With criticisms against the U.S. efforts to block the Palestinian statehood bid and the UN Quartet's unwillingness to directly tackle the settlements issue growing, many accuse those leading efforts to renew peace negotiations of being biased in favour of Israel, leading to the country becoming more and more regionally isolated.

As regional hostility towards Israel is growing, U.S. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta warned the Netanyahu government it should restart negotiations with the Palestinians and work to restore relations with Egypt and Turkey.

Panetta currently visiting Israel is scheduled to hold talks this week with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Ehud Barak, as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

Concerned by the lack of regional support for Israel, Panetta has warned it is critical for Tel Aviv to restore communication with its neighbour in the region as an increase in hostile and unfriendly behaviour could rapidly lead to instability and threaten Israel's own security.

Panetta also stressed both the Israelis and Palestinians need to push aside preconditions and return to the peace talks that have stalled for so long.

Panetta's comment came as Israel formally accepted an international plan by the UN Middle east quartet to help reignite restarting negotiations.

The Quartet of Middle East peace mediators made from officials from the U.S., European Union, U.N. and Russia has issued a declaration last month calling for negotiations to resume "without delay or preconditions."

The plan was however widely criticised as it fails to mention the settlements issue, which Palestine said was crucial in reviving talks, insisting they stand against international law and should therefore be stopped.

Palestinian leaders were also recently angered after Israel approved a plan to build 1,100 housing units in the predominantly Jewish district of Gilo in annexed East Jerusalem.

The Quartet statement does not explicitly mention a settlement freeze but call on the two sides "to refrain from provocative actions" and reiterates their obligations under the 2003 "road map" which called for a complete halt to settlement activity.

The United States expressed deep disappointment with the Israeli move while the European Union condemned it but despite criticisms Israel has maintained its position and later on further expressed concern over some parts of the latest Quartet declaration, including its call for "substantial progress" on issues of "territory" and "security" within six months, showing it has no intention of shifting its position on the issue.

However hitting back, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also reiterated Palestine's position saying the xcountry's leaders will only return to the negotiating table with Israel if it stops building in the settlements and accepts the June 4, 1967, lines as the basis for a two-state solution.

"If Israel is serious, it must abide, without reservations, by international legitimacy as mentioned in the road map, UN resolutions and the Arab peace initiative," Abu Rudaineh also added.

The UN group has also recently increasingly been criticised for its failure to bring about any ground-breaking advances despite being set up in 2007.

Supporters of the Palestinian cause have also accused the quartet's doing of being far more advantageous to Israel, launching the debate accusing some of the most powerful countries in the international community of being biased in favour of Israel.

last week, a PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that the quartet's plan was biased in favour of Israel also adding that the timing of the publication of the proposal was "suspicious" because it coincided with Abbas's request for membership in the UN.

"The Quartet has lost its credibility, mainly because of its failure to force Israel to stop building in the settlements," the official told the Post.

The official also condemned Quartet envoy Tony Blair as a "servant of the Israeli government" and implied that the former British prime minister was "no longer welcome in Ramallah.

We prefer not to see him here again."

As tensions between Israel's, its allies and Palestine escalate, Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat also criticised the U.S.'s decision to block financial aid to the Palestinians because of the statehood bid.
"Palestinian right to self-determination is not open for bargaining or extortion,"
"We appreciate the US aid, but we won't allow anyone to extort us or bargain with us about the right to self-determination, Jerusalem and our Arab and Islamic identity," Erekat stressed. "This is unacceptable."

In light of the recent developments it is becoming increasingly clear that the U.S. efforts to lobby against and block the Palestinian UN statehood bid and the unwillingness of the quartet to directly tackle the settlement issue are leading Palestinian leaders and their supporters inside and outside of the region to think that groups pushing for the restart of talks are biased towards Israel.

As long as Palestinians feel their demands and issues are being side-lined at the advantage of Israel by those leading the talks, hope of peace coming out of negotiations in the Middle East are unrealistic.