What Abbas says he wants

Here are remarks made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas yesterday in a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice after their meeting in his headquarters, the Muqata’a, in Ramallah (source: a U.S. State Department transcript):

“[I]n order to render our efforts successful and in order to reiterate the partnership between us, there are three main things that we need to work with them [his Israeli “partners”]. First, to implement the obligations and commitments in the first phase of the roadmap plan immediately and in a balanced manner. And in this occasion, I would like to reiterate our commitment to implement and abide by our commitments and obligations, as stipulated in the article one of the roadmap plan, including the consolidation of one authority and one lawful weapon and the rule of law. And I would like to indicate that the Israeli Government’s obligations and commitments for the first phase include freezing of settlement activities, including the natural growth, as well as removal and dismantling of settlements that were (inaudible) in 2001, as well as opening the institutions that were closed in Jerusalem and to return to the situation prior to the 28th of September 2000, and stop aggressions and the destruction of properties and everything that would undermine the confidence between the two parties. And we also demanded for the release of the prisoners and we would also — should not forget the many checkpoints that are still there in the West Bank that need to be removed…

“I was encouraged by the statements of Prime Minister Olmert and I discussed this with Dr. Rice and I’m seeking the peace that would lead to the solution for final status issues such as Jerusalem, settlements, water, refugees, according to the international resolutions that are also included in the roadmap plan and the vision of President Bush and the Arab Peace Initiative in order to achieve the specific goal of ending the Israeli occupation that started in 1967 and the creation of an independent Palestinian state, as we’ve said and we reiterate again and again, an independent Palestinian state that lives in peace and security and stability alongside the state of Israel… ”

Abbas also said in his opening statement at the press conference: “I also reiterated to Dr. Rice the need for the Israelis to commit to stop the military aggressions against our people in the West Bank and Gaza, as well as the stopping of incursions and assassinations and the military checkpoints and the imposition of (inaudible) on the ground, including the confiscation of lands, demolition of houses, the construction of the wall. As for the Gaza Strip, I also reiterated to Dr. Rice the need for the Israeli Government to commit to not undermine the basic needs, the humanitarian needs, of our people in Gaza — and there are more than 1.5 million Palestinians — including food, medicine, electricity, water, as well as the entry points and crossing points…”

There will be an Annapolis "meeting", it seems

Kol Israel, citing Reuters, reports this morning that “A senior US official says the Annapolis peace summit is likely to take place in the last week of November. Reuters quotes the official as saying that participating countries will be represented [in Annapolis] at the ministerial level”.

See the post “Rice has left Jerusalem” on UN-Truth here.

Our informal poll of Palestinian man-on-the-street opinion of this on-going process: Ghaleb recounts (with a touch of sarcasm, if not scorn) that full-page ads have been placed in the main local Palestinian newspaper, al-Quds, urging the negotiators to conclude a peace deal within the next year or two…

Abu Firas recounts, with a resigned sigh, that it is said that Egyptian President Anwar Sadat — who negotiated a peace deal with Israel in the late 1970s, and was assassinated for the trouble, while Egypt was boycotted for several years by almost all Arab — told Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in 1979, come with me to Jerusalem, and you will get back all territories seized by Israeli in the June 1967 war. Arafat turned this offer down, Abu Firas said –so now, he added, “we have to kiss the hands of the Israelis to ask them to remove one checkpoint — just one checkpoint”.

The day after Annapolis?

The date hasn’t even been set, yet U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice told journalists travelling with her, in a “roundtable” discussion on Sunday night, that she’s pleased and amazed that the “parties” are now speaking a lot about the day after Annapolis.

(Actually, it was the U.S. side which mentioned that this would be the necessary perspective, during Rice’s previous visit to the region, but never mind. Rice seems happy to let the “parties” think it was their idea — or to let the press think that it was the “parties'” idea…)

The press corps travelling with Condoleeza Rice were actually more interested in President Musharraf’s actions in Pakistan than the day’s developments in Jerusalem.

Still, they got down to the matter toward the end of the “roundtable”.

Rice told the journalists: “[W]hat we’ve really been trying to be very clear on is that they want to come to Annapolis with some understandings about how they move forward. But increasingly, you hear them talking not so much about specifically what might be in this document, but about how they are going to actually get to the negotiation of a Palestinian state. And I think that’s actually a very healthy move”.

