Mitchell lied about 'direct talks' successWhat was your reaction last month when you heard how well the talks had gone between Israel and the 'Palestinians'? Did you flinch? Did you snicker? Did you doubt the reports? Whatever your reaction was, I have what should be unsurprising news for you. The talks did not go well. US Special Middle East envoy George Mitchell lied about them.
Five Israeli and foreign diplomats, who were briefed about the Netanyahu-Abbas meetings by one of the parties or by senior American officials, said prospects for progress in the talks remained gloomy, even if the construction crisis were solved.Haaretz's Barak Ravid tries to spin this story as being Netanyahu's fault, highlighting several times Netanyahu's refusal to discuss any of the 'core issues' other than security. Well, sorry, but that's every bit as legitimate as Abu Mazen's refusal to discuss anything other than borders and a 'settlement freeze.' Netanyahu has said many times that security is our top issue and that he won't discuss borders until he knows what security arrangements are going to be in place.
The two first meetings, held during the talks' launch in Washington on September 2 and at the Sharm el-Sheikh summit on September 14, mainly dealt with technical matters like the order of the topics to be discussed and the future of the construction freeze in the settlements.
The first meeting dealt with setting a date for the next meeting and with formulating a "conduct code" for the talks, mainly to prevent leaks. They also discussed the construction freeze and what to discuss first - security or borders.
After the second meeting, Mitchell said the parties had discussed seriously and in detail core issues of the final status arrangement. But officials briefed about that meeting said it dealt with an attempt to define the "core issues" rather than presenting positions on them.
The sources said this discussion was strange as at least two Israeli governments had reached an agreement with the Palestinians on this issue.
The sources said the sterile discussion about whether to discuss borders or security first, or both issues simultaneously, continued.
Mitchell described the third meeting, held on September 15 in Jerusalem, as very positive and said it made considerable progress. Here too officials familiar with the talks said the opposite is true.
Abbas presented Netanyahu with all the details of his talks with former prime minister Ehud Olmert and the current Palestinian stands on borders, security, the refugees, Jerusalem and the settlements. Netanyahu refused to comment on the Palestinian positions, especially on the borders, and would only present his position on the security arrangements.
Abbas was "alarmed" to hear at that meeting that Netanyahu was interested in reaching a framework agreement within a year, but in implementing it over a period of at least 20 years, a European diplomat said.
The American brokers were reportedly extremely frustrated after the meeting in Jerusalem and some of them wondered if the talks hadn't in fact gone backward.
A source close to the prime minister confirmed that Netanyahu refused to go into core issues such as the borders in detail. As long as the construction crisis was not over and the talks' continuation was not assured, Netanyahu did not want to present a position that could endanger him politically, the source explained.
There is nothing wrong with Israel's using its positions of strength to try to influence the outcome of negotiations. In fact, the government would be negligent or reckless if it attempted to reach an agreement without using our strengths (never mind that's exactly what both Barak and Olmert did).
As to the 20-year implementation period, I don't see why that should come as such a surprise. Israel expelled some 10,000 Israelis from their homes in Gaza in 2005, and most of those people still have no place they can call home. For Israel to reach an agreement with the 'Palestinians' on any of the terms thus far discussed (which terms I don't advocate), it would mean expelling 100,000 or more Jews from their homes. Abu Mazen may not care if those Jews live on the streets until new homes are found, but the Israeli government sure ought to care. Likewise, Abu Mazen may intend to abide by any agreement he reaches with Israel (I doubt it), but given his past duplicity, the Israeli government should certainly not take Abe Mazen's or his successors' adherence to any agreement for granted.
But in the meantime, George Mitchell lied. How much longer will the Obama administration continue to lie and pretend that these talks are going anywhere? Can we drop the pretense after November 2?
UPDATE 12:30 PM
In light of the above, do you believe this? I don't.
UPDATE MONDAY 4:13 PM
Welcome Contentions readers.