By Ray Fleming

IF the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is not to escalate out of control a new approach is needed. Having capitulated to Israel's stance last week America can now only suggest a return to low-level negotiations to find a solution where none exists. With each day that passes Israel strengthens its position while Palestine's weakens. Yesterday an offer of help came from The Elders -- the group of distinguished former leaders which includes Nelson Mandela, Jimmy Carter, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan, Mary Robinson, Aung San Suu Kyi and Martti Ahtisaari. For a moment my hopes rose but only until I read the statement issued by the Elders which simply listed the issues that need to be resolved without giving any indication of how their involvement would produce anything different from that of successive US Presidents. I thought it was pathetic. I wonder why they bothered.

Perhaps it is time for the European Union with its new diplomatic capacity to take a hand. Fresh thinking is certainly needed and the leading EU nations, especially Britain and France, have considerable experience of the Middle East. Washington would complain but it has really run out of ideas. Another course, already floated, would be for Palestine to get sufficient support at the UN to enable it to make a unilateral declaration of statehood -- rather as Kosovo did last year. It wouldn't be easy but nothing is in this situation, which cannot be allowed to fester by neglect.

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