French Mideast initiative doomed without US support: expert


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US Secretary of State John Kerry gives a press conference during a foreign affairs ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on May 19, 2016 US Secretary of State John Kerry gives a press conference during a foreign affairs ministers meeting at the NATO headquarters in Brussels on May 19, 2016


Next month France will host the latest diplomatic attempt to salvage the moribund Israel-Palestinian peace process but, according to scholar Hussein Ibish, the initiative won't get far without US support.
Frustrated with progress towards any renewed bid to agree a permanent deal, Paris has invited international supporters of the peace process to talks next month designed to revive hopes for a two-state solution.
After weeks of stalling, US Secretary of State John Kerry has finally agreed to attend, but Washington still worries that another failed effort will only further undermine longer term peace-building efforts.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, has rejected any French-led multilateral effort and instead repeated his long-standing but so far fruitless offer of direct talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.
Against this unpromising backdrop, AFP asked Hussein Ibish -- a scholar at Washington's Arab Gulf States Institute and a former fellow of the American Task Force on Palestine lobby group -- whether the French proposal could work.
"I think it is very unlikely to, unfortunately," he said.
"There are two sides to this problem and the Israeli side is most unlikely to cooperate in allowing a French initiative they do not trust to create a new peace-making forum, let alone paradigm.
"Moreover, the United States ... seems to want to preserve the old triangular model in which it is the main third party, even though that model is completely stuck. So the obstacles seem too great to me."
Kerry met his French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault at the NATO summit in Brussels last week and agreed to attend June 3 talks in Paris, having previously warned he was not available on the initially planned date of May 30.
His apparent reluctance to throw Washington's weight behind its ally's initiative has been widely interpreted as showing that President Barack Obama's administration believes only the United States can lead the effort.
Ibish told AFP that Washington must remain the main broker in the peace process because Israel does not trust anyone else and no other state has the will or the capability to push negotiations forward.
"So, yes, the US remains indispensable, and even if that creates as many potential problems as it offers possible solutions, there is no viable alternative," he said, adding that the lack of American support for the conference was evident and predictable.
"Washington does not want to internationalize the process and wants to retain its own central role," he argued.
"Washington does not believe there is a basis for success at the moment and fears, reasonably, that failed efforts could make matters worse politically and on the ground."
But might Obama -- as some in Washington have predicted -- be planning his own bid to intervene in an issue that has frustrated so many of his predecessors, even in the last eight months of his presidency?
"I doubt it," Ibish said, arguing that with so little time left such an effort would amount only to an admission of past failures and a restatement of US policy dating back to former president Bill Clinton's era.
This would do little to burnish Obama's legacy.
"I think it's more probable that no final major step will be taken by this president on an issue he clearly regards as massively important but also presently unresolvable," Ibish concluded.

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