AUSTRALIA has joined with Britain in a co-ordinated international push for the United States President, Barack Obama, to use the weight of US 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 issued a statement on Friday night calling on the US to ”lead a major effort in 2013 for a negotiated two-state solution”.
The strongly worded 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 communique states.
France is also reportedly working behind the scenes to push the peace process forward. The French 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 following high-level talks between the Foreign Affairs Minister, Bob Carr, and his British counterpart, William Hague, along with the Defence Minister, Stephen Smith, and counterpart, Philip Hammond.
Mr Hague warned on Thursday that this year could bring a ”perfect storm of crises” in the Middle East if the world does 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 in the past few years, with obvious tensions between Mr Obama and the Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
The building of Israeli settlements in the West Bank have also incurred US and international condemnation. Australia broke ranks with the US in December by abstaining in a United Nations vote for Palestine to become a non-member observer state – seen as a step towards statehood. Australia took its stance only after the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who wanted to vote against the move, was forced to back down following a cabinet and backbench revolt.
The Perth communique 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 states.
Mr Obama, who will be sworn in for his second term on Tuesday, Sydney time, pledged four years ago he would ”actively and aggressively” seek peace in the Middle East.
But the Arab Spring and the US’s economic woes complicated those efforts. His hand-picked peace envoy, the former senator George Mitchell, resigned in 2011, underscoring the sense of impasse.
with Ruth Pollard
The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.