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PIECEMEAL

It might be a shudder before the end, or the rumblings of a fresh start. But there is no doubt that the latest move of the Palestinian Authority has brought the lumbering peace talks in the Middle East into renewed focus. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, has just signed papers asking for Palestine’s inclusion in 15 United Nations conventions. His move clearly goes against his promise to put on hold efforts to seek international recognition of Palestine as one of the conditions to the talks with Israel that restarted last July. But seen against Israel’s own prevarications on the promises it had made before the talks, Mr Abbas’s move would seem less surprising. Over the past weekend, Israel has reneged on the release of the last tranche of prisoners that was part of the preconditions. Despite the desperate effort of the United States of America to keep the talks going by offering to release the much-sought-after Jewish spy, Jonathan Pollard, Israel floated a tender for new settlements in east Jerusalem. The Palestinian Authority’s move followed soon after, suggesting a tit-for-tat action. The problem is that the return to the UN does nothing but crack open old fissures that have dogged the peace talks. Israel is already seeing it as a renewed call for war and the US is on the verge of throwing up its hands in desperation. For the US, which had been pinning its hopes of claiming a foreign policy success on the peace talks, Mr Abbas’s move is like a slap on the face. After Vladimir Putin and Mr Abbas, there is every reason for it to fear now that Iran might follow suit in cocking a snook at its authority.

But the US should have known all along that the Middle East peace process does not merely involve the men at the helm. The talks have always been vulnerable to pressure groups on either side, and the story this time is no different. Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, is under tremendous pressure from right-wing groups, especially after the Knesset passed the law for conscription for the haredim that has, strangely, allowed the Labour Party to pick up brownie points. He could not make himself any more vulnerable politically by freezing settlement plans. Mr Abbas too needed to revive his image after the departure of his high-profile deputy, Salam Fayyad. So while the men fight it out to preserve their interests, it seems like the US, and peace, will have to wait.