Now does not appear to be the best moment for a new Middle East peace initiative. President Barack Obama's stubborn insistence on a full Israeli freeze of construction projects beyond the Green Line has given the Palestinian Authority an excellent excuse not to resume peace talks with Israel. Negotiations have not been seriously conducted for two years and there is no prospect of resumption any time soon.
The wave of uprisings engulfing the region has further reduced room for compromise. Even under a different coalition, Israel could hardly be expected to make concessions when the entire order seems poised to collapse; when its peace treaty with Egypt is under serious strain, Jordan's monarchy is under internal assault, Iran's ascendance appears unstoppable and America's influence seems eclipsed.
The Palestinians are hardly in the mood for concessions. The settlement issue has been a convenient excuse for them to avoid negotiations with Israel. But the truth is that their current strategy of institution-building at home and a delegitimisation campaign against Israel internationally rests on the idea that Palestinian goals can be maximised by unilateral action. Their current strategy aims to gain support and recognition for a unilateral declaration of independence that should obviate the need for negotiations. There is no desire to engage Israel seriously for the sake of compromise.
Even if the Palestinian Authority changed its mind and sought dialogue with Israel, the Guardian's craven campaign last January to undermine the PA by revealing Palestinian records of recent Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has reduced its already limited room for manoeuvre. And the protests in the Middle East have left the Palestinians without diplomatic backing and the pressure of friendly Arab regimes who in the past would cajole, sway and corner the Palestinians on America's behalf.
In the name of human rights, America appears to have abdicated its role as the main regional power. Its influence, already damaged by two years of Obama's diplomatic incompetence, is now diminished by the turmoil. It has abandoned trusted allies for the sake of uncertain change and its involvement, alongside Britain, in a war that lacks a clear mission. Only a fool would believe that now is the best time to extract a compromise from the warring sides.
Enter the European Union. With Foreign Secretary William Hague leading a European peace initiative, there will be a concerted effort to use the Quartet (EU, US, Russia and the UN) to draft a peace treaty the parties will adopt. That the EU is hoping to exploit America's declining influence to propose a European initiative is both predictable and lamentable. Success is highly unlikely.
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