Obama-Netanyahu-Abbas summit left the peace process deadlocked

Although US president Barack Obama managed to corral Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas in one room at the Waldorf Astoria New York Tuesday, Sept. 22, it was a cold, formal occasion, which in no way hauled the Middle East peace process out of its deep stalemate.
Obama went through the motions of inviting the two sides to send teams to Washington next week and asked secretary of state Hillary Clinton to report to him in mid-October on any progress made by envoy George Mitchell in getting negotiations started. But the US president’s six months’ effort to restart the talks has never taken off for four main reasons:
1. He started out with a broad personal commitment to Middle East peace between Israel, the Palestinians and Lebanon, with much fanfare. His demand for a total construction freeze on Israeli settlement construction quickly proved he had bit off more than he could chew. The only new element in his introduction to the New York summit was his use of the term restraint in this regard instead of freeze.
2. He did manage to persuade Israel to substantially ease up on restrictions for Palestinian movements on the West Bank, including the removal of dozens of roadblocks and cooperation between their security agencies. But he failed to persuade any important Arab government to offer concessions in relations with Israel. They all followed Saudi Arabia’s adamant rejection.
3. He raised high Palestinian hopes of extracting major Israeli concessions from Israel, on the strength of which Mahmoud Abbas climbed on his high horse and refused to meet Netanyahu until they were delivered. But those concessions did not materialize and Abbas cannot climb down without losing face, which means he is struck with his refusal.
4. The Obama administration has not given up on its bid for a thaw in relations with Syria but as long as it is icebound the Assad regime is making sure there is no Lebanese government and that the extremist Hamas rulers of Gaza will hold back from a deal with the Fatah’s West Bank administration for a unity government and a united Palestinian delegation to peace talks with Israel. Obama’s White House has now seen the writing on the wall and, according to debkafile‘s Washington sources, decided to shelve for the time being his grand plan to finally usher in a US-sponsored Middle East peace.
Israel and the Palestinians will no doubt politely respond to the president’s invitation to send delegations to Washington next week, but just as certainly they will part as divided as ever.
The Israeli prime minister held up the decision to meet without prior conditions as a major diplomatic achievement. But Abbas stands by his ultimatum for negotiations to start from the points agreed between him and former prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008 – except that Olmert denies any such points were recorded.
Netanyahu, who was accompanied at the three-way meeting by defense minister Ehud Barak and foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, addresses the General Assembly Thursday. The Iranian theme is expected to dominate his speech.
Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad set out for New York Tuesday after again threatening the world and Israel not to dare attack his country.
The Iranian issue will continue to be aired two days later at the G20 summit taking place in Pittsburgh on Sept. 25, followed by a Six-Power conference to line up tactics for the talks with Iran which open in Istanbul on Oct. 1.

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