"The territorial issue is the most significant one for the Palestinians" + they will insist on 1967 borders as basis for renewed negotiations

Akiva Eldar has written in Al-Monitor here that “Al-Monitor has learned that the Palestinian leadership decided after internal deliberations to tell Kerry that it would not give up its demand to launch negotiations based on the 1967 borders at any price…The Palestinian leadership’s decision to insist on the 1967 borders as a precondition for renewed negotiations came the day after the World Economic Forum (WEF) meeting ended in Jordan on May 27”.

Also today, Shaul Arieli published an article in Haaretz here saying that “The speeches of the leaders at the World Economic Forum in Amman once again attest to the insight that often emerged from the negotiations Israel held with the PLO on a final status agreement: The territorial issue is the most significant one for the Palestinians, while they consider the right of return a bargaining chip”.

Arieli should know. He was an advisor to Israel’s former Prime Minister Ehud Barak during the Camp David Negotiations, and has since been deeply involved with the Geneva [Civil Society] Initiative and with Israel’s Council on Peace and Security.

Israel HaYom reported here that “On Monday, Abbas told Saudi newspaper Al-Watan that the PA ‘would not return to negotiations’ unless Israel agreed to a settlement freeze and accepted a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders. He said Israeli intransigence on this issue was preventing the diplomatic process from moving forward. The PA president told Al-Watan he was committed to east Jerusalem — captured by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War — as the future capital of the Palestinian state, and that there was ‘no room to compromise’ on this”.

Continue reading "The territorial issue is the most significant one for the Palestinians" + they will insist on 1967 borders as basis for renewed negotiations

We've heard it before: Netanyahu reportedly ready to offer Palestinians an old Israeli proposal of temporary or interim agreement [which the Palestinians have previously rejected]

In advance of U.S. President Obama’s planned visit to the region on 20-22 March [during which Obama will reportedly spend about 3 hours in Ramallah, as compared to 45 hours in Israel] Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu is reportedly planning to offer a “new” plan for arranging things with the current Palestinian leadership.

This has been heard before.

Meanwhile, the New U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said, in a joint press conference in Washington with Jordan’s Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh, that he and President Obama were planning to visit the region in order to “listen”.

This has also been heard before.

Kerry bravely proceeded, anyway, saying that “the President is not prepared, at this point in time, to do more than to listen to the parties, which is why he has announced he’s going to go to Israel. It affords him an opportunity to listen. And I think we start out by listening and get a sense of what the current state of possibilities are and then begin to make some choices. It would be a huge mistake, almost an arrogant step, to suddenly be announcing this and that without listening first, so that’s what I intend to do, that’s what the President intends to do”.

Jordan’s Foreign Minister Judeh said: “The most important thing is to have results. And I think that we’ve seen failed approaches, false starts, media events. I think we have to look at all of this and put it in perspective and see how we can produce results in the next phase. The Secretary and I are in full agreement that the window of opportunity on this is closing fast, and that makes it all the more important for us to work together in addressing this issue”.

[ Ynet is reporting here that on Thursday morning March 21, “Obama will depart for Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Obama will return to Jerusalem by noon, when he will be taken by Netanyahu to examine a model of Second Temple Period Jerusalem. They will continue to the Shrine of the Book, where Netanyahu will show him the Dead Sea Scrolls”… and so on].

Akiva Eldar reported in Al-Monitor here that high-level Likud officials believe that Netanyahu “really appears to want to jump-start diplomatic negotiations with Palestinian Authority Chairman Abu Mazen in an attempt to bring about a long-term interim agreement. This, he feels, is because a final status settlement is not achievable in the coming years.”

Again, this has been heard before.

Not least of all when the same view was recently expressed by Netanyahu’s previous Foreign Minister, Alexander Lieberman.

The thing is, none of the Palestinian leadership, from Mahmoud Abbas to Khaled Meshaal of Hamas, will accept an interim or temporary agreement. They believe that Israel will continue to create facts on the ground, mainly in settlements in the West Bank, that will make the Palestinian state — and any solution — non-viable.

So, this will be an extremely irritating move, at least for the Palestinians — and, at best, a waste of time.

