Henry Siegman on "the collapse of the latest hope…"

As the excellent Mondoweiss blog notes, Henry Siegman was “Executive Director of the American Jewish Congress from 1978 to 1994, and is now connected to the Council on Foreign Relations”…

Here are some excepts from Henry Siegman’s latest article, entitled Imposing Middle East Peace, published on 7 January 2010 in the January 25, 2010 edition [yes] of The Nation magazine:

It is now widely recognized in most Israeli circles–although denied by Israel’s government–that the settlements have become so widespread and so deeply implanted in the West Bank as to rule out the possibility of their removal (except for a few isolated and sparsely populated ones) by this or any future Israeli government unless compelled to do so by international intervention, an eventuality until now considered entirely unlikely. It is not only the settlements’ proliferation and size that have made their dismantlement impossible. Equally decisive have been the influence of Israel’s settler-security-industrial complex, which conceived and implemented this policy; the recent disappearance of a viable pro-peace political party in Israel; and the infiltration by settlers and their supporters in the religious-national camp into key leadership positions in Israel’s security and military establishments.

Olmert was mistaken in one respect, for he said Israel would turn into an apartheid state when the Arab population in Greater Israel outnumbers the Jewish population. But …  the turning point comes when a state denies national self-determination to a part of its population–even one that is in the minority–to which it has also denied the rights of citizenship

Continue reading Henry Siegman on "the collapse of the latest hope…"

Is there a deal?

Speculation is rising about the possibility of a deal on the eve of an election to replace Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert as leader of his political party, Kadima — which may or may not result on his leaving office (depending on whether his successor can form a new government).

This is admittedly confusing, as Olmert has pledged to resign immediately after the party primary on Wednesday.

Here is the fire and the smoke from the Israeli press today:

Haaretz says that “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is seriously considering Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s proposal of an agreement in principle on the core issues in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Moratinos told Haaretz Monday after he met with the two leaders. ‘My conclusion from the talks with Olmert and Abu-Mazen [Abbas] is that the discussion and the proposals are extremely positive. I think that they are very close. I am convinced that these peace talks are going to be irreversible from what they have achieved. Whatever happens in Israeli internal politics and in the U.S. administration – both sides and the international community need to work to make them irreversible’, Moratinos said. Moratinos said that in his meeting with Olmert, he received details of the main points of the Israeli prime minister’s proposal to Abbas, and that the proposal was “based on a long series of bilateral negotiations” between Olmert and Abbas … This afternoon, Abbas is to hold another meeting with Olmert at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem, and according to the Spanish foreign minister, the Palestinian may then give Olmert his answer. Moratinos said Abbas was ‘impressed by the proposal and he is studying it. They are quite impressed by the proposal and they see it as a serious proposal. In general they consider it positively – but they still need to make the decision’. In a meeting of his own with Moratinos on Sunday night, Olmert told the Spanish foreign minister that he was concerned over pressure being applied by senior Palestinian officials on the PA president to say no to Olmert’s proposal for an agreement in principle on the core issues. Olmert told Moratinos that some Palestinian officials had fallen in love with the negotiations and are trying to thwart an agreement. Olmert was apparently referring to Ahmed Qureia, who is in charge of the talks with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and is urging Abbas to continue the talks into 2009.
Moratinos is encouraging Abbas to accept Olmert’s proposal. He has also discussed the matter with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, and will be in Damascus tomorrow for talks with President Bashar Assad”. The full Haaretz article can be found here.

Another article in Haaretz reports that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Monday said he was sorry for the plight of Palestinians and Jews who became refugees as a result of Israel’s establishment. ‘I join in expressing sorrow for what happened to the Palestinians and also for what happened to the Jews who were expelled from Arab states’, the prime minister said. Olmert made the comments before a meeting of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, apparently in his last such session as prime minister. He was speaking in reference to the key Palestinian demand for a ‘right of return’ in peace negotiations with Israel … ‘Under absolutely no circumstances will there be a right of return’, Olmert declared, ‘but we are prepared to be part of an international mechanism that will work to solve the problem’. Palestinians have demanded that Israel accept responsibility for the suffering of Palestinians who fled or were driven from their homes in the War of Independence that followed Israel’s 1948 creation. Olmert’s remark Monday fell far short of meeting this demand. But it was unusual for an Israeli prime minister to say Israel will participate in expressing sorrow for what happened to them. The premier also said that a peace deal with the Palestinian Authority will involve proportionate land swaps between the two sides. ‘The territorial price of peace with the Palestinians will bring us very close to the land-for-land formula. This needs to be said forthrightly and with courage. There are different ways of reaching this formula through annexing or exchanging territories’, Olmert said.” This article can be read in full here.

And, yet another Haaretz article states that “According to Olmert, by the end of 2008, it should be possible to attain understandings with the Palestinians on three issues: borders, security and refugees. However Olmert stressed that the implementation of the understandings is conditioned on the application of the Bush road map and eradication of the Palestinian terrorist infrastructures, and so implementation will take place at a much later stage. ‘It is important to reach understandings, even if their implementation is delayed’, he said … Olmert also said: ‘We will be sorry for every day that goes by without an agreeement with the Palestinians, and the person saying this is one who once held different opinions and even fought for them.” Olmert said the price of not reaching an agreement quickly would be ‘intolerable’. Olmert said that even exchanging equal territory with the Palestinians would be ”less than what we will have to pay in the future’. According to Olmert’s proposal, the Palestinians would receive 93 percent of the West Bank and the equivalent of another approximately 5.5 percent of territory, in the Negev adjacent to the Gaza Strip, in exchange for the large settlement blocs, which would be annexed to Israel. Olmert has also proposed an international compensation mechanism for Palestinian refugees and the symbolic return of a few thousand such refugees without Israel recognizing the right of return or responsibility for the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem. Olmert reportedly wants to postpone discussion of Jerusalem, and to hold talks on that subject in a broad international framework. The prime minister told the committee that there is a concern over ‘the entrenchment of the narrative of a binational state, in which we will not be the majority. Ever-growing segments of the international community are adopting the idea of a binational state. I see a Jewish state as a condition for our existence’. Olmert said an agreement would lead to international recognition of Israel’s borders in the context of a two-state solution … In response to a question about his position on exchanges of territory and populations, he said: ‘I am not in favor of taking a million Arabs out of Israel’. Olmert said that an agreement with the Palestinians would make it much easier to solve problems involving Israel’s Arab citizens”… This story can be read in full in Haaretz here.

