Hope for Middle East peace talks bleak

By Wang Hui (
Updated: 2011-05-25 17:03
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Any anticipation that US President Barack Obama's speech on the Middle East on May 19 would help break the impasse in the region's peace process may look too good to be true.

On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Obama once again throws his weight behind the Jewish state, showing consistency of the US policy and the unbreakable alliance between the two countries.

"As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values. Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakable. And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums," Obama said in his speech.

This could be conveniently interpreted as whatever the Jewish state does, either open fire at Palestinians trying to cross borders or launch another attack on Gaza-bound international humanitarian missions, the US would stand firm as a shield for Israel from any meaningful international criticism, lodged by world bodies such as the United Nations.

It is no surprise that the latest policy speech on the Middle East peace process should be received with lukewarm response from Palestinian authorities and the Arab world at large. The prospect for them to seek international condemnation from the United Nations on Israel's barbaric treatment of Palestine would be even more bleak.

Nonetheless, by stating explicitly that the US supports the 1967 borders for both Israeli and Palestinian states, the Obama speech does have something new to offer to the Arab world. A two-state solution based on borders that existed before the 1967 Six-Day War marks a surprising departure from the previous US stance.

Given the polarized response from Palestinian authorities and Israel, whether such a change could bear any result in restarting the stalled Palestinian-Israeli negotiations is a big question. Senior Palestinian leaders on Monday stressed that they are sticking to the borders of 1967 as a reference to the peace negotiations with Israel. Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that "Israel's recognition of 1967 borders as the borders of the two states is the only condition to achieve peace in the region."

In contrast, visiting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at the White House on Friday, bluntly rejected Obama's vision for the boundaries of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Analysts say this could be the opening of a deep divide between Israel and the United States.

In his speech addressing the US Congress on Tuesday, Netanyahu backpedaled a little bit from his previous tough stance by saying that he was prepared to give up some Jewish settlements built in the occupied West Bank for peace, but with no concrete concessions.

As such, the divide between Palestinians and Israelis remains as large as before. Palestinians are still reeling from the bloodshed by Israeli troops on May 15, when conflict broke out at various locations throughout the region as Palestinians and Israeli Arabs marked this year's Nakba Day.

As a leading mediator for the Middle East peace process, the US should take an impartial line, taking the interests and concerns of both sides into consideration. Neither the parties concerned nor the international community at large would buy lofty rhetoric in this regard. With Washington continuing its favoritism toward Israel, there seems to be little hope for the two adversaries to come back to the negotiating table anytime soon.