The Quartet's 3-month "deadline" comes + goes

Today is the three-month marker of the Quartet plan presented to the Palestinian leadership after their “UN bid”, the formal request for admission of the State of Palestine as a full member of the United Nations, made on 23 September 2011 at UN Headuarters in New York.

The Quartet Plan was presented to stop the P.L.O. from pursuing their “UN bid”, or pressing it for a vote, because Israel was terribly upset, and the U.S. threatened to use their veto power to block it in the UN Security Council.

At the first 3-month mark, the two parties were to have met, and they were to have exchanged ideas on what the borders for a two-state solution should look like, and on security arrangements.

So, what has happened?

In December, the Palestinians let it be known that if Israel doesn’t present its idea of borders for a two-state solution by this date, the “hudna” or “truce would be over, and the Palestinians would again unleash all efforts for international recognition and admission to the international organization.

In a calm and rather leisurely reaction, the U.S. State Department said a few days later that the three-month marker was not a rigid or fixed “deadline” … and urged efforts to continue to bring the parties back to the table for direct negotiations.

[Only the Palestinians were refusing, saying it would be useless, mainly because Israeli settlement-building activities continued, while Israeli officials said to anyone who would listen that they were ready for direct talks, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even repeated his offer to go anywhere, almost anytime — even to Ramallah…]

Then, King Abdullah II of Jordan flew by helicopter over the Israeli-controlled West Bank and landed in the refurbished helicopter pad at Ramallah Presidential Muqata’a for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — a day before Abbas himself was due to travel through Jordan, on his way to another session of Palestinian reconciliation talks with Hamas officials in Cairo… Little was revealed publicly about that meeting, and some diplomatic sources suggested that the real purpose was that Abdullah needed help and had panicked, and was really asking Mahmoud Abbas for help .

What is more significant is that U.S. State Department envoy David Hale, who had met Abbas the evening before, was back in Jerusalem to meet Israeli PM Netanyahu just before Abdullah II landed in Ramallah. Then, Hale drove overland to Amman, and met Abdallah II back in Amman that evening.

Not long afterwards, Jordan announced that it would be hosting talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Amman — which would include direct meetings for the first time since September 2010. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh announced that further contacts would be held — but not announced.

The U.S. Secretary of State then announced the date of the second meeting, in early January…

There was criticism from different Palestinian political groupings, from Hamas to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], and Palestinian “youth groups” organized a couple of demonstrations outside the Muqata’a to protest.

A total of five meetings were held in Amman, prior to today’s deadline.

The Palestinians presented their maps and border proposals in an early meeting.

It was not until the last meeting of negotiators [the P.L.O.’s Saeb Erekat, and Israel’s Yitzhak Molcho] that the Israeli delegation screeched up to the meeting, just hours before the deadline, with a kind of power-point presentation about its general ideas — but reportedly without any very specific indications of what Israel thought the borders for a two-state solution should be… and not much indication about security, either.

UPDATE: AP reported on Friday 27 January, here, that:

    “Israel is proposing to essentially turn its West Bank separation barrier into the border with a future state of Palestine, two Palestinian officials said Friday, based on their interpretation of principles Israel presented in talks this week. The officials said Israeli envoy Yitzak Molcho told his Palestinian counterpart that Israel wants to keep east Jerusalem and consolidate Jewish settlements behind the separation barrier, which slices close to 10 percent off the West Bank. They spoke on condition of anonymity, citing strict no-leaks rules by Jordanian mediators … Israel has confirmed that it presented principles this week for drawing a border with a Palestinian state. But the politically charged nature of the talks — even though they were held at a relatively low level, below that of Cabinet ministers — was reflected in the guarded refusal by any top official to discuss details. An Israeli government official said that as far as he knew, the information was incorrect, but declined to elaborate or go on the record, citing Jordan’s demand for discretion. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, one of the closest Cabinet ministers to Netanyahu, said he has been supporting such an offer for months, and that Israel should concentrate on preserving the large West Bank settlement blocs, close to the pre-1967 border. But he could not confirm whether the offer was in fact made. ‘I do not know if (Molcho) said these words exactly, but it would be great’, Meridor told The Associated Press … Israel started building the barrier in 2002, in the midst of a Palestinian uprising that included scores of deadly attacks by Palestinian militants who crossed from the West Bank into Israel and blew themselves up among civilians … However, it was routed in a way that raised questions about Israel’s claim that it was a temporary security measure — weaving through the West Bank, looping wide around some settlements to leave room for expansion, and looking very much like a border a future Israeli government might argue for. The Palestinians condemned it from the start as a land grab. The Palestinian officials also said that Molcho portrayed the Jordan Valley, which makes up about one-fourth of the West Bank and borders Jordan, as a strategic Israeli security asset. However, that wording suggests less than a demand for firm territorial control. Netanyahu has said he wants a continued Israeli presence on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state as part of any peace deal. Netanyahu has long argued Israel needs the area as a security buffer — protection against possible attack from the east. The 1994 peace treaty with Jordan eased this concern — but the Arab Spring has given it new life: although it is almost never discussed by officials, mindful of riling Jordan, many in Israel ponder a nightmare scenario in which the Jordanian monarchy falls to Israel’s enemies, who then pour weapons and militants into the West Bank, reaching within miles (kilometers) from its major cities. A senior Israeli military official said last week the Israeli army had to consider in its planning the possibility of heightened threats from east of the West Bank. Israeli officials have said any presence in the Jordan Valley could be reviewed over time … The Palestinians argue that the period set aside for the contacts ended Thursday, or three months after the Quartet issued its marching orders. Israel says the intention was to have three months of talks, and so wants meetings to continue”.

