Tuesday's talks would take up Israel's "international legal obligations … to freeze all settlement construction."
Israel has countered that is is willing to resume peace negotiations without conditions.
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© 2011, The Christian Science Monitor