The UN Human Rights Council [HRC] in Geneva has just received a tough report that relies on international law to say that Israel’s settlements are illegal and must be evacuated.

We reported on reaction to this HRC report in late January on our sister blog, here.

Continue reading We've heard it before: Netanyahu reportedly ready to offer Palestinians an old Israeli proposal of temporary or interim agreement [which the Palestinians have previously rejected]

Akiva Eldar, too: the new U.S. position offers "an alibi for deepening the occupation"

Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz today — after the U.S. declared last week that it would no longer press Israel to reinstate even its porous settlement “moratorium”, and after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a speech at the Saban Forum over the weekend that she was encouraging both sides to come up with a model for their favorite solutions to the “core issues” of the conflict — that “the focus on the final-status talks offers an alibi for deepening the occupation. The high and mighty words about two states for two peoples silence the protest voices of a nation that for more than 43 years has lived under the occupation of another nation … Contrary to the impression that government spokesmen are trying to create – that Israel is gradually withdrawing from the territories based on the necessary caution dictated by security needs – the soldiers [who gave their personal testimony to the Israeli organization Breaking the Silence] describe a steadfast effort to tighten Israel’s hold on the West Bank and the Palestinian population. … It says in the [new] book [published by Breaking the Silence] that the continued construction in the settlements is not only about stealing land whose future the two sides are meant to decide through negotiations. The increased presence of a Jewish population brings with it an increase in security measures such as the policy of ‘separation’. The testimonies show that this policy practically serves to control, plunder and annex the territories. It funnels the Palestinians through the Israeli control mechanism and establishes new borders on the ground through a policy of divide and rule. These borders mark the ‘settlement blocs’, which Israeli politicians argue are part of Israel (greater Ariel and the areas around Ma’aleh Adumim ). Soldiers who served in the Civil Administration say the settlers play an active role in imposing military rule over the Palestinians. The settlers hold public positions and are permanent parties to the discussions and the decisions by the army on matters concerning the Palestinians in areas where they live. Settler violence against the Palestinians is also used to control the Palestinian population. Stories about ‘economic prosperity’ in the West Bank create the impression that life under foreign occupation can be tolerable and even not so bad. So it’s not so bad that negotiations continue for a year or two. But the soldiers who have served at the checkpoints or the fence crossings describe how they decide who will pass, which goods may move from one city to the next, who may send his children to school or make it to university, and who will receive medical treatment. The book has testimonies about the confiscation of homes, agricultural land, vehicles and even farm animals, sometimes for security reasons, but often because annexation is the motive. Sometimes the Israel Defense Forces also ‘confiscates’ people too, for ‘training’. They break into a house at night and take someone into custody until the end of the exercise”… This Akiva Eldar analysis is posted here.

Why is the U.S. so oblivious to all of this? Why does it think that it is tolerable for people (Palestinians, in this case) to have to live under these conditions, under this occupation?

Continue reading Akiva Eldar, too: the new U.S. position offers "an alibi for deepening the occupation"

Akiva Eldar on what the Palestinians got in Washington – and what they will get in "direct" talks

On 7 September, Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz that “The Palestinians returned from the Washington summit with a sense that the Americans, for a change, understand them and perhaps favor their side [n.b. – this is what Palestinians hoped for ever since Obama’s taking office in January 2009]. The optimism prevailing in Ramallah is not due to cautious hope that Netanyahu will decide to divide Jerusalem. It stems from Obama’s promise that the United States will not surprise [emphasis added] the Palestinians, a formulation for years reserved for the ‘special relationship’ between the U.S and Israel. This is what Abbas received in return for his consent to open direct negotiations.

If among Israelis there is widespread concern that a final status arrangement with the Palestinians will turn out to be temporary , the Palestinians have learned that with Israelis, the temporary easily turns into the permanent. The impending solution was intended to combine the permanent with the temporary. The American mediators will strive to get the parties to sign a framework agreement that is based on the principles of the Clinton outline from December 2000: the 1967 borders; proportional territorial exchanges; disarmament of assault weapons; division of sovereignty in eastern Jerusalem based on the ethnic makeup of the neighborhoods; realization of the right of return in the Palestinian state. The signing of such an agreement in principle by Netanyahu and Abbas, with accompanying timetables, will pave the way to interim stages. The first stage should be delineating settlement blocs that will be freed of the construction freeze”.