The Jerusalem Post is reporting that “Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is scheduled to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday. The two leaders are expected to formulate a document that will include the agreements reached during negotiations so far, ahead of Abbas’s upcoming visit to Washington. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qurei, who head the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams, will not attend the meeting.” This brief JPost report is posted here.

nd the JPost is also reporting that: “Ehud Olmert has discussed with the Palestinians transferring to them 98.1 percent of the West Bank, Channel 2 [television] reported on Sunday evening. The report on the ongoing negotiations was broadcast in advance of Tuesday’s planned meeting between Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The Prime Minister’s Office declined to comment on the news item and said only that many such media reports had been published in the last months regarding the talks. Earlier in the day, during what could be his last cabinet meeting before he becomes the head of a transitional government, Olmert addressed Israel’s relationship to the West Bank when he spoke of a voluntary evacuation bill to help relocate settlers living east of the security barrier. ‘The vision of a greater Israel no longer exists. Those who speak of it are delusional’, the prime minister said. No vote was taken on the measure. According to Channel 2, however, Olmert is considering concessions far beyond land east of the barrier and could transfer 98.1% of the West Bank to the PA. That is significantly more than the 94% to 96% that had been discussed in previous negotiations …

The report states that Abbas has asked that Israel cede the Jerusalem area settlements of Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev, but is willing to negotiate the status of the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Gilo and French Hill, which are over the Green Line. In the past the Palestinians have demanded that Israel fully withdraw to the pre-1967 borders, including from eastern Jerusalem. Israel has insisted it plans to keep the larger settlements blocs including Ma’aleh Adumim and Givat Ze’ev as well as the Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. The future of Jerusalem, according to Channel 2, was being negotiated between Olmert and Abbas, and not by the team led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. [n.b. – remember the -U.S. State Department information note, after the flap over the interview by U.S. Consul in Jerusalem Jacob Walles, which stated cryptically that Livni has not been negotiating on Jerusalem … see our earlier post here].

The article continues: “Olmert has also agreed that 5,000 Palestinian refugees would return to Israel – a thousand refugees every year for five years, according to the report. Abbas allegedly rejected the proposal and was demanding the return of many more refugees. According to the report, the Palestinians were also interested in access not only to the Dead Sea but also to the Kinneret, as they claimed they deserved some rights over the water flowing into the lake because the Jordan River runs through Palestinian territory … Speaking in defense of the voluntary evacuation bill at the cabinet meeting, Olmert said that for the 40 years since it acquired the West Bank during the Six Day War, Israel had been making excuses as to why it could not do anything. This, he said, did not help Israel. It was important Israel showed it had taken initiative in the peace process. ‘We have to advance the voluntary evacuation compensation bill and to bring it to the cabinet [for a vote]’, the prime minister said. Olmert said he had not always supported territorial concessions and that he had initially felt that then-prime minister Ehud Barak had offered the Palestinians too much at Camp David in 2000. ‘I thought that the land between the Jordan River and the sea was ours’, he said. In the end, he said he came to the conclusion that we had to reach an agreement with the Palestinians if we did not want to see Israel become a binational state. There was no time to waste, Olmert said. adding: ‘We can argue about every small detail and find that when we are ready for an agreement there is no partner and no international support’. In the not too distant future, there would come a day when ‘we will want those same solutions that we are rejecting today’, he said”. This JPost article can be read in full here.

Also from JPost article, we learn that “Vice Premier Haim Ramon in briefing reporters on Sunday, expressed skepticism as to the success of the negotiations. Ramon said he was not optimistic that a final-status agreement would be reached, ‘not at the end of this year and not at the end of next year’.
But what was clear, he said, was that in the future, ‘settlements east of the barrier won’t be under Israeli sovereignty’. There was no reason why those settlers who understood that the barrier represented a future border should have to wait five or 10 years to be evacuated, Ramon said. At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, he proposed a voluntary evacuation bill that would offer property owners in the 72 settlements outside of the barrier an average of $300,000 or NIS 1.1 million for their homes. Those homes would then be sealed or destroyed so they could not be reused by other settlers, Ramon said … According to Ramon, there are an estimated 61,808 settlers living outside of the barrier, out of whom 11,000, or 18%, would accept such an offer. Such a measure, Ramon said, would help those settlers who did not enjoy the same security offered Israelis living inside the barrier and would also be seen by the Palestinians as a sign of good faith toward the negotiations. Ramon’s proposal was immediately objected to by the four candidates competing in Wednesday’s primary for the Kadima leadership. If the government wanted to make a gesture toward the Palestinians that involved territory, it should evacuate the unauthorized outposts, said Interior Minister Meir Sheetrit. That was particularly true, he said, given that it had already promised the international community that it would do so. Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni warned that the Palestinians would view the measure as a unilateral step. She added that Israel should not take steps to determine a border while it was in the midst of negotiating one with the Palestinians. Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz said that such a law would embolden the Palestinians to increase their demands. Public Security Minister Avi Dichter said the proposal would be impossible to implement. More to the point, it would make any future evacuations harder to carry out because the net effect of the bill would be to replace less ideological settlers with more determined ones. In defense of his proposal, Ramon told reporters that the borders under negotiations with the Palestinians were already well known. Livni, he said, could only wish that the barrier would in fact be the final border” … This article is posted here.

