Published on TIME.com
The Obama Administration’s bid to relaunch an Israeli-Palestinian peace process is falling apart faster than you can say settlement freeze — in no small part because President Obama began his effort by saying “settlement freeze.” On Monday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found herself struggling to persuade skeptical Arab foreign ministers to see the silver lining in Israel’s “no, but” answer to the U.S. demand that Israel halt all construction in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. At least Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu was offering to restrain settlement activity, Clinton argued, but Arab leaders, whom Obama had hoped would make reciprocal gestures towards normalization of ties with Israel, were not buying. For Arab League secretary Amr Moussa, Clinton’s message offered a grim outlook for the Administration’s peace efforts: “I still wait until we have our meetings and decide what we are going to do,” Moussa reportedly said Monday in Morocco, where Clinton was meeting with Arab leaders. “But failure is in the atmosphere all over.”
Asking the Arab states to accept Israel’s offer to simply slow down construction in the West Bank and its refusal to stop building and demolishing Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem — after President Obama publicly and repeatedly demanded it — has battered the Administration’s credibility in Arab capitals. And Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reiterated on Monday his refusal to heed Washington’s call to begin negotiating with Netanyahu in the absence of a settlement freeze. Abbas has promised his public and his own Fatah movement, which is deeply skeptical of the prospects for dealing with Israel’s current hawkish government, that he won’t return to the table until Netanyahu has signaled his bona fides by halting all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Netanyahu has used the Palestinian refusal to engage in unconditional talks as an opportunity to blame them for the impasse in solving the conflict, noting that Abbas spent last year in talks over a two-state deal with Prime Minister Ehud Olmert without ever mentioning a settlement freeze. Why are the Palestinians suddenly making such a fuss about a settlement freeze now, the Israelis ask, as if this signifies a hidden agenda. The Obama Administration appeared to take Netanyahu’s side last weekend, pressing the Palestinians to drop the precondition for talking. But the Palestinians point out that they weren’t the only ones raising the issue: the Obama Administration, too, had issued an unambiguous demand that Israel halt all construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in line with the 2002 road map. Read the rest here