Frustration mounts over Israeli settlements

Palestinians and Arab states are losing faith in the US’s ability to pressure Israel for a permanent freeze of building in the occupied territories in spite of Wednesday’s announcement of a 10-month suspension of settlement building.

Riyad Mansour, Palestinian envoy to the UN, has said a freeze must include East Jerusalem, and that Arab states are preparing to take their case to the United Nations Security Council.

The expected move follows the latest UN report on the situation in the Middle East that suggested efforts towards a negotiated peace had reached “a deep and worrying impasse”.

Haile Menkerios, the UN’s deputy political affairs chief, told the Security Council: “If we cannot move decisively forward to a final status agreement, we risk sliding backwards, with both the Palestinian Authority and the two-state solution itself imperiled.”

Mr Mansour’s comments reflected widespread frustration in the Arab world about the Obama administration’s performance on the Middle East, which the US president made a top foreign policy priority when he took office in January. The failure to achieve a breakthrough leaves Palestinian leaders facing a backlash from their own people.

“They feel they have been led out on the very long limb of a very high tree but they have no ladder to climb down,” said Hussein Ibish, of the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington. He said approaching the Security Council was part of efforts by the Palestinian Authority to highlight the severity of the crisis it confronted in the face of the current deadlock.

Abdurrahman Mohamed Shalgham, Libyan envoy to the UN and the Arab representative on the 15-member council, suggested US President Barack Obama had been too busy tackling Afghanistan and the domestic healthcare debate to break the deadlock caused by Israel’s refusal to end settlement activity.

“Israel wants to have everything,” said Mr Shalgham, “security, normalisation with the Arab world, land, settlements. At the same time, it doesn’t want to pay the price of that.”

He and Mr Mansour suggested the Arabs would consider a resolution to the Security Council condemning Israel’s settlement activity, although the Palestinian envoy said it could be a slow process that would involve negotiations at government level among member states.

Mr Shalgham said this week’s UN debate on the Middle East indicated there was a consensus among all 15 member states in opposing Israel on settlements, particularly the decision of the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister, to approve an additional 900 homes in the East Jerusalem settlement of Gilo. The US appears to be part of that consensus, with Mr Obama recently describing the Gilo plan as “dangerous”.

However, diplomats and analysts said the prospect of a resolution being adopted at the Security Council was slim. Despite the misgivings about Israeli policy, the US has invariably blocked what it regarded as one-sided condemnation of Israel in the council.

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