Looking For Yet Another Approach To Mideast Peace

The Obama administration's Mideast peace envoy was sent to the region this past Friday with the daunting task of bringing Israelis and Palestinians back to "proximity talks." NPR's Michele Kelemen reports on some of the creative thinking about how to bridge the divide.

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The Obama administration is renewing the push for talks between Israelis and Palestinians. Middle East envoy George Mitchell was sent back to the region this past week, even though Israel has rejected U.S. and Palestinian pressure to stop building in east Jerusalem. Palestinians claim that part of the city is their future capital.

As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, many analysts say it's time for some creative thinking to salvage the peace effort.

MICHELE KELEMEN: A former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Samuel Lewis, says that if the Obama administration has learned one thing from its very public dispute with Israel over housing projects in east Jerusalem, it should be this:

Mr. SAMUEL LEWIS (Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel): The idea that you can defer Jerusalem 'til everything else is morally solved - that's an idea whose time has come and gone. It can no longer be deferred. Something has to be done to get it into negotiation. Otherwise, I think the Palestinians are going to be unable to play the negotiating game.

KELEMEN: The issue of Jerusalem - how it could be shared - has always been considered one of the toughest of the so-called final status issues to be negotiated by the Israelis and Palestinians. And Lewis says U.S. administrations have always tried to put it off. But that's becoming harder to do, he says, because of a quote, creeping annexation of Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.

Mr. LEWIS: And every one of the crises between the U.S. and Israel over the last year or two has been about one of these infringements, if you will, on the Arab part of east Jerusalem by settlers, financed largely by American millionaires, buying up from Arab owners pieces - little pieces - and then developing those into housing projects.

KELEMEN: Lewis describes them as inkblots which are spreading. He was speaking at a recent luncheon at the Nixon Center, where another former U.S. ambassador to Israel, Martin Indyk, offered a suggestion for what Israel could do to give Palestinians some confidence that the future of Jerusalem will be up for negotiation.

Mr. MARTIN INDYK (Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel): If there's going to be building in the Jewish settlements of east Jerusalem, then there should be building in the Arab suburbs of Jerusalem for Arabs, not for Jews. While that is going ahead - that there will be no demolition of Arab houses or evictions of Arabs in the Arab suburbs.

KELEMEN: There is a school of thought in Washington that it's time to get even more ambitious, and simply put a U.S. peace plan on the table before time runs out. Former Ambassadors Lewis and Indyk are not in that camp. Nor, it seems, is President Obama's national security adviser, James Jones.

Mr. JAMES JONES (National Security Adviser): In our pursuit of a two-state solution, we recognize that peace must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside. At the same time, we also understand that the status quo is not sustainable.

KELEMEN: In a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Policy this past week, Jones said the administration is disappointed that after more than a year of trying to revive the Middle East peace process, Israelis and Palestinians are still not talking to each other directly. And while the U.S. doesn't seem ready to put a plan on the table, it may soon have to sketch out a clear vision for negotiations to give both sides some confidence in the process.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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