Middle East race against time

President Barack Obama has barely a week to save the Middle East peace process from collapse, only months after he relaunched it amid optimistic predictions that a solution would be reached within a year.

Israel’s refusal to extend a moratorium on settlement building in the West Bank is the ostensible reason for the halt in direct talks with the Palestinians.

Speaking at the weekend after the Palestine Liberation Organisation refused to continue the negotiations, executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi asked: “How can you have a two-state solution if you are eating up the land of the other state? The Israelis have to understand once and for all that they just can’t continue with this approach.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is likewise refusing to budge. He reportedly told US officials that a 60-day extension of the building moratorium that expired last month, as sought by Obama, would damage his political credibility and endanger his coalition.

He also argued that the Palestinians were being unreasonable, given past practice.

“For 17 years the Palestinians conducted direct talks with Israeli governments while building went on in Judea and Samaria (the West Bank),” he said, ignoring Ashrawi’s point that this was no longer tolerable.

The impasse will be discussed at the Arab League summit in Libya last weekend, where Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said he will seek the advice of fellow leaders.

If they endorse the PLO position, direct talks may be suspended indefinitely next week.—Guardian News & Media 2010

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