This Akiva Eldar report is posted here.

Obama Anxiety – Netanyahu Anxiety

Here, in the region, there is considerable anxiety about Obama, and what he may or may not be just about to do.

About a week ago, as the NY Times reported from Washington on 15 April, Obama said that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was “a vital national security interest of the United States”.

As the NY Times wrote: “It was just a phrase at the end of President Obama’s news conference on Tuesday, but it was a stark reminder of a far-reaching shift in how the United States views the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and how aggressively it might push for a peace agreement. When Mr. Obama declared that resolving the long-running Middle East dispute was a “vital national security interest of the United States,” he was highlighting a change that has resulted from a lengthy debate among his top officials over how best to balance support for Israel against other American interests. This shift, described by administration officials who did not want to be quoted by name when discussing internal discussions, is driving the White House’s urgency to help broker a Middle East peace deal. It increases the likelihood that Mr. Obama, frustrated by the inability of the Israelis and the Palestinians to come to terms, will offer his own proposed parameters for an eventual Palestinian state … Mr. Obama’s words reverberated through diplomatic circles in large part because they echoed those of Gen. David H. Petraeus, the military commander overseeing America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In recent Congressional testimony, the general said that the lack of progress in the Middle East created a hostile environment for the United States … The glimmers of daylight between United States and Israeli interests began during President George W. Bush’s administration, when the United States became mired in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Three years ago, Condoleezza Rice, then secretary of state, declared during a speech in Jerusalem that a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians was a ‘strategic interest’ of the United States … ‘In the past, the problem of who drinks out of whose well in Nablus has not been a strategic interest of the United States’, said Martin S. Indyk, a former United States ambassador to Israel and the vice president and the director of foreign policy at the Brookings Institution. He said there was an interest now because of the tens of thousands of troops fighting Islamist insurgencies abroad at the same time that the United States was trying to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. ‘Will resolving the Palestinian issue solve everything? Mr. Indyk said. ‘No. But will it help us get there? Yes’. The administration’s immediate priority, officials said, is jump-starting indirect talks between Israelis and Palestinians. There is still a vigorous debate inside the administration about what to do if such talks were to go nowhere, which experts said is the likeliest result, given the history of such negotiations. Some officials, like Gen. James L. Jones, the national security adviser, advocate putting forward an American peace plan, while others, like the longtime Middle East peace negotiator Dennis B. Ross, who now works in the National Security Council, favor a more incremental approach … Several officials point out that Mr. Obama has now seized control of Middle East policy himself, particularly since the controversy several weeks ago when Israeli authorities announced new Jewish housing units in Jerusalem during a visit to Israel by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. Mr. Obama, incensed by that snub, has given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a list of demands, and relations between the United States and Israel have fallen into a chilly standoff”… This NY Times article can be read in full here.

Obama’s big discussion with Netanyahu in the White House was actually a month ago, on 23 March.

Yesterday, the Wall Street Journal reported that “Senior U.S. officials said the Obama administration has discussed in recent weeks the possibility of the White House setting out its own benchmarks and timelines for the peace process if current efforts to resume negotiations fail. They said such a step wouldn’t be unlike the steps taken by former President Bill Clinton in late 2000, where he set parameters calling for a Palestinian state based on the pre-June 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital. Still, U.S. officials said such a move by the Obama administration wasn’t imminent. And they stressed that they hoped the Israelis and Palestinians would agree to voluntarily return to direct talks. U.S. officials said Mr. Netanyahu’s government has been communicating much of its position through the White House’s senior Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, at times bypassing the Obama administration’s special Mideast peace envoy George Mitchell. That decision has been interpreted by some in the administration as an attempt to sideline Mr. Mitchell in favor of Mr. Ross, who has advocated U.S. cooperation with Mr. Netanyahu, rather than confrontation. Mr. Ross has publicly taken positions in line with Mr. Netanyahu’s government, particularly the centrality of stopping Iran’s nuclear program as a means to underpin Mideast peace efforts … Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu conveyed to the White House this weekend his rejection of a U.S. call for a total Israeli construction freeze in East Jerusalem, calling into question the path toward Middle East peace, according to officials briefed on the diplomacy … In an interview with ABC News on Sunday, Mr. Netanyahu said stopping construction in Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem ‘is totally, totally a nonstarter’.”  This article is published here.