Saeb Erekat: Americans should "judge" negotiations process

On the day that Palestinians were marking 41 years of occupation, Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat told journalists in his office in Ramallah on Thursday, “we are a nation that is interrupted – economically, socially, politically, and in every sense. Yet in 2008, there are those who do not understand, even external forces”.

At that moment, there was a cut in electrical power for the second time in a few minutes.
As everyone laughed, Erekat joked: “Even the electricity is interrupted”

“It should have been different”, Erekat continued, “today should have been different…but Palestinians are still Palestinians…So, what are you going to do with us?”

Erekat agreed that the current impasse in negotiations with Israel “cannot stand”.

He was speaking as some Palestinians openly speculated that the end to the negotiations with Israel are near – and saying that this is what prompted Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to make an unusual call for renewed national dialogue, as if he might have dropped his preconditions, starting with the return of Gaza to Ramallah’s control, nearly one year after Hamas fighters routed Fatah forces.

But, Erekat said in response to one journalist’s question, “Abu Mazen did deliver an initiative yesterday, but it was according to the Yemeni initiative that was launched in the Damascus summit last year. Everybody knows it begins with Hamas rescinding its coup. Everyone knows, also, that Hamas won the last elections – but they have since failed – big time…When was the last time you read the Yemeni initiative? Abbas said [Wednesday evening] that he wants to see the Yemeni initiative implemented. He was very clear”.

In any case, Erekat added, anticipating other unspoken questions, any eventual outcome of negotiations with the Israelis “will be put to a referendum. If Palestinians say ‘yes’, we will implement it from our side. If the Palestinians say ‘no’, then Abu Mazen will say goodbye”.

Erekat said that the negotiations with an Israeli team led by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are “serious … and, .for the first time, we have opened all files, and we are now at the prisoners’ file…We are trying to revive hope, but the choice is Israel’s … We have defined the end game, which is to end the 1967 Israeli occupation according to the Road Map. We have serious negotiations for the first time in seven years, and we are taking a needs-oriented approach”.

What is that, one journalist asked? “You know, my needs, their needs. What do you want to know? I’m not going to show you the map”, Erekat replied.

Erekat pointed out that “in Annapolis, we chose a trilateral arrangement, in which there would be a ‘judge’, an American ‘judge’ (on behalf of the Quartet) … The question here is for the Americans and the other members of the Quartet: Isn’t it time for the ‘judge’ to speak out? There is no such thing as a secret ‘judge’…Since Annapolis there have been more settlements, more incursions, more faits accomplis. Now, at a time we are trying to revive hopes for peace, this American ‘judge’ should come out in the open and say who’s complying and who’s not – giving just the truth, just the facts. Otherwise, is it a cover-up for Israeli activities? This cannot stand any more”.

“I really urge the Americans to introduce their comments”, Erekat continued. Decisions on Jerusalem, security, borders, refugees and so on are required from both Israelis and Palestinians. You as journalists should be able to call up and ask the ‘judge’ who is complying on this matter or that. This current situation cannot continue”.

A journalist then asked: “You are saying the Israelis are not serious, so what are you waiting for?” Erekat replied “There is nothing wrong with negotiations, since Adam and Eve. Negotiations are not the end, they are the means. I don’t want to stop negotiations, I want to stop Israeli settlements, I want to stop Israeli incursions. And I want the international community to help us make Israel comply with its obligations under the Road Map”.

Erekat clearly put more hope in the evaluation being made by Lt. General William Fraser – appointed as Mr. Road Map Implementation by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice just before President Bush’s visit to the region in January – than in comments made by leading contenders for the Democratic Party nomination to be the next U.S. President.

On Barak Obama: “I thought he was a man of change…but when he says that Jerusalem will remain the undivided capital of Israel, I say to him, ‘Sir, you are closing all doors to peace’. I don’t care if he’s pro-Israeli or not. My concern is about those who are pro-peace or not. U.S. Policy hasn’t changed since the ‘70’s. The U.S. Embassy is still in Tel Aviv, and the U.S. policy still says that Jerusalem is occupied”.

To Hilary Clinton: “If someone loses his home, his schools, his livelihood, his parents in New York, what do you call it? We call it a catastrophe – and we have here a catastrophe that has lasted 60 years”.

Condi's coming back – it looks like it'll be from 3 to 5 May

The U.S. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack told journalists on Friday that “Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the United Kingdom, Israel, and the West Bank from May 1 to May 5.  In London, she will meet with the Quartet to discuss progress in peace talks since December. She will also participate in the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee to discuss donor efforts and encourage others to follow through on their pledges of assistance to the Palestinian Authority from the December 2007 Paris Donors’ Conference. The Secretary will also participate in a P5+1 meeting on Iran and discuss Kosovo with European colleagues. She will meet separately with UK Foreign Minister Miliband and Quartet Envoy Blair.  In Israel and the West Bank, she will meet with senior Israeli and Palestinian officials to discuss progress made on the ground and in the peace process, the situation in Gaza, and the effort underway to achieve agreement this year on the establishment of a Palestinian state, living side by side with Israel in peace and security“.

What will Rice be doing on this trip?

In the U.S. State Department Daily Press Briefing on Friday, spokesman Sean McCormack was asked by a journalist (and replied) the following:

“QUESTION: Since the Secretary is going tomorrow to Israel, what about Prime Minister Olmert’s vow to continue the settlement-building process?

MR. MCCORMACK: You know our views on this matter. The President has spoken to it. The Secretary has spoken to it. We expect that both sides would comply with their Roadmap obligations. And there are obviously provisions within the Roadmap concerning settlements and outposts, and we would expect that both sides — Israel and the Palestinians — comply with those obligations. You recently heard from us that we didn’t think either side was doing enough to comply with the Roadmap obligations. So I expect that during this trip, the Secretary will talk not only about the political process with both sides and how that is proceeding, what we can do to help them move it forward, but also talk about the importance of moving forward with compliance on the Roadmap obligations”.

What did Olmert say? As reported on UN-Truth here:

“Olmert cited the 14 April 2004 letter from U.S. President George W. Bush to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as providing the basis for developing “existing population centers” in the West Bank as well as in East Jerusalem.

