AUSTRALIA and Britain will push US President Barack Obama to use his influence to restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
Reflecting concerns that too little progress has been made on the Middle East peace process since Mr Obama took office four years ago, Australia and Britain on Friday night called on the US to ”lead a major effort in 2013 for a negotiated two-state solution”.
The plea, part of a communique issued by the two countries after the annual AUKMIN defence and security talks in Perth, says the ”urgent need” for progress can only be met by the US, which has the ”influence and capability to bring both sides together”.
”Past progress has only been achieved through US leadership,” the statement said.
France is also reportedly working behind the scenes to push the peace process forward. President Francois Hollande has told the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv that France is drafting an initiative for fresh negotiations based on pre-1967 borders with possible land swaps and a freeze on new settlements.
The sense of urgency about progress in Israeli-Palestinian talks has been heightened by the deteriorating civil war in Syria and the Islamist insurgency in Mali.
The Perth communique was released after talks between Foreign Minister Bob Carr, his British counterpart William Hague, Defence Minister Stephen Smith and counterpart Philip Hammond.
Mr Hague warned on Thursday that 2013 could bring a ”perfect storm of crises” in the Middle East if the world did not tackle Syria’s civil war, Iran’s nuclear program and the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The US is widely seen as the only broker powerful enough to bring the sides together, but relations between the US and Israel have deteriorated, with obvious tensions between Mr Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank has also incurred US and international condemnation. Australia broke ranks with the US in December by abstaining in a UN vote for Palestine to become a non-member observer state – seen as a step towards statehood. Australia took its stance only after Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who wanted to vote against the move, was forced to back down by a cabinet and backbench revolt.
The Perth statement called on the Israelis to stop building settlements in the West Bank, saying the ”illegal” activity ”undermines the prospects for peace”.
And it demanded the Palestinians stop all rocket attacks from Gaza, ”resolve their internal differences … and cease acts of violence against Israel. Actions by both sides must be in the interests of peace. Neither side should create obstacles to that objective,” it said.
Mr Obama, who will be sworn in for his second term on Tuesday Melbourne time, pledged four years ago he would ”actively and aggressively” seek peace in the Middle East.
With RUTH POLLARD
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Shanghai Night Net.