Monday February 8th, 2016 5:13AM
5:27PM ( 11 hours ago ) Weather Alert

At halfway mark, Kerry's Mideast effort stumbles

By The Associated Press
JERUSALEM (AP) -- Halfway through an ambitious nine-month process aimed at forging Mideast peace, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, after another round of shuttle diplomacy, has little to show for his efforts.

The participants have reported no progress, a top Palestinian negotiator has resigned in frustration, and few believe Kerry can broker the comprehensive settlement set as his official goal. Instead, there are rumblings about what will happen when the clock runs out - either an extension of talks, an interim deal, unilateral moves or the outbreak of violence.

Kerry tried to put a positive spin on things during a three-day stay marked by smiles, friendly rhetoric toward Israel and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also acknowledgements of the tough task ahead. "I believe we are closer than we have been for years to bringing about the peace and prosperity and the security that all people in this region deserve and yearn for," he said Friday as he wrapped up his eighth visit to the region as secretary of state.

Kerry did not elaborate, and it was the same type of optimistic language he has used since persuading Israel and the Palestinians to resume talks, their first substantive negotiations in five years, last July. Under heavy American pressure, the sides set an April target date for resolving their decades-long conflict. While negotiators have quietly been meeting, neither side has shown optimism. Instead, the talks have been repeatedly marred by mistrust and finger-pointing.

The Palestinians have accused Israel of negotiating in bad faith, pointing to continued Jewish settlement construction in east Jerusalem and the West Bank, lands captured by Israel in 1967 and sought by the Palestinians for their state. With roughly 550,000 Jews now living in these territories, the Palestinians say the chances of being able to divide the territory between the two peoples are running out.

Plans to build more settlement homes have sparked a series of crises in the talks. Kerry has said the construction raised questions about Israel's commitment to peace, and the Palestinians have threatened to withdraw from the talks in protest.

Mohammed Ishtayeh, a former negotiator, said he resigned last month after concluding that the gaps would never be bridged.

"I found no partner in Israel in the talks and the Israelis are not serious. They came to talk just to avoid the international pressure and isolation," he said. "All Israel wanted from these talks is to maintain the status quo."

Voices at home also have begun to question Netanyahu's commitment to peace. On Wednesday, Yuval Diskin, a former director of Israel's Shin Bet internal security service, said time was running out for a peace deal. The alternative, he warned, was plunging into a single binational state in which Arabs ultimately outnumber Jews. As the man responsible for battling Palestinian militants for many years, Diskin's comments carry added weight in security-obsessed Israel.

"We need an agreement now, before we reach a point of no return from which the two-state solution is not an option any longer," Diskin told the Geneva Initiative, an Israeli-Palestinian peace organization. "It doesn't seem like the current government is trying to change the direction of the settlement enterprise."

In perhaps his toughest criticism of Netanyahu, he said the unresolved conflict with the Palestinians posed a bigger threat to Israel than Iran's nuclear program. Netanyahu believes Iran is trying to build a nuclear weapon and has sparred with Kerry over the international community's recent nuclear deal with Tehran, which insists its atomic program is for peaceful purposes.

Netanyahu, for his part, has dismissed the criticism. Officials in his office say Diskin is naively underestimating the threat of a nuclear-armed Iran. And at his appearance with Kerry Thursday, Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of "grandstanding" and called for serious, sustained negotiations.

The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem as parts of their future state, with small adjustments through negotiated land swaps.

Netanyahu rejects any return to Israel's pre-1967 lines and has indicated he wants to keep control of large parts of the West Bank and all of east Jerusalem. He says the core of the dispute is not land claims, but a Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish people's ancient connection to the land.

In an editorial Friday, the Haaretz newspaper said Netanyahu was probably only going through the motions of negotiations to reduce international pressure, and would only act under such pressure. "The Americans should present a plan for borders between Israel and a Palestinian state. Without this Netanyahu will not advance," the paper wrote.

Kerry this week took a small step in that direction, arriving with his security adviser, retired Gen. John Allen, to present some bridging proposals for guaranteeing Israeli security in the West Bank. The idea, American officials say, is that by easing Israeli concerns, other issues, such as borders, can then fall into place. No details about the proposals were released.

The Palestinians gave the focus on security a cool reception.

"It is clear that Israel is trying to define its strategic security interests first, and then to draw the political borders in accordance with these security needs," said Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior Palestinian official. "This is dangerous."

