The implementation of the Road Map plan to settle the Palestinian-Israeli conflict has reached a deadlock, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov stated on Wednesday, when opening talks with Nabil Shaath, the foreign minister of the Palestinian Authority.
The main subject of Shaath's talks in Moscow was Israel's construction of "the dividing wall", or as the Israelis call it, "the security wall".
Hearings on whether the construction of defensive structures on occupied Palestinian territories is legal will start in the International Court of Justice in The Hague on February 23, while both sides must submit their arguments by January 30.
While admitting that Israel has the right to defend itself, Moscow, like Washington, nevertheless, disapproves of the wall's construction and considers it to be one of the main obstacles to settlement. Nabil Shaath received firm support in this respect. The situation concerning the Palestinians' hope of finding in Russia "a way out of the deadlock at this difficult moment for the Palestinians, when the Road Map is not being implemented, and the Israeli occupation is continuing" is far more complicated.
However, Moscow cannot offer anything new to Nabil Shaath. Moreover, for the first time since last spring when the Road Map plan was put on the table by the quartet of Middle East mediators - Russia, the USA, EU and UN - the Russian Foreign Ministry has publicly admitted that the implementation process has reached a deadlock.
Diplomats are at a loss. Neither Moscow, nor Washington nor any other capital can think of new settlement plans. The Road Map took all the previous proposals into account and suited both conflicting sides, in principle, with the exception of the 14 amendments proposed by Israel.
"The point at issue is creating the necessary conditions for implementing the Road Map plan, not producing new initiatives", Igor Ivanov told a press conference held at the end of the talks.
Significantly, literally a few hours before the Ivanov-Shaath meeting, US President George Bush, making his annual State of the Union Address, mentioned neither the Road Map plan, in particular, nor the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, in general. However, only 18 months ago Bush made a programme statement on the settlement, many provisions of which served as a basis for the Road Map plan. In the summer of 2002, it seemed that Bush, who until that moment, as distinct from his predecessor Bill Clinton, had not paid attention to Middle East settlement, made it a priority for his foreign policy. However, Bush is currently very busy handling Iraq, where things are not going as smoothly as he would like and, against the backdrop of the forthcoming presidential elections, it will do him no favours to draw the public's attention to an area that is doomed to failure. Apart from that, an active policy in this direction may set the US leader at loggerheads with the influential Jewish and numerous Muslim communities in the USA, which would be quite inopportune. On the other hand, without Washington's active participation in Middle East settlement, there will be no results.
There is yet another indication that the situation will remain hopeless in the near future: Israel's attempts to improve relations with a few Arab and Muslim countries. A case in point is the Israeli leaders' contacts with Libya, Oman, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan.
No one is going to abandon the Palestinian element of the Middle East conflict. The Palestinians and Israelis will continue to hold talks through various channels. For example, the ninth, since the first presentation of the Road Map, secret meeting between Israeli and Palestinian representatives ended in Turkey last week. It produced no results, but the process is continuing.
The mediators in the settlement process will also continue to look for compromises. In Igor Ivanov's words, Russia will "contact representatives of France, Italy, Germany, the US Secretary of State, and UN General-Secretary on this problem" in the near future.
The Palestinian side is prepared to sign another cease-fire agreement, Nabil Shaath stated in Moscow.
No one expects any immediate success in Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Diplomats have become used to the fact that for every one step taken forward, there are always two steps back. However, it seems that there will be no progress under the current generation of Israeli and Palestinian politicians. Moscow and other capitals are aware of this.
What the new generation of Israeli and Palestinian politicians will be and whether or not it will be ready for dialogue is an entirely different question.