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Sunday, November 01, 2009

Suddenly, she is loved

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is the toast of Jerusalem on Sunday morning. And with good reason. Here's the question from Saturday night's press conference that has made all the headlines this morning (emphasis added is mine).
Joe Klein, Time Magazine: I wanted to ask you “Why is this night different from all other nights?”

Clinton: Do you want us to burst into song?

Klein: For forty years, we’ve seen American Secretaries of State and Israeli Prime Ministers in a similar situation. Despite the Prime Minister’s optimism, the talks are stalling. While you’ve said ‘yes’ without pre-conditions to talks, you’ve said ‘no’ to a settlement freeze….. Is the Obama Administration in favor of a total freeze? I refer the same question to the Prime Minister.

Netanyahu: Joe, the specific question you asked about the settlements also has to be put factually. The fact of the matter is that I said that we would not build new settlements, would not expropriate land for addition for the existing settlements and that we were prepared to adopt a policy of restraint on the existing settlements, but also one that would still enable normal life for the residents who are living there. Now there has not been, not in the last sixteen years, not forty years, but sixteen years since the beginning of the peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians any demand ever put, not on restraint, but on any limitation of settlement activity as a pre-condition for entering negotiations. This is a new thing. Now it’s true that you can take a new thing and you can repeat it ad nauseam for a few weeks and a few months and it becomes something that is obvious and has been there all the time – it’s not been there all the time. No, there’s not been a pre-condition for entering or continuing with the peace process between us and the Palestinians. There’s not been a demand coming from the Palestinians that said ‘We will not negotiate with you unless you freeze all activity, something that is problematic in so many ways – judicial and other ways – I won’t get into that. But this is a new demand, it’s a change of policy – of the Palestinian policy and it doesn’t do much for peace – it doesn’t work to advance negotiations. It actually is used as a pretext or at least as something, as an obstacle that prevents the re-establishment of negotiations. Now mind you, the issue of settlements and the issue of territories and the issue of borders, these will be engaged in the negotiations and they’ll have to be resolved for a peace agreement to be achieved, but you can’t resolve it in advance of the negotiations, and you certainly shouldn’t pile it on as a pre-condition.

Clinton: Well, I would add just for context that what the Prime Minister is saying is historically accurate. There has never been a pre-condition, it’s always been an issue within the negotiations. What the Prime Minister has offered in specifics of a restraint on the policy of settlements which he has just described – no new starts for example, is unprecedented in the context of prior-to negotiations. It’s also the fact that for forty years, presidents of both parties have questioned the legitimacy of settlements, but I think that where we are right now is to try to get into the negotiations. The Prime Minister will be able to present his government’s proposal about what they are doing regarding settlements which I think when fully explained will be seen as being not only unprecedented in response to many of the concerns that have been expressed. You know, there are always demands made in any negotiation that are not going to be fully realized. I mean negotiation by its very definition is a process of trying to meet the other’s needs while protecting your core interests, and on settlements there’s never been a pre-condition. There’s never been such an offer from any Israeli government and we hope that we’ll be able to move into the negotiations where all the issues that President Obama mentioned in his speech at the United Nations will be on the table for the parties to begin to resolve.
That's certainly a far cry from Clinton's very uncomfortable press conference with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman back in June. And while I'm not pleased that Netanyahu offered a full 'settlement freeze' in Judea and Samaria, it seems obvious that was a calculated risk: With 'Palestinian' elections scheduled for late January, Abu Mazen has no way down from the tree he climbed with the help of President Obumbler's ladder. After a meeting with Secretary of State Clinton in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, Abu Mazen feels duped.
PA officials described the meeting with Clinton as "hard" and expressed deep disappointment over what they said was Washington's refusal to pressure Israel to halt construction in the settlements.

According to Erekat, Abbas turned down an offer by the US to resume the peace talks on final-status issues on the basis of "understandings" reached between Washington and Israel regarding settlement construction.

"President Abbas rejected the offer because the understandings are completely unacceptable," Erekat said.
Netanyahu played it for all it was worth.
Netanyahu said that Israel was willing to talk with the Palestinians without any conditions.

"We are prepared to start peace talks immediately," he said. "What we should do on the path to peace is to get on it and to get with it."

He said that in the past 16 years the Palestinians had never demanded that Israel freeze settlement activity as a precondition to talks and that their stance now was a change in policy.

It's a stance that Erekat said the Palestinians were insisting upon.

"The Palestinian Authority won't make any concessions on the issue of settlements," he said.

He claimed that the "understandings" reached between Israel and Washington did not include a full cessation of settlement construction, including inside Jerusalem.

Erekat said that halting settlement construction was the "only way to ensure the revival of the peace process."

He added that the gap between the Palestinians and Israel remained very wide - a factor that is hindering the resumption of the peace talks.

Asked about the outcome of his meeting with Clinton, Abbas told reporters: "There's nothing new. We reaffirmed that peace requires a complete cessation of settlement construction."

Abbas said that the "problem" with the Israeli government was that it was refusing to stop settlement construction in line with the peace process.

He said that his talks with Clinton focused on the situation in Jerusalem. "The city is in danger," he said. "The Arabs and Muslims must pay attention to this."
The 'Palestinians' also rejected Clinton's claim that Netanyahu's concessions were unprecedented.
Abu Rdainah said: "A settlement freeze and acknowledging the terms of reference is the only way towards peace negotiations. Settlement is illegitimate and it is not possible to accept any justification for the continuation of the settlement activity or to defend it in the lands occupied in 1967, including Jerusalem."
Is Netanyahu being too cute here? What will he do if Abu Mazen calls his bluff? Well the 'freeze' to which Netanyahu has agreed is six months (the low end of what was under discussion) and he has excluded 3,000 'almost completed' apartments and all public building in Judea and Samaria from the freeze. Netanyahu is betting that either Abu Mazen will never say yes, or that with the exclusions, by the time the 3,000 units are finished, six months will be up and no one will notice. And you can bet that if there's no freeze in effect, when the 3,000 units are finished, more will be approved!

Netanyahu has done well handling the situation up to now. Let's hope he's not getting overconfident.


At 11:58 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

I think helping the Obama White House climb down from its own tree was a smart move for Israel. The Palestinians on the other hand have been intransigent and have tried to sabotage negotiations by setting an impossible pre-condition, one which no Israeli government will ever agree to. They have harmed themselves and their extremism is not lost on the American Administration, which Barry Rubin says will quietly return over time to policies pursued by previous Administrations, For that shift in Israel's direction, the Palestinians have only themselves to blame. They never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.


At 4:02 PM, Blogger Kae Gregory said...

What I'm afraid of is that the Obama administration is trying to do Israel what he has done with his programs in this country - the details are hidden, or secret. In the U.S., Obama has convinced the electorate that it is best for them that the details remain obscured and they've bought it. Because of the greater mistrust of politicians in Israel, this tack probably wouldn't work. Instead, they will just keep the concessions secret until it's too late for the Israeli public to do anything to thwart them.


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