Shaath speaks out against US-Israel failure
Ahmed Eleiba, Sunday 12 Dec 2010
In an exclusive interview with Ahram Online, Shaath expressed his resentment of the US's handling of the reinitiated Israeli-Palestinian direct talks, anticipating little change from Washington's renewed vigour

Nabil Shaath, a member of the Palestinian negotiating team and an Abbas aide, conveyed his disappointment at the US's failure to compel Israel to extend its settlement freeze.

"The American side proved to be much weaker than expected as they even fell short of pointing to Israel as the real reason for their failure", Shaath said.

Shaath went a step further by identifying the Saban Forum, which concludes its seventh annual meeting today, as another source of frustration and disappointment. The Saban Centre for Middle East policy, affiliated with the Brookings Institute in Washington DC, focused on US-Israeli relations with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Israel Defence Minister Ehud Barak addressing the opening session.

In her speech, Clinton expressed frustration, but also said stressed that both sides bear responsibility. "It is no secret that the parties have a long way to go and that they have not yet made the difficult decisions that peace requires," she said.

Palestinian officials bristled at the characterisation of equal responsibility, noting that the dozens of Israeli settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are all illegal under international law.

Shaath made it clear that what transpired in the conference demonstrates clearly that any hope that the US has some lingering leverage over the Israeli side in the negotiating process has been completely destroyed.

Despite growing Palestinian scepticism about Washington's effectiveness, Obama's envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell is currently heading to the region to brief Israelis and Palestinians. But Shaath does not anticipate a fruitful outcome from the visit.

“No clear outline for a future peace plan can be seen on the horizon. The PA (Palestinian Authority) firmly adheres to its principles, namely that the building of new settlements is eating up occupied Palestinian territories as well as the agreed upon borders."

However, Shaath insisted that the PA will sit with Mitchell to see if he has anything worthy to offer.

For his part, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced that the PA retains bargaining chips which could be utilised in light of the current setback in the peace process. Palestinians and Israelisare now being forced to revert to indirect talks, abandoning any hope of direct dialogue.

Shaath argued that the present stage presents the enemy with three main challenges: firstly, the steadfastness of the Palestinian people in the face ofIsraeli intransigence and the fragile US position; secondly, a unified Arab front that could be assembled in the Arab League's follow up committee on Wednesday and thirdly the international community's recognition of the Palestinian state, which is steadily gaining momentum.

Shaath is expected to hold talks with senior Egyptian officials to review the latest developments and to evaluate whatever options are left.

Meanwhile, Tarek Fahmi, head of the Israeli unit in the National Centre for the Middle East, told Ahram Online that the US is searching for command ground between peace partners in order to get out of the current stalemate.

The US is encouraging a change of tactics with Palestinian and Israeli officials, namely, postponing the major stumbling blocks -- the issue of settlements and right of return -- and instead examining phasal issues such as potential security and borders.

According to Fahmi, the Israelis are now in favour of a security deal that allows Israeli occupation forces to deploy in the Jordan Valley while gradually concluding all pending security issues. Essentially, Israel wants drag talks out as long as possible as Palestinians rush to get as much international recognition as they can.