Pressed by the press, Rice asked teasingly, Does everybody remember what was said (in a similar briefing by the same participants) in this same room last February? “When everybody said, is ‘political horizon’ an empty phrase for ‘They can’t talk about the real issues’?”

Rice added: [Y]ou’re starting to see here is that people are starting to see Annapolis as the beginning of a process, not a single point in time. And that’s extremely important because the more that they talk about the day after Annapolis and that they are going to have to continue their work to the establishment of a Palestinian state, the more likely they are to get to a place where they’re actually going to end the conflict. And I think what you’re seeing is that people are starting to address really difficult issues that they haven’t addressed in a long time. And that means that, you know, they’re negotiating and they’re trying not to negotiate in the newspapers. They really are, which is remarkable”.
Continue reading The day after Annapolis?

A Palestinian State – or a "functional solution"?

As we come down the stretch to the possible convening of a Middle East peace conference (or “meeting”) in Annapolis later this year, it is worth recalling the words of the late, great, Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi, who led the Palestinian Delegation to the Madrid Conference on 21 October 1991: “Ladies and gentlemen, in the Middle East there is no superfluous people outside time and place, but rather a state sorely missed by time and place – the state of Palestine. Our homeland has never ceased to exist in our minds and hearts, but it has to exist as a state on all the territories occupied by Israel in the war of 1967, with Jerusalem as its capital, in the context of that city’s special status and its non-exclusive character. This state, in a condition of emergence, has already been a subject of anticipation for too long. It should take place today, rather than tomorrow…“.

The Palestinian Delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference had to be officially part of the Jordanian delegation, because at that time Israel refused to recognize the Palestine Liberation Organization, or PLO, and the Palestinian team insisted they owed their alliegance to the PLO.

Dr. Haider Abdul Shafi’s speech, nonetheless, can be found on the website of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs here.

The Associated Press reported drily from Jerusalem today that “The Palestinians are pushing for a detailed agreement, while Israel wants a more vague document that would give it flexibility. The Palestinians also want a deadline for establishing a Palestinian state, even though earlier deadlines have been set and ignored”. AP’s report from Jerusalem is here.

A Palestinian State has been an unrealized legal possibility for more than 85 years. On at least four occasions during that lapse of time, Palestinians have prepared to declare a Palestinian State in Palestine: in 1948, in 1988, in 1999, and in 2000.

Each attempt was blocked.
Continue reading A Palestinian State – or a "functional solution"?

The Israeli excuse industry is going into overdrive

Naomi Chazan wrote this for Haaretz newspaper: “Now that the possibility of the Annapolis conference is becoming a near probability, the Israeli excuse industry is going into overproduction. A barrage of reservations, hesitations, objections and qualifications is being churned out by a variety of different worry entrepreneurs. All deserve attention; none should be allowed to derail the initiative before it has even begun. Not only is the credibility of Israel’s persistent claim to peace at stake; so, too, is the present auspicious chance for its pursuit.

“The first set of self-imposed barriers to the resumption of full-scale negotiations is psychological. Segments of the Israeli public are suspicious of current efforts and are doubtful of their utility. They have little confidence in diplomatic moves, and even fewer expectations.

“This fear of peace syndrome is not new. It has surfaced regularly whenever real opportunities for accommodation have presented themselves in the past. It has been fueled by setbacks and disappointments. It stems from that historically rooted Israeli sense of vulnerability verging on paranoia which nurtures a willingness to suffer the insecurities of the present rather than to boldly mold what appears to be an uncertain future.

“The best response to this ubiquitous yet elusive mindset is diplomatic success. This was the case with Egypt and Jordan; it can pertain to the Palestinians as well. There is little, if any, cost to entering the process. Israelis, like their equally equivocal Palestinian counterparts, have neither the luxury of skepticism nor the life experience that fosters unbridled optimism.