With characteristic, and delicious, irony, Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz today that “The prime minister’s response Thursday on Channel 2 that ‘there will be no freeze [in construction] in Jerusalem’, is like Bill Clinton’s ‘I did not have sex with that woman’. Benjamin Netanyahu did not insist this time that he will continue construction in Ramat Shlomo, Gilo and Har Homa – something he is leaving for Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman to do … The two were aware that the moment they were swearing that ‘united Jerusalem’ would never be divided, Barack Obama’s envoys were packing their bags for a visit to the region. The Israelis knew that special envoy George Mitchell was not being sent to the eternal capital just to hear Netanyahu insist on developing the real estate business in East Jerusalem. Mitchell put up with a lot on his way to a peace agreement in Northern Ireland and did not come here to nail shut the coffin of the peace process. He does not want to bury Israel’s relations with the White House.  The signs were thick Thursday that behind the proclamations of a ‘unified Jerusalem’, a quiet accord was in the works with the Americans … The key thing is that the Palestinians don’t read in the paper that the interior minister approved new construction in the Holy City”. This Akiva Eldar report is here.

A few days earlier,  Akiva Eldar wrote this on Israel’s Independence Day celebrations held at the beginning of this week (according to the Jewish calendar, while the rest of the world marks the date as  May 15):  “This was one of our most independent years ever. Completely independently, we decided to welcome the vice president of the United States with an announcement of new construction in East Jerusalem; the deputy foreign minister independently humiliated the Turkish ambassador; the foreign minister independently boycotted the president of Brazil; the Knesset independently sabotaged relations with the European Union via legislation that would limit its donations to human rights groups; the government independently decided to bait the Muslim world by declaring holy sites in the occupied territories as ‘heritage sites’ …  Sixty-two years after Israel declared independence, its right-wing government is entitled to decide that the time has come to annex Ariel, Ma’aleh Adumim and the Jordan Valley – just as the Labor government did 43 years ago, when it decided to annex a sizable territory to Jerusalem. This year, too, Israeli citizens are entitled to celebrate Jerusalem Day in the only capital in the world that hosts not a single embassy. Benjamin Netanyahu can even propose that U.S. President Barack Obama append his list of questions to the Wye Agreement, the road map and the Annapolis Declaration. After all, Israel is an independent country … The winning phrase of the 62nd year of Israel’s independence is undoubtedly the angry response Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon would make to reports that the Obama administration intends to present its own peace plan. The man who was Israel’s ambassador to Washington said that by doing so, the U.S. would become a ‘party to the conflict’.  In other words, today, the U.S. is not a ‘party to the conflict’. The implication is that in order to respect Israeli independence, the American administration is required to forever put up with the Israeli occupation and ignore the settlements. The U.S. is a ‘party to the conflict’ only when Israel requires an airlift of arms, sanctions against Iran or a veto of unpleasant resolutions at the United Nations.  Shortly after the previous independence day, it seemed that Netanyahu had struck the right balance on how the conflict should be resolved between the particularist worldview he shares with most members of his government and the positions of the world’s major powers. Moreover, it appeared that the support he expressed in his speech at Bar-Ilan University for a solution of two states for two peoples reflected recognition of the fact that Israel’s independence will not be complete until the Palestinians receive their own independent state.  Instead, the Netanyahu government has implemented the views of the majority of independent Israel’s Knesset, which supports the policy of settlements in the West Bank and deepening the Jewish hold on East Jerusalem. To fend off pressure from abroad, Netanyahu has once again transformed the Jewish Diaspora into a defensive army against the might of the nations of the world. The leader of ‘independent’ Israel has transformed Jewish activists into ‘parties to the conflict’ between his government and the American administration (we, of course, are allowed to meddle in American politics)” …  This Akiva Eldar analysis was published here.

