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Does US Need to Rethink its Middle East Negotiating Strategy?

  • Pamela Dockins

Recent retaliatory moves by the Palestinians and Israel have raised questions about whether progress can be made this year in the stalled U.S.-mediated peace talks. Palestinians made an unsuccessful bid for a U.N. resolution that would have set a three year deadline for establishing a Palestinian state. Then, they launched an effort to join the International Criminal Court in order to bring war crime charges against Israel. The move prompted Israel to freeze a monthly tax revenue transfer to the Palestinian Authority. Some analysts say the U.S. may need to revise its mediation strategy.

As Palestinians look to the ICC for support and Israel considers its next move, the U.S. said constructive engagement is the only way to move forward.

“Hard as it is, all sides need to find a way to work constructively and cooperatively together to lower tensions, reject violence and find a path forward,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.

She said Secretary of State John Kerry has been working hard to encourage both sides to move forward.

But U.S. diplomatic efforts may have come to a roadblock that will be difficult to move, said Middle East analyst Aaron David Miller.

“This is so hard and the breakthroughs have been so infrequent and you are talking now about the crown jewels of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - Jerusalem, refugees - in a very small, confined space,” said Miller.

He added that the leadership on all sides is part of the problem.

“Neither this Israeli prime minister nor this Palestinian president nor this American president has the will, the skill or the capacity - or at least they have not demonstrated it yet - to do what is required to make the decisions necessary,” said Miller.

Other challenges in the region, such as the rise of the Islamic State and the nuclear negotiations with Iran may be preoccupying the Obama administration, according to Miller.

But the United States does not need to re-think its overall strategy for dealing with Israel and the Palestinians, said analyst Michael Rubin.

“What the United States needs to do is dig in its heels and insist that the agreements to which both parties have already agreed are going to be fulfilled,” said Rubin.

He said a U.S.-led effort to cut international funding could force both sides to return to the bargaining table.

“If money is endless, if there’s never an impediment to providing aid to reconstruct after a decision has been made to go to war, then it’s all the easier to go to war,” said Rubin.

State Department officials say Israel and the Palestinians need to make choices about what steps they are going to take but the U.S. continues to believe that dialogue is the only way to address problems over the long term.

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