“The second group of potential impediments is perceptual. Israelis are having difficulty adjusting to the reactivation of serious negotiations with the Palestinian Authority after having been told repeatedly by successive leaders that there are no trustworthy partners on the other side”…

Naomi Chazan’s piece in Haaretz is here

Salam Fayyad: We are going to work on the Roadmap Phase I

Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad — who actually lives in a Palestinian suburb that is still within the Jerusalem muncipality, who is reputed to be a technocrat reformer because he previously worked for the International Monetary Fund, and who says that Hamas is “alien” to Palestinian culture — insists, according to today’s Haaretz, that “a Palestinian-American-Israeli commission on implementing the first stage of the road map peace plan will soon begin work … According to Fayad Thursday, the commission will consist of himself, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and U.S. security coordinator Keith Dayton. Israeli officials, however, said that while the creation of such a commission was discussed during last week’s visit by U.S. National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, neither its composition nor its powers have been finalized. Israel would apparently prefer the commission not to have the power to make binding decisions on who should do what first”.

Lt. General Keith Dayton has been working on beefing up Palestinian security forces. Rumors that he had shipped large quantities of armaments to Fatah forces in Gaza last spring — to use against Hamas, among others — played a major factor in the Hamas decision to move against Fatah and take control of Gaza in mid-June. Now, Hadley’s back. (He never left, actually, but he was rather invisible for a while, as the implications of what had happened in Gaza were being absorbed, and a certain amount of criticism was levelled at the American attempt to arm one Palestinian group against another.)

Hadley has been a prime mover in the Ramallah decision to deploy hundreds of Palestinian policemen in Nablus. On Friday, 300 Palestinian police were deployed in Nablus, according to the Ma’an Palestinian news agency — which added that “The Palestinian security services are facing a complex situation in Nablus. There are still 37 members of the Palestinian resistance being hunted by Israeli forces within the city”.

Kol Israel Radio reported Friday evening that it is “the first time Palestinian security forces have been allowed to deploy in the West Bank since 2002” — when the IDF reoccupied major West Bank cities, and launched a barely-restrained assault on the Palestinian Presidential headquarters compound, the Muqata’a, in the West Bank city of Ramallah.

In its report, Ma’an noted that “The Israeli daily newspaper Ma’ariv reported that the agreement on the return of hundreds of police and Palestinian security to Nablus had been drawn up a month and a half ago when Fayyad met Barak and asked him for permission to deploy 500 members of the security services to the city. According to Ma’ariv the Palestinian policemen will have jurisdiction in Nablus during the day but this will pass to the Israeli army during the night”.
Continue reading Salam Fayyad: We are going to work on the Roadmap Phase I

One Palestinian critique

Ghassan Khatib, who runs the Jerusalem Media Communications Center, and who writes a weekly editorial for his Bitterlemons weekly analysis round-up, has just written this week that “Current negotiations are characterized by secrecy, at least on the Palestinian side, thus precluding the input of the public and official decision-making bodies; they have taken place without agreed-upon and declared terms of reference, again leaving the Palestinian side at the mercy of the imbalance of power between the two sides; and, finally, the makeup of the Palestinian delegation, which was apparently influenced by the US, is more or less the same as that for the Oslo talks”.

Khatib has served as the Palestinian Authority Minister of Labor under Yasser Arafat, and as Minister of Planning under Mahmoud Abbas.

“Meanwhile, in the last meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state disappointed the Palestinian side in three ways. First, Rice appeared to place greater importance on internal Israeli dynamics in her expectations of the language and content of any document to come out of the Annapolis meeting. Second, she brought nothing by way of progress in ending Israel’s negative practices in the occupied territories, including a possible relaxation of the Israeli closure regime, an end to settlement expansion or any significant prisoner release. Finally, she also brought no commitment from Israel to a timetable for negotiations …

“Rice left the Palestinian leadership and peace camp in a disadvantaged position vis-a-vis the camp led by Hamas even before the Annapolis meeting has started. This is unfortunate, especially since it is less than two years since Hamas overwhelmingly won Palestinian elections, particularly as a result of the collapse of the peace process and the failure of the peace camp in Palestine to deliver on its promises to the public of a negotiated peaceful end to the conflict.

“If the Annapolis meeting is not itself going to mark progress toward a political settlement that includes an end to the occupation, then it should at least mark the resumption of bilateral negotiations. In this case, there has to be a clear and intensive effort to reduce public expectations both in Israel and Palestine and avoid the exaggerated importance currently attached to this meeting.

