At the start of a post-holiday cabinet meeting today, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu said in public remarks to his ministers that “One month ago, the Palestinians entered into direct talks with us, following a series of gestures that the Government carried out in order to advance the peace process. We have fully lived up to our commitment, a difficult commitment that we took upon ourselves. Now there is interest in continuing the peace negotiations. This is a vital interest for the State of Israel. We are in the midst of sensitive diplomatic contacts with the US administration in order to find a solution that will allow the continuation of the talks. Now is not the time for issuing statements. We have no interest in causing an uproar. Neither do I have the possibility of denying the baseless media report. But I do have an interest in responding calmly and responsibly in order to advance the diplomatic process. We will quietly consider the situation and the complex reality away from the spotlights. I propose that everyone be patient, act responsibly, calmly and – above all – quietly. This is exactly what we must do.”
Just hours before the Israeli unilaterally-declared settlement “moratorium” expires on 26 September, the U.S. and the parties involved are looking for a way to keep the talks going.
U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State [Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs] Jeffrey Feltman told reporters in New York on Friday, where world leaders are still hanging around the margins of the UN General Assembly, that “Yes, we are urging Israel to extend the moratorium. Yes. And we also are making clear to the Palestinians that we do not believe that it is in their interest to walk out of the talks. We do not believe that it helps them achieve their national goals if they would walk out of the talks. But we – but at this point, we are urging both sides to create the atmosphere that is most conducive to reaching a successful conclusion for negotiation and for both sides to take the negotiation process seriously … [W]e we want to see a two-state solution that’s an anchor for comprehensive peace. The best way to get to a two-state solution is through negotiations. The Palestinians and the Israelis have started a serious process. It is a process that is not going to be without difficulties. The gaps on some issues are quite wide. But it’s nevertheless the – a promising way for the Palestinians to achieve their goal of statehood, for the Palestinians to have a state that they can call their own”.
Asked by a journalist if “it’s counterproductive for every time Abbas sees something that he doesn’t like to walk out of the talks”, Feltman replied: “We don’t think either side should be using the threat to walk out to interrupt a process that has the promise of bringing Israel security and bringing the Palestinians a state”.
Just hours before the opening of events scheduled in Washington to relaunch Israeli-Palestinian direct talks (which were cut off in late December 2008, after the IDF launched a massive military operation against Hamas in Gaza, Ehud Barak has made big waves with remarks he made in an interview published this morning in Haaretz.
Was it Barak-style one-upsmanship? Or, was this a leak coordinated with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu?
Here is an extended excerpt of the published Q+A:
Q: Ehud Barak, is there any chance that you and Benjamin Netanyahu will succeed in reaching peace with the Palestinians now, the same peace which you did not succeed in achieving in 2000 and Ehud Olmert did not succeed in achieving in 2008?
A: “In the current reality that is encircling us, there are remarkable changes underway. Thirty years ago, the Arabs competed amongst the Israelis in spouting rejectionist slogans that were reminiscent of [the three “nos” at] Khartoum. Today the Arab states are competing amongst themselves in arguing over which peace initiative will be adopted by the international community. The same situation is taking place with us. When I returned from Camp David a decade ago, the most vocal critics of my “irresponsible” concessions were Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni. Take a look at where they are today. It doesn’t mean that the task is a simple one. The gaps are wide and they are of a fundamental nature. But I believe that there is a real chance today. If Netanyahu leads a process, a significant number of rightist ministers will stand with him. So what is needed is courage to make historic, painful decisions. I’m not saying that there is a certainty for success, but there is a chance. This chance must be exploited to the fullest”.
Q: What are the principles of a peace deal that you believe can be agreed upon by the conclusion of the talks?
