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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Knesset tries to get a handle on Olmert's 'negotiations'

Fifteen members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee have sent a letter to Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Tzachi Hanegbi demanding that Prime Minister Ehud K. Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Feigele Livni brief the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on the progress of 'negotiations' with the Fatah and Hamas terror organizations. What's most interesting about this letter is how has signed it. It has what would be called 'bipartisan support' in a two-party system.
The letter was authored by MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud), and was signed by a number of MKs among the opposition, including Opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu, Israeli Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman, and former Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud). Coalition members such as MK Colette Avital (Labor) and MK Nissim Ze'ev (Shas) were also among the signatories.
Here's some of what the letter said:
"Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni are ignoring the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, and are not reporting their diplomatic contacts with the Palestinians and with Syria," the letter stated.


"We are turning to you out of worry for the standing of the Knesset, as a body that supervises the actions of the government, and out of a feeling that the prime minister, unlike his predecessor, is dictating a policy of ignoring the committee with regards to state matters," the letter read. [It's not clear to me why that's 'unlike his predecessor.' Sharon used to tell them what he planned to do and then did whatever he wanted regardless of the committee's view. CiJ]


"For months negotiations have been conducted with the Palestinians regarding the existence and the future of Israel, without any parliamentary supervision," the letter read.

"We are of the opinion that the events in Lebanon and the threat of an Islamic republic being established right on our border demands that the political echelon be summoned to speak before the committee, together with relevant intelligence officials," the letter stated.
Hanegbi's response:
"Even Rabin didn't bring the Oslo Accords before the committee for discussion, because the Camp David agreement wasn't brought to the committee," the FADC chairman said. "And Sharon never presented his disengagement plan. The moment one presents details of secret negotiations before the committee, and in effect the public, you can close shop, because there won't be negotiations anymore."
Maybe that says something about whether there should be negotiations in the first place. But in an interview with Israel Radio this morning, Hanegbi sought a way out (Hat Tip: Aaron Lerner). Hanegbi said that he would support presenting the negotiations to the secret services subcommittee, which has a clean, leakproof record, even when its members vehemently disagreed with what had been presented. Former Chairman Yuval Steinitz, who leads the opposition in the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, said that he believed the full committee was at least entitled to an overview of the negotiations.

Haaretz adds:
Regarding the issue of Syria, the authors said, "Reports of direct or indirect negotiations with Syria are coming from Damascus  again, without even minimal parliamentary supervision."

Last week, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert noted in his speech to the presidential conference, "The discussions we are conducting with the Palestinian Authority are serious. Understandings and agreements have been reached on very important matters, although not on all of them," he said. Members of the Israeli negotiating team have expressed similar progress, but both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides are keeping mum about the content of the talks and about the understandings that have been reached so far. A Jerusalem official noted that the fact that there have been no press leaks "points to the seriousness and depth" of the talks.

The driving force behind the demand for Olmert, Livni and [Ofer] Dekel to report to the Knesset committee is its former chairman, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud).


While the committee chairman is not obligated to accede to the MKs' demands, the fact that a large majority of the committee's members have signed the letter will make it difficult for him to ignore them.
One reason Olmert does not want to disclose what's being negotiated is that Shas has said on many occasions that if Jerusalem is discussed, they will withdraw from the coalition and that would bring down Olmert's government. Olmert and Livni keep insisting that Jerusalem is not being discussed. Towards that end, both Olmert and President Bush gave strong hints last week that Jerusalem would be the last item discussed (why Shas would be willing to stay in the government knowing that the division of Jerusalem will be discussed after everything else has been agreed is a separate issue that I summarized for you in the margin). Here's Olmert speaking during a press briefing with President Bush.
"We need to reach an understanding that will define accurately the parameters for the realization of the vision of you, Mr. President, of a two-state solution that will relate to the issue of borders, to the issue of refugees, to the issue of the security arrangements, and will set forth also, at the end of the day, the framework for how to deal later with the issue of Jerusalem," the prime minister said.

The Post learned the idea was to come up with a joint agreement with the Palestinians on a framework where Jerusalem could be discussed at a later date. In this way, a lack of agreement on the capital, the most sensitive of the "core issues" currently being discussed, would not torpedo agreement on other issues where there was widely believed to be a greater degree of understanding.

Creating a new framework to deal with Jerusalem would change one of the fundamental principles of the current round of negotiations: that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed upon.

One government source said Olmert's remarks on a new mechanism were made in Bush's presence, but were intended for the ears of Shas leader Eli Yishai, who has threatened to pull his party out of the government were Jerusalem to be discussed.

Bush made no reference to Olmert's comment on Jerusalem.
But President Bush said something to the same effect in his oval office interview with David Horovitz, which was published in the JPost over the weekend.
But as for the substance, he said nothing to back up his insistent optimism that the Palestinian leadership is ready and willing to take viable positions for an accommodation. He offered no basis for his conviction that a framework accord can be signed this year. If anything, he seemed to be focused on just one aspect of any accord - agreement on borders - in the apparent, improbable new hope that progress here will yield breakthroughs on everything from settlements, to Jerusalem, to the Israel-killing Palestinian demand for a refugee "right of return."
Unfortunately for Olmert, the 'Palestinians' know how weak he is politically and know that Olmert has almost no chance of forcing a deal on Israelis. And so chief 'Palestinian' negotiator Ahmed Qrei Abu Ala apparently told the truth over the weekend.
Ahmed Qurei, also known as Abu Ala, told the Al-Quds newspaper in eastern Jerusalem over the weekend that the talks are "difficult," and include all the issues in dispute. These include: Jerusalem; the future of the "refugees"- those Arabs who left Israel in 1948 and 1967, as well as their millions of descendants; borders; Jewish towns in Judea and Samaria; and security.


Abu Ala's revelation is not the first one of its sort. Even Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni has admitted that Jerusalem was being discussed. Speaking with foreign diplomats in early February, Livni said that all the core issues, including Jerusalem, were being discussed with the PA, and admitted that this was in contradiction to the promise Olmert gave the Shas party a few days earlier.


In addition, four months ago the Yisrael Beiteinu party quit the government in protest of the beginning of talks over the "core issues" - including Jerusalem. Prime Minister Olmert did not, at the time, deny that the division of Jerusalem was being discussed, and said only, "I have a national responsibility" to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority, and "there is no alternative to conducting serious diplomatic negotiations in order to reach peace."


Abu Ala also told Al-Quds that the Arab view is that the establishment of a Palestinian state with its capital in Jerusalem is a "certainty, whether it happens this year, next year, or the year after." However, he admitted that he is not optimistic - presumably for the short-term - in light of the opposing positions between Israel and the PA regarding Jerusalem and the refugees.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Abu Hamza took the opportunity reiterate that the "Palestinian people" [sic] would never cede even one inch of its land, and that "resistance" - the codeword for terrorism - "is the only guarantee for the return of Palestinian rights."
I hope that the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee finds out what's going on. But unless someone is willing to give the public something solid, it probably won't help much.


At 4:00 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Jerusalem is an insoluble issue. Ehud Olmert probably can't sell an agreement that would empty the Jewish neighborhoods over the Green Line and surrender Israeli control over the Western Wall. That is exactly what the Palestinians will demand as the price for a deal that redivides the city. And its explosive to contemplate the literal cutting in half of the country's heart.


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