“Furthermore, the Arab world is advised to restrict its representation at Annapolis to those countries that already have relations with Israel, i.e., Egypt and Jordan. Attendance by countries such as Saudi Arabia and Syria would mark a diplomatic victory for Israel. Such a victory cannot come for free. If there is to be no end to settlement expansion, no easing of restrictions on movement in occupied territory and no clear commitment to negotiate an end to the conflict at Annapolis, there is no need to grant Israel any diplomatic victory in this way”.- Published 22/10/2007 here .

The Road Map by any other name …

So, the fog is lifting, and the mist is clearing. Or, perhaps it is the smoke — as in smoke and mirrors…

Remarks made by Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat after Friday’s meeting in Jerusalem between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) seem to indicate that the Middle East peace conference (or “meeting”) that the U.S. has talked about convening in Annapolis in late November (or later) is not a new, improved initiative at all.

No, it now seems to be the same old thing — another attempt at implementing the 2003 Road Map, sketched out by the U.S. following George Bush’s 2002 vision of a two-state solution (which would necessarily mean the creation of a Palestinian State), and of course following the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq (which aroused considerable regional reaction).

Just to refresh our memories: the Palestinian leadership rushed to accept the Road Map — however unhappy and anxious they were about it, they realized that not going along would make their immediate situation much worse. The then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, however, smiled, sighed, dawdled, and dragged his feet — then submitted a list of 14 “objections” to the Road Map, without formally objecting in so many words.

Immediately prior, and during, her last visit to the region a week ago, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice suddenly began talking about the need to implement first-stage requirements of the Road Map — before the Annapolis peace conference (or “meeting”). That remark alone is enough to put in serious doubt any imminent convening of this proposed Annapolis event, despite the “diplomatic capital” that Rice is investing.

Continue reading The Road Map by any other name …

Rice is studying previous Mid-East peace efforts

According to a story out of Washington from the Associated Press’ Matthew Lee today, “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is looking to the past for lessons on how to make next month’s Mideast peace conference a success”.

Very good.

A few days ago, Rice said something that should have made our ears perk up, in testimony to U.S. Congressmen at a hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee [See the post “Rice tells US Congress — ???” on our sister log, UN-Truth, here.]

What Rice said was: “For more than six decades, over the course of many administrations, American leaders of both parties have worked for peace and security in the region, not always perfectly, but consistently”.

Not always perfectly???

Today’s story, it is apparent, emerged from Friday’s daily briefing at the U.S. State Department by spokesman Sean McCormack — and from a journalist’s question, probably from the AP writer Matthew Lee, about why Rice spoke with former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, an appointment that would have been listed on her daily schedule, or mentioned around the State Department press office.

The full unvarnished excerpt of the exchange at yesterday’s State Department briefing is reproduced here — it shows, at least, that this is one story that was not spoon-fed to the press:

“QUESTION: The Secretary this week also apparently met with President Carter.


QUESTION: What can you tell us about that meeting?

MR. MCCORMACK: Again, I wasn’t in on that one. And they had a fairly good discussion about a variety of different issues. They talked about our efforts in the Middle East. It was a good cordial meeting. She was talking to President Carter about what we were doing.

QUESTION: Compared to what he did?

MR. MCCORMACK: No. This isn’t a game of one-upsmanship.

Continue reading Rice is studying previous Mid-East peace efforts

Where are the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations?

The U.S. State Department has announced that “Secretary Rice will visit Jerusalem and Ramallah November 4-6 to continue her discussions with Israeli and Palestinian leaders to support their ongoing bilateral dialogue and the serious effort underway to draft a joint document that could lay the foundation for negotiations. [n.b., notice the qualifiers] The Secretary will follow up on her recent discussions with the parties on the need for progress on phase one commitments under the Roadmap both to improve conditions on the ground and to build confidence between the parties …

What, exactly, does that mean? That Israel must remove a few roadblocks in the West Bank, which it has promised to do for months (while reportedly putting into place a few more…)? And that the Palestinians must do what? Ensure (Israeli) security???

Israeli officials say almost unanimously these days that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is too weak to deliver peace.

So, what do they want? A 100-year truce, many Israelis say, to see if the Palestinians are really serious about making peace. Hamas has proposed only a 10-year truce … but many Israelis appear utterly convinced that, after that, there would only be more attempts to ensure their destruction as a state as well as a nation.

Continue reading Where are the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations?