As US elections loom, President Barack Obama is loath to antagonise Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu and with him the powerful American pro-Israel lobby.
At the same time, bringing the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table was one of Obama's key pledges. His opponents could justifiably accuse him of failure on this issue since he has been unable to broker a way out of the stalemate caused largely by Israeli intransigence.
The Palestinians are adamant that they will not negotiate until illegal colony building on Palestinian land stops. The Israelis say the Palestinians should resume negotiations with no pre-conditions.
The ideal situation for Obama would be one where things appear to be moving, under a benign US influence, when in fact nothing is happening at all. This smoke and mirrors scenario is exactly what has been occurring this past week.
Last Tuesday, a three-man delegation from the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) went to occupied Jerusalem to deliver a letter from President Mahmoud Abbas. The letter set out the Palestinians' demands and pre-requisites for re-starting the peace process.
According to sources close to the Palestinian president the letter was rewritten no less than five times under pressure from the US. The most significant omission was a threat to dissolve the PNA and cease security co-ordination with Israel unless Netanyahu budges on the key issues.
The letter which finally made its way to occupied Jerusalem contained nothing new whatsoever, re-iterating Palestinian demands for a freeze on colonies and that Israel accept pre-1967 boundaries as the basis for borders of the Palestinian state. In fact, the final draft of the letter even included an implied concession on boundaries which might be moved by ‘mutually agreed upon modifications'.
Like Obama, Abbas is also perfecting the art of looking busy with the peace process (writing letters) whilst achieving nothing. His own situation is far from secure, with many Palestinians openly clamouring for the 80 year old to stand down. His credibility on the world stage has been damaged due to his inability to stand up to Netanyahu and his eagerness to avoid Washington's anger.
Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad was due to head the delegation but pulled out at the last minute, telling colleagues that he had ‘reservations' about the letter and how it would be viewed by the Palestinian public. Sources suggest that there is a widening rift between Fayyad and Abbas, further weakening the PNA which has also failed to reconcile with Hamas.
Abbas was one of the architects of the 1993 Oslo Accords which saw the creation of the PNA and anticipated the establishment of a Palestinian state within five years. Nearly 20 years later, illegal colonies in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank have more than doubled, accommodating around half a million Israelis.
It is not clear why Netanyahu is still in need of a three-man delegation to hand him a letter outlining the Palestinian vision for peace and the two-state solution. Surely it should be as clear as day having been represented over and over again at 20 years' worth of negotiations, both secret and in the open? The truth is that the two-state solution is well past its ‘sell by' date; the chance for peace that came out of the Camp David talks expired long ago and the PNA is redundant.
The PNA elicits so little respect nowadays that even its president complains about harassment at the hands of the Israelis. Abbas has told of problems with Israel's security services renewing his travel permit on more than one occasion.
Under Abbas, the PNA has been transformed into little more than a charity organisation, dependent on handouts from donors, providing jobs for its 160,000 employees. It can no longer claim to represent the Palestinian nation and many are now calling for the PNA to be dissolved and for an end to all security co-ordination with Israel. The latter position is being championed by the highly influential Marwan Al Barghouti, currently imprisoned by the Israelis.
The Israelis have said they will reply to Abbas' letter in two weeks' time. Netanyahu's response will no doubt simply reiterate the unacceptable demands he has made before, including Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Meanwhile the Israelis will exploit the absence of effective criticism from either Washington or Ramallah to continue with their illegal land grabs, colony building and human rights violations.
The present stalemate may suit those who want to buy time, but it does not suit the Palestinian people.
The Palestinians were the pioneers of revolution and uprisings against injustice, the denial of their rights and the theft of their land. Are the Palestinians going to remain silent when throughout the Arab world thousands have fought so valiantly against their corrupt and oppressive leaders?
No amount of buying time, by Obama or Abbas, will be able to hold back the tide of a third intifada.
Abdel Bari Atwan is editor of the pan-Arab newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi.