Obama doubtful on Middle East peace


Source: Aljazeera English

Barack Obama, the US president, has admitted that Washington’s power to influence stalled negotations between Israel and the Palestinians in limited.

Speaking to reporters after hosting a nuclear security summit on Tuesday, Obama said he had little hope for swift progress towards Middle East peace, more than a year after taking office and declaring it a high priority for his administration.

US-led peace efforts have been stymied by a dispute over Jewish settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land that has strained ties between Washington and its close ally Israel.

Internal rifts among the Palestinians have also posed challenges to the process.

“The truth is in some of these conflicts the United States can’t impose solutions unless the participants in these conflicts are willing to break out of old patterns of antagonism,” Obama told a news conference on Tuesday.

‘Constantly engaged’

The US president recently acknowledged he had underestimated the obstacles to a renewed peace process, and some critics have called his approach naive.

“The Israeli people, through their government, and the Palestinian people, through the Palestinian Authority, as well as other Arab states may say to themselves: ‘We are not prepared to resolve these issues no matter how much pressure the United States brings to bear’,” Obama said.

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But he said that the US would press on, “constantly present, constantly engaged”.

“It’s going to take time, and progress will be halting,” Obama said. “And there will be frustrations.”

Despite shuttle diplomacy and unusual pressure on Israel, the Obama administration has been unable to reach even the modest goal of reviving talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Last week, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, acknowledged that his government had yet to resolve its differences with the US over Israeli construction in occupied East Jerusalem – a major sticking point that torpedoed indirect talks before they could even start.

Netanyahu said both countries were still working to find a solution but staunchly defended his government’s continued settlement building in Jerusalem as a “long-standing Israeli policy”.

“There are things we agree on, things we don’t agree on, things we are closing the gap on,” Netanyahu said.

“We are making an effort.”

The breakdown in US-Israeli ties began after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem during a visit by Joe Biden, the US vice-president, drawing sharp condemnation from Washington.

Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state in any two-state solution to the situation and have demanded that all settlement acticity is halted before talks can resume.

Negotiations between Israel and the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority have been stalled since Israeli forces began a 22-day military offensive in the Gaza Strip, controlled by the rival Hamas movement, more than a year ago.

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