Meanwhile, just to be perfectly helpful, Netanyahu has made a proposal that he knows perfectly well Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has rejected for years. As Haaretz reported Friday, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is amenable to an interim agreement in the West Bank that would include the establishment of a Palestinian state within temporary borders. Netanyahu considers such an interim step a possible way to unfreeze the stalled political process that was created because of the Palestinian leadership’s refusal to resume talks on a final settlement. However, the prime minister insists on delaying discussion on the final status of Jerusalem to the end of the process, and refuses to agree to a freeze on Jewish construction in East Jerusalem. Netanyahu and his aides have held intensive contacts in recent days with representatives of the U.S. administration in an effort to contain the crisis in the relations between the two countries … The formula of a Palestinian state within temporary borders was included in the second stage of the road map of 2003, but the Palestinians, and Mahmoud Abbas at their head, opposed it then and oppose it now, considering it a recipe for keeping Israeli occupation of the territories in place. Three Israeli politicians – Defense Minister Ehud Barak, President Shimon Peres and MK Shaul Mofaz of Kadima – tried to advance the idea of a Palestinian state within temporary borders during the past year, as a reasonable recipe for breaking out of the current political stalemate that was created since elections in Israel. Netanyahu is now leading toward their view, after losing hope of moving toward a permanent settlement with Abbas. If this initiative progresses, it is expected to result in objections from the parties on the right, who oppose any concession to the Palestinians. Establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank, or even a partial framework with temporary borders, will require Israel to withdraw from more territory and perhaps even evacuate settlements. But if the Palestinians reject the idea – as is expected – Netanyahu will be able to claim that they are once more missing an opportunity for a settlement by being stubborn and rejectionist”… This Haaretz report can be read in full here.

Akiva Eldar: Netanyahu can't wait for renewed peace talks [irony alert]

Akiva Eldar wrote in an article published in Haaretz today that “The prime minister, as we all know, simply can’t wait for renewed final-status talks to get underway [irony alert here], but Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refuses to back down and is setting ‘conditions that predetermine the outcome of the negotiations’, as Netanyahu told Haaretz a week ago. Indeed, the Palestinians have made their participation in indirect talks conditional on, in part, a construction freeze during the talks in West Bank settlements and East Jerusalem. They have the audacity to claim that it is Netanyahu’s demand to expand settlements during negotiations along with the assertion of Jewish ownership over sensitive sites which are the conditions that predetermine the outcome of the talks. The Palestinian demand for a total freeze on settlement construction, including that required for natural population growth, is not, in Netanyahu’s words ‘a condition that no country would accept’. Israel accepted that condition in the road map seven years ago. In an article in the journal of the Israel Council on Foreign Relations in December 2009, Prof. Ruth Lapidoth, recipient of the 2006 Israel Prize for Legal Studies, and Dr. Ofra Friesel write that the Netanyahu government is obligated by the road map, which was ratified by the Sharon government. A former legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry, Lapidoth stresses that the 14 remarks (not reservations, as they are usually termed) that Israel appended have no legal validity. And since the U.S. government promised no more than to relate ‘fully and seriously’ to these remarks, they don’t have any diplomatic validity, either”.

See our sidebars, here, on the Road Map and on Israel’s reservations.

Eldar continues: “Netanyahu argues that Sharon reached an oral agreement with George W. Bush that the construction freeze would not apply to the ‘settlement blocs’ and that the United States would take into account natural-growth requirements. The prime minister therefore expects the Palestinians to honor not only formal agreements to which they were a party, but also informal understandings reached behind their backs between Israel and America. Yet when the Palestinians demand an acknowledgment of understandings they reached with the Olmert government on a number of final-status principles, Netanyahu says this is a ‘precondition that predetermines the outcome of negotiations’. The prime minister also contemptuously rejects the Palestinian demand that the talks be resumed where they were halted in December 2008. He is not prepared to even listen to the parameters for a final-status agreement proposed by Bill Clinton in December 2000. Netanyahu insists he has the right to start negotiations from square one, ignoring every agreement already reached with the Palestinians. He has even forgotten the Wye River Memorandum of 1998, under which he undertook, in Clinton’s presence, to transfer 13 percent of Area C to the Palestinians. Netanyahu sticks only to those clauses in the interim agreement (Oslo 2) that removed responsibility for the Palestinians’ welfare from Israel’s hands and left Israel in control of Area C (60 percent of the West Bank). And of course, Netanyahu is totally committed to those clauses that require the Palestinians to combat terrorist infrastructure and incitement and refrain from asking the United Nations to condemn the injustices of the occupation. Netanyahu is setting conditions for negotiations that no country would accept. His opposition to a settlement freeze and his refusal to resume talks where they left off expose his Bar-Ilan declarations as a cunning diversionary tactic”. This Akiva Eldar article can be read in full here.