Yossi Beilin, the mastermind of landmark interim peace agreements in the 1990s, said the hard-line Netanyahu could argue over security matters for the next decade without resolution, and "the only way" forward is for all sides to discuss all concerns in parallel. "This has not happened," he said.

With the gaps so wide, Beilin said the Americans will have to soon start thinking about a Plan B. "Otherwise, there will be no plan whatsoever. This is the worst case scenario."

It is possible that the Americans will seek an extension in the talks. Beilin believes that with a final deal impossible, the best hope is for an interim agreement giving the Palestinians independence in temporary borders.

But the Palestinians reject any interim solution, fearing it could become permanent.

Instead, they have threatened to resume a campaign to win diplomatic recognition at the United Nations, in defiance of Israel. They have also begun floating the idea of seeking an international conference, along the lines of the Geneva talks that yielded the recent deal with Iran. And looming in the background is the constant fear of a third Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation.

Beilin said it was impossible to say which scenario would unfold, predicting only "bad things which usually we don't know in advance."
© Copyright 2016
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
S&P 500 index has its best year since 1997
The stock market closed out a record year with more all-time highs on Tuesday, giving U.S. indexes their biggest annual gains in almost two decades.
6:56PM ( 2 years ago )
Colorado readies for 'Green Wednesday' pot sales
Police were adding extra patrols around pot shops in eight Colorado towns that plan to allow recreational sales to anyone over 21 on Jan. 1.
1:52PM ( 2 years ago )
Kerry seeks framework for Mideast peace talks
A senior State Department official says Secretary of State John Kerry will try this week to get Israel and the Palestinians to agree on a framework for negotiating a final peace agreement, yet cautions against raising expectations for Kerry's latest round of shuttle diplomacy.
1:35PM ( 2 years ago )
U.S. News
Ethics laws set to take effect Jan. 1 in Georgia
After dominating much of the legislative session, a set of major ethics reforms is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.
7:04PM ( 2 years ago )
Sex offender held in Hall County for failing to register
A 47-year-old man was booked into the Hall County Jail Tuesday, being held without bond for allegedly failing to register as a sex offender, his second such arrest.
6:09PM ( 2 years ago )
Pharmacy robberies may involve same suspect
Oakwood Police Tuesday afternoon released details in a pharmacy robbery they're investigating, similar to one that happened in the Hall County Tuesday morning.
5:46PM ( 2 years ago )
Local/State News
Feds announce test sites for drone aircraft
The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.
2:23PM ( 2 years ago )
Congress letting 55 tax breaks expire at year end
In an almost annual ritual, Congress is letting a package of 55 popular tax breaks expire at the end of the year, creating uncertainty - once again - for millions of individuals and businesses.
2:21PM ( 2 years ago )
Feeling US snub, Saudis strengthen ties elsewhere
Increasingly vocal in its frustration over U.S. policies in the Mideast, Saudi Arabia is strengthening ties elsewhere, seeking out an alignment that will bolster its position after it was pushed to the sidelines this year.
4:34PM ( 2 years ago )
Search for Missouri couple wanted for crimes across the South, including Ga., ends with one suspect dead and the other wounded
A weeklong search for a Missouri couple wanted in a series of robberies and abductions across the South ended with one suspect dead and the other wounded Friday, after authorities say they chased the pair across the highway and through a rural neighborhood and exchanged gunfire with them in Florida's Panhandle.
By The Associated Press
9:57PM ( 2 days ago )
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while, buoying consumers, frustrating oil producers
Cheap oil will be sticking around for a while.That reality is wreaking havoc and causing uncertainty for some governments and businesses, while creating financial windfalls for others. Less expensive...
6:18PM ( 5 days ago )
Cruz (R) expected to claim conservative Iowa caucus victory, with Clinton (D) and Sanders (D) deadlocked among liberal vote
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz swept to victory in Iowa's Republican caucuses Monday, overcoming billionaire Donald Trump and Florida Sen. Marco Rubio. Among Democrats, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders were deadlocked in a tight race.
By The Associated Press
10:55PM ( 6 days ago )
America, its politics in flux as voting begins
On the eve of the first contest on the 2016 presidential election calendar, some voters are pushing for bolder, more uncompromising action, with an intensity that has shaken both the Republican and Democratic establishments.
By The Associated Press
9:00PM ( 1 week ago )
Piedmont College biology professor says getting rid of mosquito breeding areas key to control of Zika virus
The World Health Organization says the Zika virus is likely to spread to every area of the U.S. where the mosquito that carries it can be found - and that includes Georgia.
By Russell Brown
9:38AM ( 1 week ago )