The big story: September State

This is a gem — “September State (Dawlat Aylul)” by Jerusalem-born artist Ahmad Dari, a long-term resident of France, posted on Youtube here:


This was a follow-up to Ahmad Dari’s earlier observations on the mission of former U.S. Special Envoy, George Mitchell, posted on Youtube here:


Half the Quartet failed to move Netanyahu

Half the Quartet was in Israel last week (the EU’s Catherine Ashton, and U.S. Special Middle East Envoy George Mitchell) — and they failed to move Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to agree to extend, even a little bit, his unilateral 10-month settlement freeze that expired on 26 September.

The Palestinian leadership gave the USA an additional four days — until 30 September — to keep trying.

But, there was no movement.

After that, the rump PLO leadership and the Fatah Central Committee meet in the Presidential headquarters in Ramallah, and urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stop “direct” talks with Israel as long as there is any settlement construction going on. Following Saturday’s meeting, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Secretary of the PLO Executive Committee, said that “The leadership confirms that the resumption of talks requires tangible steps, the first of them a freeze on settlements”…

Netanyahu said there should be no preconditions.

An Arab League summit meeting is due to convene in Sirte, Libya, on 8 October. Palestinian proposals to have earlier emergency consultations with the Arab League have been cancelled.

Fatah Central Committee member Mohammad Dahlan was reported by Ma’an News Agency as saying that Abbas will tender his resignation when the Arab League summit meeting does open. Dahlan is in charge of the Media portfolio for Fatah. His comments are reported here.

[So, Abbas will not resign in front of his own people, but rather in front of Arab leaders?]

Meanwhile, Abbas is saying he still intends to work with the U.S. to find a solution…

Continue reading Half the Quartet failed to move Netanyahu

George Mitchell on direct talks

U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell told journalists after the September 1 + 2 meetings in Washington that were said to have relaunched direct talks between Israelis and Palestinians that “Any realistic appraisal of the situation, including the recent history – by which I mean the last two decades – makes clear that there are very serious differences between the parties, that there are many difficulties which lay ahead both in terms of the substance of the issues, the impact on their domestic politics, the needs and interests of their societies. We have not, of course, attempted to prescribe what they can or should say about any issue. These are independent and extremely able leaders representing the interests of their societies. What we have sought to convey in innumerable conversations that I have had personally with both leaders over many, many months is President Obama’s conviction that despite all of the difficulties – near term, long term, political, substantive, personal, and otherwise – the paramount goal of making the lives of their citizens more safe, more secure, more prosperous, more full can best be achieved by a meaningful and lasting peace between the parties and in the region; that the alternative to that poses difficulties and dangers far greater to the individuals, to the leaders, to their societies, than those risks which they run in an effort to reach an agreement that brings about their lasting peace; that any realistic evaluation of the self-interest of the people of Israel and the Palestinian people must, in our judgment, conclude that they are far better off living side by side in two states in peace and security than in a continuation of the current situation“.

Quartet on U.S. invitation: negotiations can be completed in one year

Here is what the Quartet said after the U.S. issued invitations to Israel and the Palestinian leadership today, to start direct talks in Washington D.C. on 2 September:

“The representatives of the Quartet reaffirm their strong support for direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians to resolve all final status issues. The Quartet reaffirms its full commitment to its previous statements, including in Trieste on 26 June 2009, in New York on 24 September 2009, and its statement in Moscow on 19 March 2010 which provides that direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues should ‘lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties, that ends the occupation which began in 1967 and results in the emergence of an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side by side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbors’. 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”…

Continue reading Quartet on U.S. invitation: negotiations can be completed in one year

No progress — yet — in negotiations as Israel keeps up pressure + Palestinians wait

According to a report published by Ma’an News Agency today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) had a frustrating conversation with U.S. Special Envoy for the Middle East, George Mitchell, who came to Ramallah on Friday.

The two men reportedly met again on Sunday, in Amman — after Mitchell had a second meeting while in the region with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu. — and no details of the second meeting have been released.

But, according to the Ma’an report today, Presidential aide Nimr Hammad said “that Abbas asked first that Israel commit to a settlement freeze even for a limited period of time. He also asked that negotiations be on the basis of a withdrawal” to the lines of 4 June 1967.

The Presidential aide offered the following summary of the Friday meeting:

Mitchell: The Israelis have requested renewed negotiations, saying they froze settlements for ten months.

Abbas: Go to Jerusalem and see for yourself the settlement activity and Judaization of the city – you’ll see the situation on the ground looks nothing like a settlement freeze.

Mitchell: The Israelis could take confidence-building steps like releasing prisoners, removing checkpoints, changing areas classified as “C” [according to the Oslo Accords] to “B” classification, and areas “B” to “A.”

Abbas: This is a good thing.

Mitchell: But there’s a prerequisite for that, resuming negotiations.

Abbas: We welcome these ideas but not as preconditions for talks.

“After this dialogue, Mitchell suggested indirect negotiations between other parties, during which he would shuffle between other sides, including the Palestinians, Syrians, and Lebanese.

This summary account of last Friday’s Abu Mazen-George Mitchell talks is published here.

Continue reading No progress — yet — in negotiations as Israel keeps up pressure + Palestinians wait

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.

Sari Nusseibeh: stop negotiations immediately – they have become useless

Lawrence of Cyberia has translated an interview with Palestinian intellectual and dormant politican Sari Nusseibeh, head of Al-Quds University (now cut off by The Wall) in East Jerusaelem, that was published on 17 January in French in Le Figaro newspaper.  Here are a few excerpts from the Lawrence of Cyberia blog:

Why have the Palestinians failed?

We failed, it is true, partly because of our inability to negotiate or to understand negotiating, and partly because of our corruption. Still worse, while playing politics, while running after a state, we allowed the living conditions of our people to deteriorate significantly. Twenty years ago, Palestinians in Gaza had no political rights, but they could travel to the West Bank, or even to Tel Aviv, to work there, go to the beach, to the restaurant. But we also failed because of the other party, which didn’t want to give us anything. Today, the Israeli dynamic goes against any concession. They no longer see the need for a compromise. The Israelis think more than ever in a Machiavellian way, believing that force is the only thing that matters, that it is the only guarantee of survival. Why would they be interested in negotiations?…

What do you recommend today?

The latest plan I have proposed is a letter I sent six months ago to Obama and George Mitchell. I suggested they should immediately stop the negotiations, which have become useless; all the issues have been more or less settled, only the unsolvable points remain. Instead, the United States should propose its own solution to the remaining problems. Each side would put forward this plan to its own people in a referendum. The vote would take place on the same day, and the result would be conditional upon the acceptance of the other party”

These excerpts are from the translation posted on the Lawrence of Cyberia blog here.  The full original text, in French, is published here.


[Another exchange from the interview with Sari Nusseibeh published by Le Figaro that Lawrence of Cyberia posted, which shows a slightly less pessimistic attitude, is this:

What will happen to the Palestinians without a state?

We are still there, and that’s the paradox: in 1948, the Israelis wanted to create a state without Palestinians, and they almost succeeded in driving them out.  In 1967, their victory reunited the refugees with those who had remained in Israel. We were scattered, they brought us back together. The Israelis are sowing their own failure by their success. The colonization of Jerusalem and the West Bank, which makes impossible a two-state solution, will force Israel to live with a sizeable Arab population and to reconsider its democratic system“.

Mitchell: He's no James Baker, no Kissinger

Haaretz columnist Yoel Marcus has written today that “U.S. envoy George Mitchell, who returned to Israel this week, has not achieved anything in his visits so far. Despite the halo he won by his successful mediation in Northern Ireland, he is no James Baker. Nor is he Henry Kissinger. Baker was tough and didn’t like our tricks. Kissinger, who was closer to his president, knew how to turn algebra into arithmetic, as Zalman Aran once reportedly said. Mitchell’s views on solving the conflict, as he outlined them back when he chaired a presidential commission in 2001, may have been reasonable, but they were unfeasible at that time. He believed Israel had to freeze settlement construction and the Palestinians had to stop the terror attacks. Yet Mitchell’s visit this week could be very important, if he abandons his slow mediation and instead puts a more definite and effective presidential plan on the table. After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed publicly to a two-states-for-two-peoples solution, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ response was peculiar [sic]. Instead of agreeing to begin negotiations, he demanded that Israel first freeze construction in the settlements and added several other conditions. This refusal appeared on the face of it like a continuation of the Palestinian tradition of not missing any opportunity that could be missed. For Netanyahu’s approach, at least in theory, marked a dramatic turnabout that put his stand in line with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s formula – the 1967 lines plus territorial swaps. Mitchell said in a television interview that he believed it was possible to reach an agreement within two years. But the truth is that the chances of an agreement are getting smaller – not least due to the settlement-freeze policy adopted by U.S. President Barack Obama, on one hand, and Netanyahu’s condition – that the Iranian nuclear issue must be solved first – on the other”. This article can be read in full in Haaretz here.

For that matter, neither is George Mitchell a Brent Scowcroft, either …

Helena Cobban predictions on Mitchell's team

In her Just World News blog, here, Helena Cobban has reported that her sources in Washington have confirmed her suspicion that U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell reports to both President Barack Obama and to U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Rodham Clinton.

When Mitchell’s appointment was announced in January, a day or two after Obama’s inauguration, it seemed clear that Mitchell would report to the President. When Hilary Clinton visited Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian Presidential Headquarters in the Muqata’a on 11 March, she indicated that Mitchell reports to both her and to Obama.

Helena reported in this posting on her blog yesterday that one of her “(regrettably anonymous) sources in the administration” … said that “It is very important that there is no daylight between any of the three of them”.


Then, Helena wrote, “it seems the staffing pieces are starting to fall into place. Mitchell will have, it turns out, four people who will report directly to him. Their exact job titles seem not to be clear– whether they will be “deputies”, or “chief of staff”, or something else…. But the important thing is these four will be expected to coordinate closely with each other and each will report directly to Mitchell”.

Continue reading Helena Cobban predictions on Mitchell's team

U.S. State Dept: "Special Envoy Mitchell Will Discuss Many Issues with the Israeli Government"

President Obama’s Special Envoy on the Middle East has arrived in Israel today, and met right off with Defense Minister Ehud Barak. Tomorrow, Thursday, Mitchell with meet with the new Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and other members of his government, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. On Friday, Mitchell will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the Palestinian Presidential Headquarters, the Muqata’a, in Ramallah, and he will apparently then meet with Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in the U.S. Consulate in Jerusalem, before flying out of Ben Gurion Airport to his next stop.

Today, there was this exchange between the U.S. State Department Spokesperson, and journalists in Washington:

“QUESTION: Senator Mitchell, any more details on his trip for the Gulf? And what’s his position and what’s the Administration’s position on the Saudi peace initiative?

MR. WOOD: You mean the Arab peace initiative?

QUESTION: Yeah, that was sponsored by Saudi Arabia in 2002.

MR. WOOD: Yeah, yeah, I don’t have any update on it. I mean, we still think that it has utility and – but I don’t have any update beyond what we’ve said before” …

Continue reading U.S. State Dept: "Special Envoy Mitchell Will Discuss Many Issues with the Israeli Government"