Israel will not build any more settlements, Olmert said, nor will it expropriate any more land. And, illegal outposts will be dealt with, he indicated.But, he stressed, ‘in population centers there were be more additional building’, and ‘the reality on the ground will continue to change’.

He said that this had been made very clear at the outset of the present Annapolis process.

Recent Israeli announcements of a number of new housing tenders for Jewish settlements in East Jerusalem and one in the West Bank (Givat Ze’ev), were made immediately after the recent attack by an East Jerusalem Palestinian on the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva, which killed eight students there (four of whom were children under the age of 18).

On Givat Zeev, Olmert brushed off any criticism. ‘Most of the apartments approved are already built, and paid for, for many years’, he said”.

The Jerusalem Post reported Friday that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak has warned the United States that gestures Israel is making to the Palestinians – including approving the transfer to the Palestinian Authority of weapons and armored vehicles, and allowing the deployment of PA policemen in West Bank cities – could ultimately backfire because Hamas could come to power in the West Bank and be better equipped to turn on Israel. Barak issued the warning during a recent meeting with the US special envoy to Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Gen. James Jones. The Israeli defense establishment has drawn up a list of further gestures together with Jones that are set to include deploying 600 Jordanian-trained PA policemen in Jenin and the possible removal of dirt roadblocks. ‘We need to keep in mind the possibility that after all we have done, Hamas will take over the West Bank, not only by force but even in the upcoming general elections’, Barak told Jones, according to defense officials. ‘This is certainly a possibility’. Barak plans to present the list of gestures to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is set to arrive in Israel on Saturday night, during their meeting the next day … But Israeli defense officials dismissed claims that Barak was facing criticism from the US for not making greater efforts to remove roadblocks or to ease restrictions in the West Bank. ‘Both the Americans and the Palestinians understand that if we lift a roadblock and there is an attack we will fall back instead of moving forward in the negotiations’, one official said. At the same time, the US has welcomed Barak’s planned moves to ease movement for West Bank Palestinians. ‘These are welcome developments that indicate a desire by the Israeli authorities to move forward, to try to help improve the situation on the ground’, the administration official said. The gestures, which have yet to be finalized, include the deployment in Jenin of 600 PA policemen currently being trained in Jordan. Barak is also considering the removal of several dirt roadblocks in the West Bank. The armed policemen in Jenin will be charged with maintaining order in the town during the day, but the IDF will retain security control and will continue to operate in the town at night. Other gestures included opening a VIP lane at checkpoints and exempting Palestinian businessmen who are approved by the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) from inspections”. The full JPost article is here.

Leaving the other “gestures” aside for the moment, will the Americans be impressed by a VIP lane at checkpoints for Palestinian businessmen approved by the Shin Bet? Will the Palestinians?

Haaretz reported earlier that “U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to hold two trilateral meetings during her visit to the region next week. [1] One American-Israeli-Palestinian conclave will deal with the final-status negotiations, while the other will address the situation on the ground in the West Bank and what both sides are doing, or not doing, to fulfill their obligations under the road map peace plan. Rice will arrive Saturday and stay for three days. She will hold meetings in Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman – the latter with King Abdullah of Jordan. The visit is intended to signal growing American involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and to prod both sides to make significant progress before U.S. President George Bush visits the region in May. Rice is interested in raising the profile of the final-status talks and demonstrating real progress on the core issues. To this end, she plans one three-way meeting with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia, who head the respective negotiating teams. A joint declaration about progress in the negotiations might be issued at the end of it. The Livni-Qureia talks are being conducted very intensively: The two met twice this week and three times last week. They are also being conducted in great secrecy, and even Rice has not been fully briefed on the details. Virtually nothing has been leaked from these talks except the message that they are ‘progressing well’. The talks have dealt with the issues of borders, refugees, settlements and security. It is not clear whether they have also dealt with Jerusalem: Both parties prefer ambiguity on this issue, especially in light of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s promise to Shas that Jerusalem will be discussed only at the end. [2] Rice also plans to focus on practical steps to improve the situation in the West Bank, as called for in the road map. To this end, she plans separate meetings with Defense Minister Ehud Barak and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, followed by a joint meeting with both of them. A week ago, a trilateral monitoring commission, headed by American General William Fraser, held its first meeting to review both sides’ implementation of their road map obligations. At that meeting, Fraser told the Palestinians they were not doing enough to fight terror and criticized Israel for its failure to remove West Bank roadblocks and dismantle illegal settlement outposts. Rice has made several statements recently about her unhappiness with both sides’ foot-dragging on their road map commitments. However, she has directed most of her criticism at Israel, for not doing enough to improve the daily lives of West Bank Palestinians. Barak plans to present Rice with the list of Israeli steps that he decided on this week, which he previously discussed with Fayyad at their meeting on Wednesday”.

In addition, Haaretz reports, “Rice is also interested in a proposed bill to compensate any settler who leaves the West Bank voluntarily, even before a final-status agreement is signed. She first heard about the idea at a meeting in Jerusalem with Minister Without Portfolio Ami Ayalon a few months ago. At the time, Ayalon told Rice it was critical for the U.S. to push this matter forward, since otherwise, it would go nowhere. American officials have also discussed this issue with MKs Avshalom Vilan(Meretz) and Colette Avital (Labor), who sponsored the legislation. There is growing interest in the idea in Washington, on the assumption that such a law would show the Palestinians that Israel is serious about quitting the West Bank”. This Haaretz article is posted here.

To make this perfectly clear, the Israeli Defense Minister (and former Prime Minister) Ehud Barak said he would make these “gestures” — but would not take other steps that U.S. officials (including the U.S. Road Map “monitor”, General Jones, and Secretary Rice as well) have been pressing Israel on, for months.