A: “Two states for two nations; an end to the conflict and the end of all future demands; the demarcation of a border that will run inside the Land of Israel, and within that border will lie a solid Jewish majority for generations and on the other side will be a demilitarized Palestinian state but one that will be viable politically, economically, and territorially; keeping the settlement blocs in our hands; retrieving and relocating the isolated settlements into the settlement blocs or within Israel; a solution to the refugee problem [whereby refugees return to] the Palestinian state or are rehabilitated by international aid; comprehensive security arrangements and a solution to the Jerusalem problem”…
[Asked to describe a possible Jerusalem solution, Barak mentions that 200,000 Israelis now live in 12 “Jewish neighborhoods” in East Jerusalem that will become “ours” [i.e., Israel’s]; while 250,000 Palestinians in “Arab neighborhoods” will be “theirs” [i.e., be handed over to the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority, whether or not they like it]. And, Barak went on, there should be a “special regime” [UN terminology from early UNGA resolutions] for the East Jerusalem areas of the Old City, the Mount of Olives, and the “City of David” – i.e., Silwan, an East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhood south and east of the Old City walls.
In other words, what’s “ours” is “ours”, and part of what’s “theirs” will also be “ours”.
If this succeeds, it will be the first time ever that the Quartet (including the U.S. but also the European Union, Russia and the UN), as well as Jordan and Egypt would swallow Israeli claims in East Jerusalem without protest…
Barak’s remarks are published in Haaretz here.
Our fuller analysis of Barak’s remarks concerning East Jerusalem is posted here.
It was announced on Saturday that the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee met in Ramallah hours earlier and announced their agreement that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can accept a U.S. invitation, issued on Friday, to engage in direct talks with Israel starting with meetings in Washington on 1 and 2 September (dinner the first night, talks the next day).
That move overrides any objections voiced by Palestinian “factions” — meaning mostly the small-constituency further-“left” groups, which are also mainly based in Ramallah.
The current PLO Executive Committee was formed after a rare Fatah General Conference held in Bethlehem in early August 2009, which confirmed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the leader of the largest Palestinian movement (giving him the reins of leadership of two of the three institutions of Palestinian legitimacy).
Abbas then oversaw a PLO “National Conference” (the PNC) that met in the Muqata’a, the Palestinian presidential headquarters and stronghold in Ramallah, in late August 2009.
Though the PNC should normally now have between 500 and 600 members, a quorum was “seen” when something like 200 PNC members arrived in the Muqata’a for that session a year ago. During the session, Abbas was confirmed as the head of the PLO (formally handing him the reins of the third source of Palestinian political power and legitimacy — so now Abbas is in total control of all leadership positions, as the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat used to be…)
That PNC meeting authorized the composition of a new PLO Executive Committee, with most of the members based in Ramallah — they can now be convened on short notice, without the inconvenience of having to wait for any Palestinian leaders who might have difficulties or delays in travelling from abroad.
(Therefore, it is referred to it, in the headline of this post, as the “rump version” of the PLO Executive Committee.)
The PLO Executive Committee position said its decision to authorize engagement in the new direct talks was based on the statement of the Quartet (composed of the U.S., Europe, Russia, and the United Nations), issued in support of the U.S. invitation issued from Washington on Friday, which said (among other things) that “The Quartet expresses its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations, which can be completed within one year, and the implementation of an agreement”.
That is an explicit commitment to continue funding upon which the Palestinian Authority is nearly totally dependent, from now though the conclusion and implementation of a hypothetical, but hoped-for, Israeli-Palestinian agreement. The payment of September salaries for Palestinian Authority employees (ministerial officials and security forces included) was recently put into question, with a reported $300 million-dollar budgetary shortfall, and the payment of anything beyond September is completely up in the air — until donor funding fills up the current financial hole.
According to a report published by the privately-owned and donor-funded Bethlehem-based Ma’an News Agency, the PLO Executive Committee specified that it had given its approval “to resume negotiations aimed at solving all final status solutions” within a one-year time-frame.
The Quartet statement [see our earlier post, here] called for a negotiated settlement that “ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state”.
Ma’an also reported that the PLO Executive Committee also saw support, in the Quartet statement for “calling both sides to abide by international law and in particular, stick to the Road Map, calling on Israel to stop all settlement activity”, and that “the PLO statement also cited ‘the Quartet’s confirmation that international community will not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem’, when it accepted the US invitation”. This Ma’an report is posted here.
The Palestinian President Abbas said in a interview recently published in the Arabic-language media that he had been put under “inhuman pressure” to move to direct talks.