US drops Palestinian-Israeli track, cultivates Turkey

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had the thankless task of writing finis on the Obama administration's intense two-year effort to persuade Israelis and Palestinians to discuss peace. Her speech to the Saban Forum early Saturday, Dec. 11 was much awaited as Washington's first comment on the deadlock caused by Israel's refusal to meet the Palestinian demand for a second freeze on new settlement construction as their precondition for direct talks.
The Secretary took care not to blame either side for the breakdown. "Palestinians must appreciate Israel's legitimate security concerns. And Israelis must accept the legitimate territorial aspirations of the Palestinians," she said, the closest she came to complaining about the obstacles which had defeated her government's efforts.
 "We will not lose hope," she said. "Mr Obama has identified continued US engagement in peace talks as a key political goal." But she omitted the oft-repeated statement of the president's determination to achieve an accord within a year.  Without setting out time tables or modes of action, she stressed it was time to "grapple with the core issues of this conflict" which she listed as borders, refugees, settlements, water and Jerusalem. "The land between the Jordan River and Mediterranean Sea was finite," she said "and the people who live there need a clear border to map out their futures."

Clinton did not wait for analysts to define the scale of Washington's setback. She admitted frankly: "Like many of you, I am frustrated that we have not gotten farther, faster."
Obama clearly appreciates that like the presidents before him – Bill Clinton, who failed dramatically, and George W. Bush, who soon dropped out of US Middle East peacemaking – he had bitten off more than he can chew. It was time to pack up and abandon his ambitious bid to crack the Palestinian-Israeli conflict by direct action.
But Hillary Clinton's most intriguing comments was this: "The status quo is untenable. And we will redouble our regional diplomacy. When one way is blocked, we will seek another. "
debkafile's Washington sources disclose that what she had in mind was an alternative path which still remains to be marked out: It would move Middle East peacemaking out of the deadlocked US-Palestinian-Israeli track and introduce a new set of prime movers with the long-term goal of a regional peace settlement.

Washington has taken the first step of trying to resolve the Turkish-Israeli dispute over Ankara's maritime bid to bust the Gaza blockade in order to open the door to restoring the old dialogue and strategic relationship between Ankara and Jerusalem.
In a parallel step, the US has acted to bring Turkey into active mediation on the Iranian nuclear controversy. Washington will approve the talks with Iran the Six Powers (US, Russia, France, China, UK and Germany) embarked on this week ending in a deal for an enriched uranium swap to take place on Turkish soil under international supervision. Tehran has in the past demanded that this swap take place in Turkey. The Americans want to make sure that at no time, Iran holds enough enriched uranium for producing a nuclear bomb.

Once that accord goes through, the Erdogan government will be free to return to its interrupted role of 2007-2008 under the Olmert government as peace broker between Israel and Syria. An accommodation on that track, if achieved, would pave the way for Ankara taking over revived Israel-Palestinian negotiations.

Encouraged by Washington, Israeli diplomat Yosef Ciechanover and Turkey's deputy foreign minister Feridun Sinirlioglu held their first fence-mending talks in Geneva on Dec. 5. The ice was not broken.

Indeed, Friday, Dec. 10, Foreign Ministry spokesman Selcuk Unal said in Ankara: "There has been no change in Turkey's expectations from Israel. Israel has behaved unjustly against Turkey regarding aid ship Mavi Marmara and we are still expecting compensation and an apology."
debkafile: Israel regards the commandos who prevented the Turkish ship from reaching Gaza as having performed their duty to defend the blockade in the face of attacks by armed "peace activists" aboard the vessel.
At the same time, this week, the Israeli security cabinet approved the start of farm produce exports from Gaza to Europe, notwithstanding the rising level of Palestinian missile and mortar attacks from the territory on neighboring Israeli villages. The concession was intended to show Ankara that Jerusalem was willing to partially meet Turkey's demand to lift the Gaza blockade.

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