On Monday, for example, the Associated Press (AP) reported: “Visiting a crossing between the southern West Bank and Israel, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the checkpoints block militants and are vital to Israel’s security. The government would ‘look into’ certain changes to in a limited test area, he said, but offered no details. ‘It’s still too early to give an answer’, Barak said. Israel sees the barriers as a key element of a military policy that has dramatically reduced militant attacks in recent years. Palestinians say the roadblocks humiliate them and stifle their economy. Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, now an international Mideast envoy, has urged Israel to ease Palestinian travel restrictions … Barak also pledged Monday that Israel would facilitate the construction of several industrial zones meant to provide thousands of jobs and boost the Palestinian economy. Many of the projects, funded by foreign governments, have been held up because of Israeli security concerns. Barak gave no timetable for the projects and did not say how he intended to move them forward”… This AP report was posted here.

Haaretz newspaper picked up this AP report and added its own touches, reporting: “Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Monday that Israel will soon begin making life easier for West Bank Palestinians, but that it won’t remove checkpoints for now. Barak said that Israel would facilitate the construction of several industrial zones meant to provide thousands of jobs and boost the Palestinian economy. Many of the projects, funded by foreign governments, have been held up because of Israeli security concerns. However, Barak gave no timetable for the projects and did not say how he intended to move them forward. Visiting a crossing terminal between the southern West Bank and Israel, Barak said Israel would soon take steps to expedite movement through the hundreds of checkpoints and roadblocks Israel has built in the West Bank … [On removing checkpoints] Barak indicated Monday such a move was not expected soon. The checkpoints block militants and are vital to Israel’s security, Barak said. He said only that the government would look into certain changes in a limited test area, but offered no further details. ‘It’s still too early to give an answer, he said’. This AP report is posted here.

The next day, Tuesday, the Jerusalem Post reported — apparently picking up on Monday’s reports and asking Barak for further information: ” ‘It is clear to us all that we must exhaust all possible means of assisting the negotiations with the Palestinians’, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Tuesday. ‘We must ease restrictions on the Palestinians whenever it does not conflict with [Israel’s] defense, even at the price of a calculated risk’.” The defense minister, who was speaking during a tour of an IDF induction base, also said that ‘There are a number of economic projects that we are working on, which are intended to generate momentum and provide jobs for Palestinians’. Barak, however, emphasized that ‘we must remember that our top responsibility is to provide security to the citizens of Israel’.” This JPost report is posted here.

It requires a lawyer’s analytical ability — and probably also many lawyers — and a lot of stamina, to deal with all this …

Erekat: There will be no Palestinian concessions on percentage of territorial swaps

“We know what it takes to make peace between Palestinians and Israelis” veteran Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said at a press conference on Wednesday.  “We only need President Abbas and Prime Minister Olmert to make the decisions…If these two can deliver they will be the most important persons to walk the streets here since Jesus Christ”. 

“Now is the time for decisions”, veteran Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said at a press conference at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, where he was invited to speak to the members of the Foreign Press Association in Israel. 

 Erekat is an expert at speaking in short sound bytes.

 “We like to play with words”, Erekat told the journalists, though clearly referring to various statements made only by Israeli leaders to the effect that, with luck, what might happen this year would be more a “framework”, or “parameters”, of an agreement, rather than the actual formation of an independent Palestinian state. 

Erekat seemed to be indicating that it didn’t matter what the result would be called.

“Signing agreements doesn’t make peace … The only lasting agreements are the fair ones”, Erekat said.

He said he was under oath not to speak about or disclose the details of the current negotiations.  “What I said is that what needs to be done is to take decisions … What is needed is decisions, not negotiations”, Erekat said.

“I’ve never seen the Palestinians and Israelis closer to achieving an end game”, Erekat said.  And, “it’s the Palestinians and Israelis who must make the necessary decisions”, and not a third party, he said.   He did add that “U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice is coming in two weeks, and American diplomats are on the phone every hour.  But now it’s the moment of truth — It’s either settlements or peace”. 

“President Bush has no right to discuss with Israel ceding some territory in Palestine.  He can cede New Mexico, maybe, but not here”, Erekat said.  “One day in 1995, Jordan decided to cede 29,000 square kilometers [to Israel, in the context of a peace treaty].  We’re different”.

“Without giving me the percentage of [territorial] swaps”, Erekat said, “there will be no agreement”.  But “with the percentage of agreed swaps, you’ll get an agreement in three months”, Erekat said.  “The end game is defined and the rest is all technicalities, and if you settle them, you’ll get a treaty of 1,000 pages in three months”.

“Some Palestinian leaders are throwing options in the air, Kosovo has unilaterally declared independence, and so will we, etc.  But we are not playing with that”, Erekat said.  “We have been elected to achieve something – we have a mandate – and if we fail to deliver, then what?  Shouldn’t we tell our people the truth?” 

Erekat added: “I don’t want to export fear, but if we fail to deliver in 2008, we will disappear.  There’ll be a big question about the ability of the Palestinian Authority to survive.  I mean me, and what I represent.  And the impact will not be confined to the Palestinians and the Israelis – watch the region!”

Asked to explain what negotiations are taking place with the Egyptians, and with the Yemenis, Erekat replied: “Yesterday Egypt talked with the Israelis, and today with the Palestinian factions…What the Egypt is trying to do is upon the personal request of  President Abbas to President Mubarak.  Egypt has contacts with all the Palestinian factions and the Israelis. Egypt wants ‘tahdiya’ with guarantees that no one will break it.  As far as Yemen is concerned, Hamas must go back to what things were…Hamas must rescind their coup d’etat”. 

Erekat said: “The coup d’etat in Gaza is the worst thing that happened to us since 1967.  Hamas is a Palestinian party, like me.  The difference is that we believe we can achieve peace through negotiations, but Hamas says No, you cannot … Hamas said, since we won the elections, we want to change the previously-negotiated agreements … But anyone in government must accept all the obligations … Any Palestinian government has to be on board with the program: negotiations for peace, based on a two-state solution, aiming at a signed agreement”.

