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Clinton seeks to resurrect Mideast peace talks

world Updated: Oct 31, 2009 07:41 IST

AFP
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to arrive in Israel on Saturday on a mission aimed at injecting new life into the moribund Middle East peace process.

Clinton was to meet Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the United Arab Emirates before heading for the Jewish state for talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Clinton's goal on the visit is "to work through the challenges we face in pursuit of comprehensive Middle East peace," State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said.

Her trip follows several seemingly futile rounds of shuttle diplomacy by Washington's special envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell.

Analysts said that sending the top US diplomat signalled the nadir reached in the peace process.

"It is a sign that the process is in trouble and Clinton is coming to try and get it moving again," said political analyst Yossi Alpher.

"The big question is, is she bringing some sticks or carrots that Mitchell might not have had the authority to use?"

Last week Clinton offered President Barack Obama a downbeat report on his administration's so-far frustrated efforts to forge Middle East peace.

The president has made the issue a cornerstone of his evolving foreign policy, and cajoled Netanyahu and Abbas into joining him at a summit last month in New York.

But even if Clinton can exert fresh pressure on Netanyahu and Abbas, it appeared unlikely that a breakthrough could be achieved any time soon.

Deep divisions among the Palestinians -- between Abbas' secular Fatah faction the Islamist Hamas movement that rules the Gaza Strip -- have cast further doubts over the future of the peace process.

Hamas rejects the legitimacy of Abbas, who holds sway only in the occupied West Bank.

The Islamists said this week they will ban the holding of elections which Abbas has called in the Palestinian territories in January, further widening the intra-Palestinian divide.

"The Palestinians are deadlocked," said Israeli analyst Jonathan Spyer of the Global Research in International Affairs Center. "With such obvious obstacles there is very little chance for substantive progress on the Palestinian track."

The Palestinians insist they will not resume the negotiations that broke off in December over Israel's Gaza offensive unless the Jewish state completely freezes construction in its West Bank settlements which the international community considers illegal.

Netanyahu, who heads a largely hardline coalition, has rejected US-led international pressure to apply such a freeze, offering instead to implement a partial moratorium on construction.

And Palestinians said that even if they were to agree to a resumption of talks they would be unlikely to go anywhere given the gaps between the sides.

"There is the question of what you are going to achieve by such talks," said Samir Awad, an international affairs professor at Bir-Zeit University.

"I think the Israeli government's position is very clear. I do not expect anything, ever, from this government."

With such bleak prospects on the Israeli-Palestinian track, analysts said it was possible Clinton would shift focus to Israel and Syria after leaders from the two nations indicated in recent days a willingness to return to long-abandoned peace talks.

"We are familiar that when the Palestinian track becomes frozen, the Syrian track takes off," said Spyer. "I would not be surprised if we are going to witness something there, precisely because everyone wants there to be some kind of process."