Following in Brazil’s footsteps from last Friday, Argentina announced on Monday it recognized a “free and independent” Palestinian state, sparking an immediate condemnation from Israel.

Argentina’s President Cristina Kirchner told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in a letter that her country recognized a Palestine defined by 1967 borders, Argentine officials said.

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Brazil says it recognizes Palestinian state
Reciprocal unilateralism

The Argentine Foreign Ministry said in an e-mailed statement that the move was designed to help “definitively advance the negotiation process that will lead to the establishment of a just and lasting peace in the Middle East.”

Uruguay announced soon afterward that it would recognize a Palestinian state next year. “Uruguay will surely follow the same path as Argentina in 2011,” Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Conde told AFP.

Israel expressed “regret and disappointment” on Monday night at Argentina’s decision to join Brazil in recognizing an independent Palestinian state.

“Recognition of a Palestinian state is a violation of the interim agreement signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 1995, which established that the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip will be discussed and solved through negotiations,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. The statement said that recognition of a Palestinian state also contradicted the road map.

“All attempts to bypass negotiations and to unilaterally determine issues in dispute will only harm the trust of the sides and their commitment to agreed upon frameworks for negotiations,” the statement read.

The American Jewish Committee called the recognition of an independent Palestinian state by Brazil and Argentina both worrisome and counterproductive.

Such actions would only “encourage the PA to unilaterally declare independence,” which would “undermine the prospect for durable peace,” according to AJC Executive Director David Harris.

“If Latin American countries truly want to support Arab- Israeli peace, they should be pressing President Abbas to return to the direct talks that were revived with US assistance three months ago, and suspended a few weeks later by Abbas,” he added.

Over 100 countries have endorsed the Palestinians’ 1988 unilateral declaration of independent statehood.

Clinton preparing major statement on peace process

Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is preparing a major statement on the process this week, as talks between the US and Israel over a plan to restart negotiations have stalled.

“I will be making a very formal set of remarks,” Clinton told the American-based Arabic TV station Al Hurra during her trip to Bahrain this weekend, declining to offer details of her plans.

She is scheduled to give a keynote address at the Saban Forum of the Brookings Institution Friday night, where she will be appearing with Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Clinton indicated that the US had “made progress” in continuing conversations with Israelis and Palestinians, but that the obligation remained on both sides to make the necessary compromises.

“We have been talking with both parties very substantively, and I think that the United States can play a role to help each make decisions about very difficult matters that then can be presented to the other side,” she said.

One source close to the issue said the remarks could include an announcement of a US-Israeli deal that has been in the works for weeks if it were completed on time, but he said there was a very low probability of it being worked out by the end of the week.



The deal seeks to find a US-engineered formula for restarting direct talks. The details disclosed last month include an extension of Israel’s lapsed settlement freeze – a condition the Palestinians are demanding for talks to resume – for a period of some three months in exchange for 20 F-35 fighter jets from the US. The deal has been stuck, however, amid reservations and differences over details on both sides and criticism from domestic players in each country, as well as from Palestinians who might still be unwilling to come to the table under the arrangement.

In place of a US-Israel deal, and particularly if it falls through entirely, there is also speculation that Clinton could outline a more assertive US vision for a final-status resolution in hopes of adding pressure to both sides to tackle the tough issues that divide them.

The prospect of US-generated parameters was raised in an International Herald Tribune oped jointly penned by former US ambassador to Israel Samuel Lewis, Middle East expert Scott Lasensky and Georgetown University’s Chester Crocker last month.

“Faltering Middle East peace talks need a jolt. And Washington does have a powerful potential prod: taking a firm stand on how to end the conflict,” they wrote. “An American declaration of principles – carefully crafted and properly marketed – could spark a debate and thereby change the political calculus for leaders.”

But such a move could blindside Israel and is unlikely at this stage, according to Washington sources.

“It’s far too early to lay out a set of substantive guidelines on the core issues,” said Aaron David Miller, a Woodrow Wilson Center public policy scholar who has advised both Republican and Democratic secretaries of state.

He continued, “They owe the world an answer on process, though. Specifically, what is being done to restart direct talks, sponsor indirect ones, and on US-Israeli arrangements for extension of the settlements freeze.”

Some welcome diplomatic moves came as result of fire, US official says

The talks between the US and Israel have also been set back by the devastating fires that broke out last week, diverting time and attention from the peace process.

Daniel Shapiro, National Security Council senior director for the Middle East, declined to comment on how the fires had affected the US-Israel talks and Clinton’s upcoming address during a conference call on the disaster Monday.

But he did say that some welcome diplomatic moves had come as numerous international actors helped Israel cope with the conflagration.

“It was certainly a positive gesture by the Jordanian and Egyptian and PA authorities to contribute as well,” he said in response to a question from The Jerusalem Post. “Perhaps the contacts that come out of those [and] additional positive things can be built upon them.”

During the call, he also noted US President Barack Obama’s pledge “to do absolutely whatever was necessary” to help.

That has included 111 metric tons of fire suppressant and 3,800 gallons of fire retardant chemicals provided by five US aircraft, plus a dispatch of a 10- man team – up from the threeperson crew originally announced – of American firefighting experts. The team arrived in Israel Sunday and immediately proceeded to Haifa to contribute to the effort. They will be staying in the country for at least the rest of the week and helping to lay the groundwork for long-term recovery efforts.

In addition, eight American firefighting planes were en route to Israel when the government told Washington it no longer required the assistance since the flames were under control. An additional 60-person firefighting team about to depart for Israel from Idaho was also told its services were not needed, but they remain on standby should the situation change.

“We’ve had people working around the clock trying to coordinate with the government of Israel to ensure that we were able to provide the kind of assistance that they most needed,” said Nancy Lindborg, who works in USAID’s Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance. “The Israeli government did an extraordinary job coordinating the international response, and their ability to get such a quick handle on this devastating fire was amazing.”

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