Erekat rejected all the efforts by journalists to arrive at a precise definition of the meaning of “tahdiya” in English  — he said it’s not détente, not cooling off, not cease-fire, not calm, not a truce .

But what should happen, he said, is “a mutual ‘tahdiya‘ between two sides, to stop shooting, everybody is to stop shooting”.

He added: “We accepted the Yemeni proposal, as we accepted the Mecca agreement, and the Egyptian-Cairo agreement, and we said there is no military solution.  We need agreement with Israel, and we will put it to a national public referendum”. 

In response to a question from the BBC Arabic TV, asking whether the problem in the negotiations might, maybe, be with the negotiations team itself, Erekat replied:  “I hear this a lot, by the way.  I’ve resigned, I quit. 46 times.  But the problem is not personalised.  I don’t want my son to grow up to be a suicide bomber.  We’ve established the best negotiations team in the Middle East, our (PLO) Negotiations Support Unit, which has expert advisers from all over the world who assist in developing negotiating positions… In 1992, I made more money as a journalist and university professor than I have in all the years since…and I’m not here for journalists to ask me such questions”. 

"Trilateral" meeting today

The first “trilateral” meeting in the Annapolis process — in which the U.S. envoy on the Roadmap, Lt. Gen. William Fraser discussed with Israeli and Palestinian representatives what could be done about both sides failure to implement what apparently needs to be done — was held in the King David Hotel in Jerusalem.

The Palestinian Authority was represented by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is not normally part of the negotiating team.

The Israeli side was supposed to be represented by Defense Minister Ehud Barak, but he sent a deputy, Amos Gilad, instead.

Gen. Fraser said he is keeping the Roadmap implementation report secret, but the broad outlines are that the Israelis continue building settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, and the Palestinians are not yet on top of the security situation.

Here is what some news agencies are reporting.

Reuters said that “An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Barak’s absence reflected his skepticism about peace negotiations he once described as a ‘fantasy’. ‘He didn’t feel like going to a meeting and getting scolded’, the official said. Some diplomats have taken to calling his representative Gilad ‘Dr. No’. ‘He always says no’, one of them explained. An aide to Fayyad said: ‘The absence of Barak in today’s meeting showed a lack of seriousness in dealing with the issues in question’. Gilad said ‘rumors about tensions are baseless’. [n.b., this is different than just saying ‘no’…] The Reuters report is posted here .

Agence France Press (AFP) reported that the meeting lasted three hours, and that Fayyad said:
” ‘Numerous construction projects in many settlements are continuing every day. This is not a freeze by any standard’ … The Israeli side responded that construction was only conducted in existing settlement blocs Israel plans to keep as part of a permanent agreement, an official said. Israel’s delegation, led by an aide to Defence Minister Ehud Barak, charged that the Palestinian Authority was ‘not doing enough to fight against terrorism’, the official said. ‘It does not make any arrests and does not give information’ on militants, he said. The US embassy described the talks held at a Jerusalem hotel as ‘cordial but frank’.”

The AFP report added this interesting detail: “An Israeli source said the US delegation questioned the timing of the killings [n.b. of four wanted men — three from Islamic Jihad and one from the Fatah-linked Al-Aqsa brigades who were shot while sitting in a car in Bethlehem Wednesday night] but recognized Israel’s right to defend itself. Two of the four gunmen were senior leaders of armed groups”. This AFP report can be found here.

So, the U.S. questioned only the timing of the killings?

Ma’an News agency reported that “The PLO’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat told reporters: ‘It would have been very appropriate for Barak to go’, Erekat said. ‘Maybe Barak couldn’t go because he is busy planning more [settlement construction] and more incursions’. Following the meeting, Fayyad expressed frustration at Israel’s failure to abide by its obligation to freeze settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory … ‘New tenders are being issued. New plans are being announced and old ones resurrected. And most of this is happening at the heart of the future Palestinian state: East Jerusalem’, said Fayyad. In the five weeks after the Annapolis conference, the Prime Minister’s office said, Israel issued tenders for some 747 housing units in settlements, as compared with 138 units tendered in the 11 months preceding the conference. The three sides issued a joint statement through the US Consulate in Jerusalem: ‘We examined areas where the parties are not meeting their commitments and the reasons why, and explored ways to accelerate the process and make the parties’ implementation of their Roadmap obligations more effective. We had a cordial but frank exchange of views that helped the participants attain a better understanding of some very complex issues’.” The Ma’an report is posted here .

More on Rice's visit – and Mission apparently accomplished

This was probably the toughest moment yet in the whole Annapolis process. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice headed for previously-announced talks in the region just as the most ferocious and deadly Israeli military incursion in Gaza in years was abruptly wound up — possibly specifically because of her visit.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his negotiators had angrily announced last weekend that they could not continue talks with their Israeli counterparts under the circumstances.

Palestinian students in their school uniforms left their classrooms in East Jerusalem on Monday, groups of girls, and then groups of boys, to demonstrate on the main Salah ad-Din Street against the Israeli military actions in Gaza — shouting, burning garbage in the street, and throwing stones — as the casualty toll mounted. One Israeli car was attacked, and its windows broken. Israeli police on big and sturdy horses pushed back the groups of school children, and four arrests were made. There were other less polite demonstrations and responses elsewhere in the West Bank, with at least one Palestinian death. And Israel’s Palestinian-Arab citizens also marched in protest in Arab towns in Israel.

For months, Palestinians have been saying with concern, the feeling of a new Intifada is in the air.

Rice arrived at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport by 12:30 pm on Tuesday – after already holding morning meetings in Egypt – and, for the first time, drove straight to Ramallah without talking to Israeli officials first. She arrived at the Muqata’a presidential compound by 1:35 pm.

The main focus of her visit was to get the Palestinian Authority leadership to agree to resume post-Annapolis “core issue” and “final status” talks with Israel.

