Sep 30, 2014 2:43 PM
Israel, Palestinians part ways in dueling speeches
The Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) In a pair of fiery speeches at the United Nations, the Israeli and Palestinian leaders appear to have abandoned any hope of reviving peace talks and instead seem intent on pressing forward with separate diplomatic initiatives that all but ignore each other.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for an alliance with moderate Arab countries against radical Islam, while Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, after accusing Israel of "genocide," plans on appealing to the U.N. Security Council to endorse Palestinian independence.
Both plans offer novel attempts at breaking months of deadlock. Yet both appear doomed to fail.
Here's a look at what lies ahead:
Israel: After a failed round of peace talks last spring and a war against Hamas that inflicted heavy damage in the Gaza Strip, Netanyahu is under pressure to seize the diplomatic initiative.
Seeking to rally international support, Netanyahu said in his address Monday that Hamas and the Islamic State extremist group are ideological brethren an oft-repeated claim that has gained little traction around the world. He then urged moderate Arab countries to join him in the battle against Sunni Islamic extremists and an empowered Shiite Iran.
"Our challenge is to transform these common interests to create a productive partnership," he said, adding that such an alliance could even "facilitate peace" between Israel and the Palestinians. He mentioned Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as possible allies.
Netanyahu's proposal was largely devoid of details. A top adviser, Dore Gold, in a radio interview on Tuesday, said Netanyahu would elaborate "at the right time."
Netanyahu's intended partners, however, appear to be in no hurry to take him up on his offer.
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, a professor of political science at United Arab Emirates University, said the lack of progress in peace efforts with the Palestinians, and continued Israeli settlement construction, have hurt Netanyahu's credibility in the Arab world.
"This guy is just talking nonsense," Abdulla said. "This is one person nobody wants to hang around with or be seen sitting next door to."
Similar concerns were voiced recently by the emir of Qatar, Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. The Gulf country once stood out for hosting an Israeli trade office but closed it in 2009 in protest over Israel's war with Hamas, the first of three in less than six years.
In an interview last week with CNN, he said his country was open to reviving relations with Israel "as long as they are serious in making peace and providing and protecting the Palestinian people."
Egypt, which has a peace agreement with Israel and maintains close security ties with the Jewish state, was seen as largely supportive of Israel during its latest war against Hamas in Gaza. But President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has also said he supports the Palestinian people and their pursuit of statehood.
"Chances for such alliance (with Israel) are nearly nonexistent," said Sameh Seif al-Yazal, a former Egyptian intelligence official who is close to el-Sissi.
Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli deputy foreign minister, said Israeli leaders have tried to forge alliances with Arab moderates since the first Gulf war in 1991. But he said sharing a "common denominator" is not enough.
"The naive belief that there is any chance in the world that the Arab world will make peace with us before we make peace with the Palestinians is really strange," Beilin said. He said had Netanyahu mentioned the 2002 Arab peace plan which offered comprehensive peace with the Arab world in exchange for a peace agreement with the Palestinians the speech would have been more serious.
But Eli Avidar, who headed Israel's trade office in Qatar from 1999-2001, said Netanyahu's ideas are "absolutely realistic."
"I can see obvious signs for the common interest of Israel and Arabian states," he said.
Palestinians: The Palestinians have long had little faith in Netanyahu, but Abbas' accusation at the U.N. last week that Israel conducted a "war of genocide" in Gaza all but buried the chances of resuming dialogue.
Palestinian officials say Abbas is now set on turning to the U.N. Security Council for a resolution that would set a deadline for Israel to withdraw from occupied lands to make way for an independent Palestinian state.
The U.S., which says a Palestinian state can only be established through negotiations, has already said it opposes the proposal. So the key test for Abbas will be whether he can muster nine votes in the 15-member council. That is the number required to trigger a U.S. veto, a scenario the Palestinians believe would embarrass an American government and portray it as out of step with international opinion.
Palestinian officials expect the U.N. vote to take place in the coming weeks. After that, Abbas has threatened to take steps toward joining the International Criminal Court, opening the door to pursuing war crimes charges against Israel. Such a move would transform Abbas' tense relationship with Israel into an openly hostile one.
Abbas is also pushing forward with reconciliation with Hamas, which seized control of Gaza from his forces seven years ago. Last week the sides announced a partial deal that would allow Abbas to regain a foothold in Gaza by manning border crossings and helping to coordinate international postwar reconstruction efforts.
But the deal left many issues unanswered most notably the fate of Hamas' heavily armed military wing.
These issues, not peace talks with Israel, will likely preoccupy Abbas in the coming months.
The United States: U.S. officials have few expectations for the Israeli-Palestinian front anytime soon. When Netanyahu visits the White House on Wednesday, they say talks will likely focus almost exclusively on Iran's nuclear program, at Netanyahu's request.
The Americans also believe Abbas is in no rush to take action at the U.N. or in the International Criminal Court until at least after the Nov. 4 midterm elections.
With the Palestinian issue sidelined, Obama appears set to focus his efforts on battling the Islamic State and focusing on reaching a nuclear deal with Iran by a Nov. 24 deadline.
But officials say Secretary of State John Kerry remains determined to make one last push for Israeli-Palestinian peace by early next year.
Associated Press writers Adam Schreck in Dubai, Maggie Michael in Cairo and Matthew Lee in Washington contributed reporting.