Chances of renewing peace talks are said to be "slim" – Does Obama blame Saudi Arabia?

As George Mitchell visited Ramallah on Friday, Akiva Eldar published an article in Haaretz saying that “Exactly a year after trumpeting the appointment of former senator George Mitchell as his special envoy to the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama is holding Israel and the Palestinians equally responsible for the stalemate in the peace process. In an interview with Time magazine marking his first year in the White House, Obama said neither side has been willing to make the bold gestures necessary to move the process forward. A senior minister told Haaretz Thursday that the chances of renewing the peace talks are ‘slim’. According to the minister, Mitchell’s present mission is not likely to succeed either, as he will probably not persuade Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to renew the negotiations over the permanent status settlement. Nor is he likely to receive from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a clear answer as to whether he is ready to adopt U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s formula to base Israel’s permanent borders on the 1967 lines … The results of Mitchell’s meetings this week with Netanyahu and Abbas will determine whether Washington continues the efforts to bring the parties back to the negotiations table. … However, the Time interview shows that Obama has not bought the prime minister’s contention that Israel has moved a long way toward the Palestinians by freezing settlement construction. Netanyahu blames Abbas for setting unreasonable conditions for resuming talks. Obama spoke in the same breath about the political environment and nature of the coalitions, and gaps in the Israeli and Palestinian societies, which make it difficult to jump-start a significant dialogue. One can detect a hint of criticism of Netanyahu, who prefers a right-wing coalition to partnership with Kadima, which represents more central positions. On the other hand, heavy American pressure on Abbas and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak have put an end to the attempt to set up a Fatah-Hamas unity government. Speaking about the Arab world’s intolerance to the peace process, Obama aimed his criticism mainly at Saudi Arabia. He was expressing his disappointment from King Abdullah’s refusal to offer Israel gestures of normalization in a bid to muster public support for the peace process. Obama was surprised by the force of the Saudis’ support in freezing the construction in the settlements and East Jerusalem completely. The Americans fear that in the absence of progress in the next few weeks, Arab leaders like the Syrian president may suspend the Arab peace initiative in the Arab summit in Tripoli in two months”. This Akiva Eldar report can be read in full here.

Akiva Eldar on the new Netanyahu government

Akiva Eldar has written in Haaretz today that the new U.S. Administration of Barack Obama has a new bipartisan document “waiting for the new Israeli government to be sworn in. The American president is due to use it as the basis of a special speech in which he will present his vision for the Middle East”.

Akiva reports that it will be based in large part on “a report drawn up at the end of 2008 by 10 senior figures from the two principal political parties in the United States. One of them, former Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker, has in the interim been appointed a senior economic adviser to the president. The authors of that report recommended to the president that he replace ‘the conditions of the Quartet’ with a readiness to recognize a Palestinian unity government, on condition that that government would agree to a cease-fire with Israel, authorize Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas to conduct negotiations on a final-status solution, and bring the agreement to a referendum” …

Continue reading Akiva Eldar on the new Netanyahu government

Akiva Eldar interview with Mahmoud Abbas

Akiva Eldar and his colleague at Haaretz newspaper interviewed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The whole interview was published in Hebrew on Friday, but only in summary form in English on Friday. (The whole interview will be published in English on Sunday).

