U.S., EU Diplomats Visit Region to Reboot Peace Process

Jerusalem, Sept. 15 - EU and U.S. diplomats launched a last-ditch effort to stave off a Palestinian bid for unilateral statehood at the United Nations, fearing it would seriously set back Middle East peace.

The Palestinian Authority (PA) also launched a last-minute media campaign to win support for the maneuver; it is being published in 26 languages, including Hebrew. Yet European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton, who is currently visiting the region, is trying to convince the Palestinian leadership that negotiations with Israel hold the key to peace and prosperity.

“The mandate that I have to be in the region, the Middle East, this week, is to seek ways in which we can get negotiations moving and to find a way in which the people of Israel and the people of Palestine can live side-by-side, in peace and security,” said Ashton, according to an EU media statement.

American diplomats David Hale and Dennis Ross are also in the Middle East to try to persuade the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

The Quartet on the Middle East – comprising Russia, the United States, the U.N. and the EU – and the American leadership have been leading efforts to convince PA President Mahmoud Abbas that the U.N. endeavor will not solve problems on the ground.

“Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinians will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror,” said U.S. President Barack Obama in his Mideast speech in May. Hamas, which denounces Israel’s right to exist, is part of the new tentative Palestinian government.

Recent polling of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank suggests many feel that involvement with Iran-backed Hamas is a detriment. Moreover, two-thirds believe engaging with Israeli diplomatically is the right move.

Of those polled, 83 percent want Abbas to focus on jobs, 38 percent on healthcare expansion and 23 percent strengthening schools and education. The polling of over 1,000 Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank was conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner on behalf of The Israel Project in July 2011.

The polling also revealed that West Bank Palestinians are overwhelmingly proud of their democratic processes and institution building.

However, a recent U.N. report noted that “there is a dramatically widening gap between the far reaching institutional progress and a stagnant political process” in the West Bank. United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said that there is a “disconnect between what the PA has achieved on the ground, and where the political process stands,” according to an UNSCO media statement.

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