Barack Obama is close to revealing plan for Middle East peace

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The Obama Administration is close to presenting its plan for peace in the Middle East to Israel and the Palestinians, senior officials said yesterday.

Ehud Barak, the Israeli Defence Minister, said that the long-awaited plan would be disclosed to the parties within weeks and recommended that Israel take the initiative and accept the proposals from its most important ally, with whom it has endured strained ties recently.
 
“In the coming weeks, their plan will be formulated and presented to the parties,” Mr Barak told the parliamentary foreign and defence committee. “I believe that Israel must take the lead in accepting the plan.”

In Washington, a State Department spokesman confirmed that the plan would be announced by George Mitchell, the special Middle East envoy “in a matter of weeks.” No details were released, although it is thought that the plan is based on an Arab initiative whereby Israel would gain recognition from the Arab world in return for the creation of a Palestinian state.

Differences still persist between both sides, focusing on control of Jerusalem, the right of millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendents to return to the country and the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

It is thought that the plan will have a broader regional approach than previous peace efforts, and will include the participation of Syria, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.

The Palestinian leadership refuses to resume negotiations until all settlement construction ceases. Israel’s right-wing Government has so far been reluctant to commit to that, despite demands from Mr Obama to do so.
 
One idea that George Mitchell, the Middle East special envoy, discussed with the Israelis has been for Israel to agree to a temporary halt in settlement constructions to get both parties to the negotiating table.
 
Israel has demanded that the Palestinians who, with the exception of Hamas and other Islamist factions, have long since acknowledged Israel’s right to exist, should officially recognise it as a Jewish state. The more moderate Fatah leadership refuses to do so.
 
Fatah opened its first party congress in 20 years in Bethlehem yesterday. It was part of efforts to reform itself and shake off its image of corruption, cronyism and ineffectiveness that led to its defeat by Hamas in elections in 2006 and the loss of Gaza to the Islamists in a brief civil war two years ago.

Fatah delegates arrived from across the Arab world but not from Gaza, where Hamas refused to allow them to leave unless the Fatah-dominated Palestinian authority released Hamas prisoners from West Bank jails.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President and Fatah leader, urged his people to back renewed peace talks. “We have to continue this way, for the interest of the people,” he said.

Fatah officials have said that as a people under occupation, Palestinians have the right to armed resistance if talks fail and Israeli settlements continue.
 
Mr Abbas urged his people to resort to civil disobedience rather than renewing the armed struggle which ended with Israel building a security barrier inside the West Bank to prevent attack.
 

By: James Hider in Jerusalem and Tim Reid in Washington,TIMESONLINE.CO.UK

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/middle_east/article6739444.ece