Eldar reported that in the interview — the publication coincides with the 15th Anniversary of the signing of the Oslo accords — “Abbas stressed that he will not agree to an interim arrangement such as a state in temporary borders. Any agreement must address all the components of the conflict, including Jerusalem and the right of return, he said; therefore, ‘nothing is agreed until everything is agreed’ … The outlines of an agreement are well known, he said, and Israel’s internal political disputes are apparently the reason no progress has been made. ‘We presented our ideas and demands regarding the six issues’ [borders, security, refugees, Jerusalem etc.], Abbas stated, ‘but have not received any answer from the Israeli side’ … [T]he West Bank and Gaza must be united, or there will be no Palestinian state. Nonetheless, he insisted that this must be achieved only through diplomatic means. ‘We erred when we made the second intifada into an armed struggle, and I will do everything to prevent a third armed intifada’, he said …

“Regarding the refugees, the Palestinian president said: ‘We understand that if all five million refugees return to their homes, the State of Israel will be destroyed’. Nonetheless, he added, Israel must discuss both its responsibility for the refugee problem and a practical right of return. ‘Palestinians who do not return to Israel will be able to return to Palestine’, he continued. He also said a solution to the refugee problem would be based on the Arab peace initiative of 2002, which stated that the solution must be based on United Nations Resolution 194, but acceptable to Israel. Abbas pointed out that every Muslim nation in the region, including Iran (prior to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election as president), adopted the Arab initiative. ‘I presented the document with the Iranian signature to Olmert, but he did not respond’, Abbas said. ‘Regrettably, to this day no debate has been held by the Israeli cabinet’…”

The English-language summary of the Haaretz interview with Mahmoud Abbas can be read here.

Akiva Eldar on Olmert and the current Situation

Akiva Ekdar has just written this reflection in Haaretz on the pickle that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is presently in and the options:
“Kadima [Olmert’s party, founded by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon] has not managed to create its own political culture. In effect, to this day, it has not succeeded in leaving a mark on any sphere in which a ruling party is involved. Olmert’s most important contribution, and what distinguishes him from Netanyahu (and also from Ehud Barak), is the replacement of the unilateral solution with the principle of consent. Sharon translated Barak’s “no-partner” doctrine into a strategy of crushing the Palestinian Authority, eliminating the political option and the unilateral approach. Olmert brought the term “permanent arrangement” back into public discourse, and transformed Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) into a regular sight on Israelis’ televisions. Too bad the peace with Syria appeared again on the agenda in the shadow of Talansky’s harsh testimony. Thanks to these processes, Olmert deserves a place in the history books, not only as the person responsible for the debacle in Lebanon and as a cigar-loving political hack.

“It seems that Olmert will have to drop the plan to go to elections with a ‘shelf’ agreement that would present the principles of a permanent arrangement, and with a draft of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria. Even the Palestinians have learned that when the Israelis start talking about elections, they are not willing to hear about the division of Jerusalem and the refugee problem. But if he really does believe that in the absence of a two-state solution, ‘the Jewish state is finished’, Olmert must see to it that the next government, whatever its composition, finds Palestinian partners for that very solution.

“The fate of these partners is now in Olmert’s hands. If he continues toying with the Egyptian outline for a cease-fire (tahadiyeh) in Gaza, one more missile striking an apartment building in Ashkelon will be enough for the government to drag the Israel Defense Forces into a blood-soaked campaign deep inside the Gaza Strip. On the other hand, a siege of 1.5 million citizens cannot last forever, and eventually will explode. In both cases, the Fatah leadership led by Abu Mazen, which is perceived as a collaborator with Israel, will emerge by the skin of its teeth. This is why Hamas’ sworn enemies are supporting, if not almost begging, for Olmert to sign the tahadiyeh agreement, and to open the border crossings between the Gaza Strip and Israel. The Egyptians are hinting that they are saving the opening of the Rafah crossing for the next stage of the deal, which will include the return of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit.

“In addition to keeping the situation in the Gaza Strip quiet, Olmert has an additional series of means at his disposal that can enhance the status of the Palestinian partners, until the political situation in Israel is clarified. All he has to do is pull out of the drawer the list of promises he made to Abu Mazen (and to the Americans) and instruct the defense establishment to uphold them in spirit and in practice. The prime minister, after all, claims that he is continuing to carry out his duties in the best possible way even during the very difficult times he is experiencing”.

The full Akiva Eldar article can be read here .