x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Palestinians disappointed with lack of new ideas in Clinton's speech

US secretary of state 'did not suggest any alternatives to an approach that they've already declared doesn't work. This is a problem,' says Palestinian Authority.

WASHINGTON // Palestinians said yesterday they are disappointed with a speech that Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, delivered to a Washington think tank about the faltering peace talks.

The speech on Friday night came as US efforts to mediate the conflict are in disarray. Last week, the US administration announced it would no longer seek any extensions to a partial Israeli settlement construction freeze in occupied territory, a key Palestinian demand to resume direct negotiations.

Palestinians say continued settlement building dooms peace talks because it pre-empts the outcome of negotiations. They said they want the US to blame Israel for the collapse of the talks.

But it was the lack of any new ideas in Mrs Clinton's speech that was singled out for most criticism.

"There was nothing new in her speech," said Ghassan Khatib, the director of the Palestinian Authority's media centre. "She did not suggest any alternatives to an approach that they've already declared doesn't work. This is a problem."

Mrs Clinton told delegates at a dinner at the Brookings Institution on Friday that a Palestinian state was inevitable and in everyone's interest.

"A just and lasting peace will transform the region," Mrs Clinton said. "Israelis will finally be able to live in security, at peace with their neighbours, and confident in their future. Palestinians will at last have the dignity and justice they deserve with a state of their own and the freedom to chart their own destiny."

On core issues, Mrs Clinton simply restated long-established US positions, and on diplomacy she vowed only that Washington would "redouble" its diplomatic efforts to secure a deal, without indicating how or if any fresh ideas were being considered.

She also said Washington would oppose "unilateral efforts at the United Nations", a reference to the Palestinian position that in the absence of progress in the peace process, the Palestinians would unilaterally declare statehood and seek international recognition through the UN.

Mrs Clinton did reiterate US opposition to settlements, saying that like "every American administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity. We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and two-state solution, but to Israel's future itself."

Mr Khatib welcomed Mrs Clinton's mention of settlements, but said the US, along with the international community, needed to become more active in resolving the conflict.

"I was not happy with the repetition of the mantra that it is up to Palestinians and Israelis to solve the problem. On the one hand this is obviously true, but as long as Israel is not serious, it is up to the US, in particular, and the international community in general, to pressure Israel to become serious," Mr Khatib said.

US officials continue to maintain that direct negotiations remain the best way forward. But the announcement last week that Washington will not be seeking a continued settlement construction freeze means that direct talks will be replaced by indirect negotiations.

That amounts to a significant setback for US meditation efforts. Only three months ago, Washington trumpeted the shift from indirect to direct talks, and announced its optimism that these talks would yield a comprehensive agreement in a year.

Dianna Buttu, a Palestinian analyst and a former legal adviser to the PLO, said as long as the US did not change its approach, only failure could be expected.

"The Americans are unwilling to pressure Israel on anything, in particular on settlements. Clinton's speech didn't indicate that this would change. They either have to change this approach or continue in this insane belief that the only approach they can take is the same approach that has failed again and again over decades," Ms Buttu said.

okarmi@thenational.ae