The Quartet's 3-month "deadline" comes + goes

Today is the three-month marker of the Quartet plan presented to the Palestinian leadership after their “UN bid”, the formal request for admission of the State of Palestine as a full member of the United Nations, made on 23 September 2011 at UN Headuarters in New York.

The Quartet Plan was presented to stop the P.L.O. from pursuing their “UN bid”, or pressing it for a vote, because Israel was terribly upset, and the U.S. threatened to use their veto power to block it in the UN Security Council.

At the first 3-month mark, the two parties were to have met, and they were to have exchanged ideas on what the borders for a two-state solution should look like, and on security arrangements.

So, what has happened?

In December, the Palestinians let it be known that if Israel doesn’t present its idea of borders for a two-state solution by this date, the “hudna” or “truce would be over, and the Palestinians would again unleash all efforts for international recognition and admission to the international organization.

In a calm and rather leisurely reaction, the U.S. State Department said a few days later that the three-month marker was not a rigid or fixed “deadline” … and urged efforts to continue to bring the parties back to the table for direct negotiations.

[Only the Palestinians were refusing, saying it would be useless, mainly because Israeli settlement-building activities continued, while Israeli officials said to anyone who would listen that they were ready for direct talks, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu even repeated his offer to go anywhere, almost anytime — even to Ramallah…]

Then, King Abdullah II of Jordan flew by helicopter over the Israeli-controlled West Bank and landed in the refurbished helicopter pad at Ramallah Presidential Muqata’a for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — a day before Abbas himself was due to travel through Jordan, on his way to another session of Palestinian reconciliation talks with Hamas officials in Cairo… Little was revealed publicly about that meeting, and some diplomatic sources suggested that the real purpose was that Abdullah needed help and had panicked, and was really asking Mahmoud Abbas for help .

What is more significant is that U.S. State Department envoy David Hale, who had met Abbas the evening before, was back in Jerusalem to meet Israeli PM Netanyahu just before Abdullah II landed in Ramallah. Then, Hale drove overland to Amman, and met Abdallah II back in Amman that evening.

Not long afterwards, Jordan announced that it would be hosting talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators in Amman — which would include direct meetings for the first time since September 2010. Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh announced that further contacts would be held — but not announced.

The U.S. Secretary of State then announced the date of the second meeting, in early January…

There was criticism from different Palestinian political groupings, from Hamas to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine [PFLP], and Palestinian “youth groups” organized a couple of demonstrations outside the Muqata’a to protest.

A total of five meetings were held in Amman, prior to today’s deadline.

The Palestinians presented their maps and border proposals in an early meeting.

It was not until the last meeting of negotiators [the P.L.O.’s Saeb Erekat, and Israel’s Yitzhak Molcho] that the Israeli delegation screeched up to the meeting, just hours before the deadline, with a kind of power-point presentation about its general ideas — but reportedly without any very specific indications of what Israel thought the borders for a two-state solution should be… and not much indication about security, either.

Continue reading The Quartet's 3-month "deadline" comes + goes

Rashid Khalidi evaluates the PLO's September "UN bid"

PLO and Fatah strategist Nabil Shaath told journalists in Bethlehem just before Christmas that the Palestinians are observing a “hudna” or truce in pursuing the “UN bid” they filed at UNHQ in NY on 23 September for full UN membership for the Palestinian State declared in 1988 — after the failure of negotiations brokered by the United States and backed by the Quartet [USA, EU, Russia + UN.

Shaath said that this “hudna” would last until January 26, the end of the three-month period that the Quartet gave the two parties [Israel + the PLO] to meet and agree on intitial steps to resume negotiations.

After that, Shaath indicated — and unless Israel stops settlement building by then — the PLO will resume its international efforts, including the suspended “UN bid”.

The admission of the State of Palestine to full membership in UNESCO in Paris on 31 October was something of an unplanned surprise, Shaath suggested: “It’s been on the agenda every year since 1989”, he suggested, but this year, it just happened: “we won”, he said. After that, Shaath told journalists, Abu Mazen [Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas] declared a moratorium on any further moves [well, a lot of donor funding, including USAID money, as well as the immediately-important Israeli transfer of the PA VAT + Customs duties it collects, which goes to pay PA salaries, was at stake].

Shaath also said that separate efforts to join distinct UN agencies and international bodies was just a lot of wasted effort, because if accomplished through the “UN bid” — or, otherwise, by taking the easier and more immediately productive route of going to the UN General Assembly to ask for an upgrade in status from observer organization to observer but non-member state.

Meanwhile, Palestinian-American professor Rashid Khalidi has talked to Victor Kattan — the transcript is published here — analyzing the PLO strategy for its “UN bid” filed on 23 September for full UN membership for the Palestinian state:

Rashid Khalidi [RK]: “…If your objective is a narrow diplomatic one to obtain maximum benefits at minimum costs, which is a perfectly rational approach, it might have been advisable to have avoided the Security Council and to have gone directly to the General Assembly. If, however, this was part of what I would call a declaration of independence from the United States, and the idea was to illustrate the fact that the United States is an obstacle to a just resolution of the conflict, then I don’t see why a defeat in the Security Council, by a U.S. veto or a lack of necessary votes, doesn’t serve that purpose and then that could be followed by going to the General Assembly and achieving the same objective. Obviously you don’t want to suffer a defeat if you don’t have to and another argument would be why should the Palestinians accentuate their differences with the U.S..

Continue reading Rashid Khalidi evaluates the PLO's September "UN bid"