Thursday, March 4, 2010

"Let's try this one more time..."

Israel and the Palestinian Authority appear ready to attempt to find peace through indirect, U.S-mediated proximity negotiations with the endorsement of such a plan by the Arab League. The meeting of the foreign ministers of 14 Arab nations yesterday agreed to accept in principle talks not to last longer than four months without a tangible breakthrough. U.S. special envoy George Mitchell appears to be slated to mediate the negotiations, which will consist of Mitchell shuttling back and forth between the sides, perhaps with both delegations in different rooms of the same building. These peace talks would be very similar (even including the same U.S. mediator) as the peace talks in Northern Ireland and even the Camp David talks between Egypt and Israel that achieved a peace deal between the two countries.

Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat explained, "The Arab countries are all not convinced by Netanyahu, but decided to give Obama the chance." This reinforces the notion that Palestinians and other Arab nations see the Obama administration as providing generally fair mediation in the conflict and believe they must pursue the opportunity to work with his administration in Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The purpose of proximity talks is not to conclude a peace agreement but to merely allow for a comprehensive exploration of both sides' positions, concerns, and limits. The talks may include negotiations on how direct talks could begin and how they would be moderated and run. In the past, reports have indicated that the indirect negotiations would first attempt to tackle the question of where to draw the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state as a way to understand core questions about the positions of both sides, and to allow Israeli and Palestinians to build without limit on their respective sides of the borders once it is agreed to.

With the Arab League's endorsement, preparations to begin indirect talks are occurring rapidly, as Haaretz has reported that the negotiations could begin as early as Sunday. The Mideast Quartet (the U.S., UN, Russia, and EU) will also convene a high level meeting to discuss prospects and expectations at the end of March. The Obama administration has indicated it would like negotiations to be underway by Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the region on Monday.

Direct negotiations between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert broke down following Olmert's resignation from office following his indictment for corruption.

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