• Multilateral pressure is needed on Israel, Nabil Shaath says
  • Clinton is safer choice, veteran Palestinian politician says

A senior aide to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas expressed skepticism that a French initiative meant to revive peace talks with Israel will bear fruit.

The Palestinians have supported the French-led multilateral approach and are helping to plan its details, but senior Palestinian official Nabil Shaath said the effort is likely to fail because the region is mired in chaos and no one is willing to push Israel to make real sacrifices.

“I don’t have much hope the French initiative will work out, at least at this stage of the game,” Shaath, 82, said Wednesday in an interview at his Ramallah office. “Syria is a catastrophe, Iraq is in chaos, Yemen and Libya are imploding, Egypt has serious economic problems.”

Shaath’s comments underscore the lack of horizon for peace talks since a previous round of discussions in 2013-2014 led by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry ended in acrimony. Israelis and Palestinians are now embroiled in a struggle over how to move the process forward, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking to hold direct talks under Egyptian auspices. The Palestinians prefer that the talks be shepherded by a multilateral group similar to the one that negotiated the Iran nuclear deal, which included China, Russia, France, the U.S., U.K. and Germany. 

Multilateral Pressure

Israel has opposed the Paris initiative, fearing it will try to impose a plan that doesn’t take sufficient note of Israeli concerns. Israeli officials say only direct talks with the Palestinians can produce an agreement, while the Palestinians say more than two decades of bilateral talks have failed and refuse to return to that track.

Shaath says one positive aspect of the Paris process, which kicked off with a meeting of foreign ministers earlier this year and is to continue with a summit this winter, is that negotiations are moving beyond U.S.-chaperoned discussions to a process where a multilateral group could press Israel for concessions.

“In this new world, where the U.S. is not the only power in town, the rules have yet to be concocted so we have to wait and see," he said. "Progress will only come when the international community is really able to offer carrots and sticks” to force Israel to compromise.

Hovering over the competing efforts to revive talks is an Israeli concern, and the hope of some Palestinians, that U.S. President Barack Obama will offer his own peace framework before he leaves office next January.

Trump Wildcard

“That’s a dream that Mr. Obama, just before he leaves, while he is a lame duck, will come out with parameters that will be his legacy,” Shaath said. “I like Obama, but I don’t think he will do that.”

Asked whether Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton or Republican nominee Donald Trump would be better for the region, Shaath said Clinton is probably the best choice at this point -- though he personally preferred Bernie Sanders.

“At least she has experience, understands the changes in this world and she won’t go into surprises,” Shaath said. “Mr. Trump might surprise everyone, but I don’t know what he will do. That is very unsettling for me.”

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