News Analysis: How far will U.S. go in Mideast peace mission? 2009-04-20 04:21:53   Print

    by Xinhua writer Zhu Lei

    CAIRO, April 19 (Xinhua) -- U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell did not find welcoming ears this time in nudging new Israeli leaders to accept that a Palestinian state alongside Israel is the only way to end the Mideast conflict.

    During his third trip to the region since nominated by U.S. President Barack Obama late January, Mitchell spared no efforts in advocating the two-state solution in solving the decades-old conflict.

    But Mitchell's first meetings with top leaders of the new Israeli government since it was sworn in on March 31 highlighted the split between the U.S. and Israeli peace policy with the Palestinians.

    The traditionally hawkish Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu, who has paid little lip service to the peace plan since assuming power, said in a statement that the creation of a Palestinian state at the current stage is premature and would play into the hands of Gaza Hamas rulers.

    He also conditioned the start of talks on the two-state solution on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, a demand the Palestinians have rejected for fear of that such a move would virtually deprive the Palestinian refugees of their right to return.

    The premier leading a right-leaning government recently made repeated pledges to advance the peace process, but has so far danced around the two-state principle.

    The firebrand Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, before Mitchell's eyes, told reporters that "new ideas and a new approach" are needed at the current circumstance, criticizing the "traditional approach" which has yielded few results.

    Those counterpoints are all but the same messages that Netanyahu and Lieberman have sent during their first 48 hours in office, which becomes a fast-moving concern for the Obama administration, analysts said.

    The new Israeli government has adopted a domestic and foreign policy almost entirely opposed to that of the United States, said Amjad Atallah, co-director of the Middle East Task Force at the New America Foundation think tank.

    The policy differences concerning Israeli-Arab peace center on two issues -- Israeli domestic policy toward its Arab minority, which accounts for about 20 percent of Israel's population and Israel's intent to occupy the Palestinian West Bank and Syrian Golan Heights indefinitely, according to Atallah.

    Given its line-up and policies, the new Israeli administration is seemingly ready to go head-to-head with the Obama team and it is not going to be subtle, the expert said.

    There is little sign of how Washington will engage Israel's new leadership on such fundamental differences in policy, Atallah said, noting that the longer Washington waits, the harder it will be for the Israeli government to back down from its positions.

    Richard W. Murphy, an Adjunct Scholar at the Middle East Institute think tank, believed that two forces -- radical Palestinian forces led by Hamas and Israeli settlers' imposition of their vision on politics, have raised high the wall facing any mediator seeking a solution.

    Yet little sign emerged that Washington would deal with Hamas, which is blacklisted by the West as a terror group and is actually one of the major players in the conflict.

    Neither did Mitchell talk with Hamas nor set foot on the Gaza Strip during his three trips to the region. Hamas voiced complaint when Mitchell did not make any attempt to contact the group during his first visit in January.

    For Mitchell to have any success will require the persistent focus and support by the U.S. president eager to see progress after years of failed peace efforts, he said.

    The Obama administration did show its intent and sincere willingness to push forward Mideast peace in naming Mitchell as the special envoy after it kept silent about a 22-day massive Israeli offensive on the Gaza Strip before the inauguration.

    A veteran diplomat, Mitchell in 2002 successfully set up a reputation for impartiality on the Israeli-Palestinian peace by calling for freezing Israeli settlement activities and intensifying Palestinian efforts to crack down on terrorism.

    The new Israeli leadership, however, probably could not be more forbidding for a U.S. administration seeking to be pro-active on the Israeli-Palestinian peace front, said Wayne White, an Adjunct Scholar with the Middle East Institute think tank.

    Combine that with the political split of Palestinians -- a radical Hamas ruling Gaza and Palestinian moderates in the West Bank, the picture looks even grimmer, he said, adding that advancing the peace process is a hard sell even in the best of times.

    Analysts believe though the Israeli government has felt the U.S. pressure on the Mideast peace, the two sides would not plunge into freeze or confrontation due to their traditional alliance and interest on the ground.

Special Report: Palestine-Israel Conflicts         

Editor: Yan
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