At a joint Rice-Abbas press conference in Ramallah after their meeting, Rice appeared unusually accommodating and sympathetic. And Abbas appeared firm, even adamant. The Palestinian President said that there would have to be a cease-fire before negotiations resume.

Abbas repeated this position on Wednesday morning – but then reversed his position within hours (CNN called it a U-turn), either in response to a phone call from Rice, as some reports indicate, or in response to threats of a total cut-off of international aid, as other reports speculate, or because he really believes that ‘The peace process is a strategic choice”, as he himself said, believing it is the only way to give the Palestinian people better lives.

At the very least, it was an extremely gracious concession to a visiting guest, and it may yet cost him dearly.

Time Magazine’s Tim McGirk wrote later on his Time Magazine blog page that “It seemed like the most craven of climb-downs”, and he was not alone in this opinion.

What we know for sure now is that the parties have said they intend to resume negotiations.

In the Muqata’a press conference with Rice on Tuesday, the Palestinian President said: “We warned repeatedly that Israel must not insist on its security first (only)”, and said that “Security must be reciprocal for both sides, in the proper social and economic atmosphere”.

Abu Mazen stated with some intensity that: “No one, under any pretext, can justify what the Israeli military did (in recent days) when 120 died, including many children and civilians. We need a comprehensive and reciprocal truce in Gaza and the West Bank, so that 2008 is (can be) the year of peace”. He continued: “We want to work on activating the Fourth Geneva Convention. Security is vital for both parties, and it can only be achieved through a political solution, not military power…”

A Reuters correspondent in the travelling State Department press corps tried to press Abbas to specify what it would take to resume talks with Israel. The answer from Abbas was: “These talks are not a luxury, they are something very important”.

Nobody in Ramallah asked about the Vanity Fair article — though while the journalists were waiting for the press conference to begin, a colleague from Japan’s NHK television said Rice had been asked about it at a press conference in Cairo this morning, though her answer was not clear. (We later learned, from the U.S. State Department transcript of the Cairo press conference, that Rice said she had not – yet – read the Vanity Fair article which was already being widely circulated on the internet, but she was able to add that all the blame should be put on Hamas.)

The first (pre-approved — by Muqata’a press officials) question in the Ramallah press conference was from a Palestinian reporter who asked: “Can you tell us where negotiations stand now, because nobody sees any results?”

Rice replied: “We’ve been very active the last several days” and went on to add that the present problems can be blamed on Hamas “starting with the illegal coup”. Abbas said nothing.

Several of the minor characters in the Vanity Fair story were present in Rice’s entourage at the Muqata’a in Ramallah today – Elliot Abrams, along with David Welch, as well as Consul in East Jerusalem, Jacob Walles

The Vanity Fair article had reported that the magazine “has obtained confidential documents, since corroborated by sources in the U.S. and Palestine, which lay bare a covert initiative, approved by Bush and implemented by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Deputy National Security Adviser Elliott Abrams, to provoke a Palestinian civil war. The plan was for forces led by [Muhammad] Dahlan, and armed with new weapons supplied at America’s behest, to give Fatah the muscle it needed to remove the democratically elected Hamas-led government from power. (The State Department declined to comment.) … Instead of driving its enemies out of power, the U.S.-backed Fatah fighters inadvertently provoked Hamas to seize total control of Gaza. Some sources call the scheme ‘Iran-contra 2.0′, recalling that Abrams was convicted (and later pardoned) for withholding information from Congress during the original Iran-contra scandal under President Reagan”…

Ma’an News Agency reported Wednesday that Dahlan denied some of the allegations made in the Vanity Fair story.

The Vanity Fair article also reported that “Some analysts argued that Hamas had a substantial moderate wing that could be strengthened if America coaxed it into the peace process. Notable Israelis—such as Ephraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad intelligence agency—shared this view. But if America paused to consider giving Hamas the benefit of the doubt, the moment was “milliseconds long,” says a senior State Department official. ‘The administration spoke with one voice: “We have to squeeze these guys”. With Hamas’s election victory, the freedom agenda was dead’.”

And, there’s more. The Vanity Fair article also said that “At the end of 2006, Dayton promised an immediate package worth $86.4 million—money that, according to a U.S. document published by Reuters on January 5, 2007, would be used to ‘dismantle the infrastructure of terrorism and establish law and order in the West Bank and Gaza’. U.S. officials even told reporters the money would be transferred ‘in the coming days’. The cash never arrived. ‘Nothing was disbursed’, Dahlan says. ‘It was approved and it was in the news. But we received not a single penny’. Any notion that the money could be transferred quickly and easily had died on Capitol Hill, where the payment was blocked by the House Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia. Its members feared that military aid to the Palestinians might end up being turned against Israel. Dahlan did not hesitate to voice his exasperation. ‘I spoke to Condoleezza Rice on several occasions’, he says. ‘I spoke to Dayton, to the consul general, to everyone in the administration I knew. They said, “You have a convincing argument”. We were sitting in Abbas’s office in Ramallah, and I explained the whole thing to Condi. And she said, “Yes, we have to make an effort to do this. There’s no other way”.’? At some of these meetings, Dahlan says, Assistant Secretary Welch and Deputy National-Security Adviser Abrams were also present”…

Just as they were present in Ramallah again on Tuesday.

The theme of Hamas-is-to-blame and Hamas-is-responsible was repeated throughout Rice’s meetings and comments during the trip – only President Abbas refrained from comments in this direction, exhibiting unusual restraint on this topic.

On Wednesday afternoon, Rice told journalists in a press conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni that “There are enemies of peace that will always try to hold hostage the Palestinian cause and the future of the Palestinian people for their own state. And Hamas, which in effect, holds the people of Gaza hostage in their hands, is now trying to make the path to a Palestinian state hostage to them. And we cannot permit that to happen”.

Earlier on Wednesday, as the Israeli Security Cabinet was meeting on the situation in Gaza (the Security Cabinet later announced it had decided to continue Israeli military operations against Hamas in Gaza), Rice held a second meeting with Palestinian negotiators (Ahmad Qurei’/Abu Alaa’, and Sa’eb Erekat).