FURTHER UPDATE: Ethan Bronner’s report in the NYTimes later on Friday here, contains essentially the same description of the two different views on the Quartet’s 26 January “deadline”:

    “The Palestinian view is that the terms of the talks — laid out last fall by the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States — required both sides to present their approach to borders and security by this week. The Israelis say the clock began ticking only when the two sides actually sat down this month and the deadline is therefore in April … ”

The NYTimes account added:

    “A Palestinian official said the offer ‘effectively abandons international law and the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years’. Speaking on the condition of anonymity on the subject of the talks, as did Israeli officials, the Palestinian said, ‘If you put it in perspective, it is as if the West Bank were not occupied, just disputed, with both sides having legitimate claims, while the rest of Israel remains outside the dispute’ … The Palestinian official who spoke anonymously added that the Israeli negotiator, Yitzhak Molho, did not provide any written documents or maps in his discussion with the Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and did not include Jerusalem or the Jordan Valley in what he discussed. ‘Our starting point is the 1967 borders with minor swaps and theirs is the wall and settlements’, he said, referring to the separation barrier Israel has been building for the past decade along and inside the West Bank.’“In some ways, this is their way of reframing the occupation’ … A Palestinian official said the offer “effectively abandons international law and the framework we have been focused on for the past 20 years.” Speaking on the condition of anonymity on the subject of the talks, as did Israeli officials, the Palestinian said, “If you put it in perspective, it is as if the West Bank were not occupied, just disputed, with both sides having legitimate claims, while the rest of Israel remains outside the dispute … [Meanwhile] An Israeli official defended the offer. ‘The principle we laid out on Wednesday is that the majority of Palestinians should be on the Palestinian side and the majority of Jews on our side’, that official said. ‘These are preliminary discussions. The Palestinians have asked for clarification. We have asked for clarifications from them on some things as well. And we hope that in the coming weeks these talks will continue’.”

Mahmoud Abbas met the Quartet High Representative, Catherine Ashton, in Amman tonight.

It was later announced that the Fatah + the PLO would be meeting to discuss the situation on Sunday + Monday, and that Mahmoud Abbas would ask the Arab League for guidance at a meeting in Cairo on 4 February.

LATER UPDATE: The Los Angeles Times reported here in a story filed from Ramallah on Saturday 28 January [after Abbas met with the Irish Foreign Minister and the Deputy of the Foreign Affairs
Committee of the Japanese Parliament] that:

    “Palestinian and Jordanian officials said the talks will be on hold for a week for evaluation and to give Abbas time to consult with Palestinian and Arab officials on whether to continue with them or not. But at two meetings with foreign officials visiting Ramallah to help salvage the talks, Abbas said the negotiations are at a dead end. Abbas told one of his guests that ‘Israeli intransigence and refusal to submit clear proposals on the issues of borders and security as requested by the Quartet [of Middle East peace mediators] have blocked the way to continue with the exploratory talks,” according to the official WAFA news agency’. In the second meeting, Abbas briefed his guest on the latest developments in the peace process, ‘particularly the impasse in the exploratory meetings being held in Amman as a result of Israeli government rejection of the two-state solution and a stop to settlements’, WAFA reported”.

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