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Middle East Talks Uncertain Despite Security Council Boost

The UN Security Council has thrown its support behind a Middle East peace initiative. But with Israel headed for elections and Palestine instability increasing, the talks are in danger of falling apart.

UN Security Council

The UN Security Council's support might not change much in the Middle East

For the first time in five years, the UN Security Council voted to throw its weight behind the ongoing Middle East peace process. The 14-0 vote on Tuesday, Dec. 16 was a strong show of support for negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians.

It brought out diplomatic heavy hitters like US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts Sergey Lavrov of Russia and David Miliband of Britain.

"A Palestinian state is long overdue," Rice said in an address to the Council before the vote. She urged the two sides to take political and security steps to arrive at a full-fledged Palestinian state.

Yet the reality is that one year into renewed peace talks, they are in danger of falling apart. The UN resolution is seen as a last-ditch effort to keep the talks on track in face of ongoing instability in the Palestinian territories and a likely return of the hard-line Likud Party in Israel next year.

Negotiations are "irreversible"

The Security Council resolution was worked out by the United States and Russia, two of the quartet on diplomacy for the Middle East, which has been working for years to find an end to the conflict.

The other parties in the quartet are the United Nations and the European Union.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Rice said a Palestinian state is "long overdue"

The resolution declared the council's support for the initiative from the Middle East peace conference held in Annapolis, Maryland, in November, 2007, and "its commitment to the irreversibility of the bilateral negotiations."

It urged an intensification of the diplomatic efforts to achieve a "comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

Elections could pose new hurdles

The foreign ministers attended the Quartet meeting on Monday to call on Israel and the Palestinians to move forward quickly to a settlement of the conflict.

Yet problems remain on both sides.

Many Israelis oppose withdrawing from occupied lands. Two out of every three Israelis said they would oppose such a move, in a survey released Tuesday.

Masked Hamas security forces are seen on a truck during

Hamas is a destabilizing factor

Furthermore, Israel is heading into an election in February. The new Israeli government will most likely be headed by Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been critical of the government's handling of negotiations and would likely not support Israel giving up its settlements on the West Bank.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has indicated he might call for elections in the middle of 2009. There is a real possibility that both will be won by the radical Islamic Hamas movement, which refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist and with whom Israel refuses to negotiate.

US President George W. Bush, who had hoped to achieve a settlement before he leaves office in January, no longer believes that the goal is realistic, a spokesman said.

It definitely seems unlikely that a settlement will be reached by the end of December, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged.

But Ban urged both sides to "ensure that what has been started is seen all the way through to its conclusion," Ban said.

Europe will continue its involvement

Palestinians stand behind razorwire barricades next to Israeli troops at the Kalandia Checkpoint

A lot of barriers to peace remain

Miliband urged Israel and Palestine to continue negotiating.

"The responsibility for a resolution of the Middle East conflict does not just fall to Israel and the Palestinians though they must lead the process," Miliband noted in his remarks.

"It falls to every state in the region, for the only sustainable peace must be a 23-state solution, not just a two-state solution -- 22 Arab states and Israel living side by side in security," he added.

France's UN Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert insisted on the "absolute necessity to respect humanitarian law."

He said the law bans "bans terrorist acts which blindly target civilians such as attacks and rocket firing against Israel" as well "any form of collective punishment" referring to the harsh Israeli measures against the people of Gaza in response to rocket attacks.

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