A spokesperson for the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem later confirmed to this reporter that this meeting was indeed held in the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem Consulate – a move with some weighty symbolic significance, as the PA has been insisting on Israel “reopening Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem”.

Palestinian President Abbas, who was not present at the meeting in the U.S. Consulate in East Jerusalem, said again on Wednesday morning – before his abrupt change of mind – that “The negotiations must be started, but after the truce … Once the truce is achieved, the road will be open for negotiations”. He also said that Rice told him she would send an envoy (Assistant Secretary David Welch) to Egypt, and that “there are real efforts being exerted by Egypt for the truce”.

A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that Welch went to the airport to head back to Cairo around mid-day Wednesday, even before Rice concluded her private meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

One result announced by Rice, in a press conference with Livni after their meeting, is that Welch would be going to Egypt “to look at the entire situation in the Gaza. We have been working all along with Egypt and with Israel, and indeed with the Palestinian Authority, to deal with the situation that has obtained in Gaza since Hamasillegal takeover there. That means security issues, it means humanitarian issues, it means trying to do something about the tunnels which continue to be a problem”.

There is still no indication of any deal near on the important issue of reopening the Gaza-Egyptian border at Rafah – which was breached to the world’s astonishment in a spectacular break-out by Palestinians from Gaza on 23 January. After a few days’ multi-million dollar shopping spree, the Gazans returned home to life under an otherwise near-total blockade, and subsequently under renewed Israeli attack.

It was Rice herself who had been able to engineer the break-through, in November 2005 – after staying up all night, in Jerusalem, and on her birthday – that resulted in the agreement on movement and access which allowed the Rafah crossing to open with PA personnel, plus the physical presence of European Union monitors and a real-time Israeli security supervision via video camera from the Kerem Shalom some kilometers to the south.

The Israeli Security Cabinet said, rather cryptically, in a statement issued after the conclusion of its meeting on Wednesday morning that the Israeli government would work “To reduce the strengthening of Hamas, including in coordination with – and by – Egypt“.

Earlier in the week, Reuters reported that “Israeli and European officials said one proposal under consideration would seek to open the Rafah border crossing to cargo, expanding on its former role for travellers only. Israeli defence officials said that could be acceptable to the Jewish state as a way of limiting its responsibility for supplying Gaza’s 1.5 million residents. But Egypt opposes any attempt by Israel to shift the burden, Western diplomats said … Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign policy chief, told reporters in Jerusalem his bloc’s border monitors were ready to return to Rafah after a nearly nine-month absence provided any agreement includes Egypt”.

Solana was visiting President Abbas in the Muqata’a on Tuesday just an hour before Rice arrived.

The other result announced is that Lt. General William Fraser, who traveled to the region with Rice’s party and departed with it as well, will be holding what the Americans are calling a “trilateral” – a meeting Fraser will chair with Israelis and Palestinians participating – to review where things stand concerning the “Roadmap obligations” that both Israelis and Palestinians are supposed to fulfill. Rice stressed several times that both sides have a long way to go in this respect.

Rice also indicated, several times, that there needs to be improvement in the lives and situations of Palestinians on the ground.

Fraser’s “trilateral” will be next week, probably Thursday, (and not this week as the Israeli press has reported). A spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv confirmed that Fraser will be returning in a few day’s time.

Rice told journalists traveling with her on the plane, according to a transcript released by the U.S. State Department, that “the report is to me, and it wasn’t a judgment on Roadmap obligations, it was sort of his first take on what needs to be done”.

It would appear, from Rice’s use of the verb’s tenses, that Fraser’s report has already been written and presented (to her, at least), and the conclusions it draws would then most probably have already been at least mentioned during her visit.

Rice continued, “But I expect that he will clearly talk directly to them [both parties – Israelis and Palestinians] about what needs to be done and ways to get it done. I don’t personally like the term ‘judge’ very much, because it sounds like somebody who sits above and hands down decrees. This is more an iterative effort of working with the parties to see if we can’t really make some group movement on these Roadmap obligations, and that’s how I expect Fraser will carry it out”.

Agreement to accelerate Israeli-Palestinian talks

So, there is the admission that they have been moving even more slowly than molasses.

And public statements as well as non-attributed leaks have done nothing but totally confuse everyone.

Now, today, it has been agreed that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations should be accelerated.

Reuters reported this evening that “Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas agreed on Tuesday to accelerate U.S.-backed peace talks after critics warned Israel not enough was being done to get a deal this year … After months of delay, Olmert and Abbas agreed on Tuesday to set up working groups that will tackle side issues like water use, Israeli officials said. Olmert’s spokesman Mark Regev said negotiators would meet ‘almost daily’ going forward … Olmert has said the goal was an understanding on ‘basic principles’ for a Palestinian state, rather than the full-fledged agreement that Palestinians have been seeking. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said negotiators had made ‘some progress’ on the core issues, which include borders, the fate of millions of Palestinian refugees, as well as Jerusalem . Olmert angered the Palestinians earlier this week when he said talks on Jerusalem would be postponed until the end of the negotiating process. Palestinian officials denied Olmert’s assertion that Abbas had agreed to the delay” …

This Reuters report is posted here.

What is wrong in this paragraph?

Avigdor Lieberman, a Russian immigrant who leads the Israel Beitenu party, pulled out of the Israeli Government this week because he opposes negotiations with Palestinians that could involve territorial concessions, among other things.
The NYTimes reported this week that “Mr. Lieberman, who espouses a hard line toward the Palestinians, said on Wednesday that he advocated a solution based on ‘exchanges of territory and populations’, adding that Israel’s Arab citizens, who make up 20 percent of Israel’s population, presented more of a danger to the Jewish state than the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. One veteran Arab Israeli legislator, Ahmed Tibi, said that Mr. Lieberman ‘gives racists around the world a bad name’.” This remark is contained in a story published by the NY Times here.