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EDITORIAL: Tale of two unrelated gambles

rhondathompson, [email protected]

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THE NEWS of direct negotiations to be resumed between Israel and Palestine, with the hope of ending the decades-old Middle East conflict after months of hectic diplomacy, is always welcomed but always with a healthy dose of scepticism.
A time frame of one year has been given to conclude these talks and this may be an indication that United States President Barack Obama is determined to bring some conclusion to this perennial problem.
We wish him luck.
While the issues dominating the agenda have become increasingly complex, the time limit is seen as a good idea. It does not leave the negotiations open-ended and puts all parties on notice that a solution must be found. The framework for the talks remains the same: Israel’s withdrawal from occupied territories to the pre-1967 borders.
The issue of Israeli settlements on occupied territories is also a major impediment for the future. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday warned President Obama that he would pull out of the upcoming peace talks if Israel ended a slowdown of settlement construction.
The Israeli government, under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has taken a strong stand on the issue of cessation of settlements despite American pressure.
This is a major sticking point and could derail all talks. The rest of the challenge remains to be seen.
It is an issue that is likely to figure prominently during the talks. The Palestinians agreeing to the talks despite not having obtained a guarantee from Israel on settlements is obviously as a result of United States’ coercion. Mr Obama can heave a sigh of relief at getting both sides to resume talks.
President Abbas, for one, will not be in a position to concede further ground. Already the sentiments on the Palestinian street are running high on what is being perceived as a reneging on the stand of settlements. It is likely to be further fanned by Fatah’s rival group Hamas.
In addition, other key issues will include the fate of Jerusalem’s political status, the return of Palestinian refugees and the borders of a new Palestinian state. A two-state solution, while generally accepted as the only viable solution, remains shackled by these very issues. We sincerely hope the United States plays an even-handed role during negotiations.
In Australia, the election result is similar to Britain. Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s gamble has backfired. Her decision to go to ballot with less than 100 days in office, and so soon on the heels of what her opponent called the “political execution” of her predecessor Kevin Rudd, has resulted in a hung parliament. 
The race for securing the support of independent candidates might land Australia in an era of political instability. In any event, the centre-left Labour Party of Gillard has suffered a loss of face and it would merely be an aspect of political exigency for her to stay in power.