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Monday, January 04, 2010

Mitchell visit postponed, 'Palestinians' balking at terms of reference

Buried deep in a Jerusalem Post article, in which Prime Minister Netanyahu denies the implication by Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Aboul Gheit that Netanyahu has accepted the 1949 armistice lines as a basis for negotiations with the 'Palestinians,' is this little tidbit.
Netanyahu's position is that the pre-1967 lines are not the starting point for talks, but that the reference point should be secure and defensible borders for Israel.

If that is the jumping-off point, diplomatic officials explained, then it was not a given that Israel would have to exchange land at a 1:1 ratio, as former prime minister Ehud Olmert was nearly willing to do in the offer he made to Abbas in the fall of 2008.

The US is trying to straddle the Israeli and Palestinian positions.

Following the imposition of the construction moratorium in the settlements in November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the US believed that "through good-faith negotiations the parties can mutually agree on an outcome which ends the conflict and reconciles the Palestinian goal of an independent and viable state based on the 1967 lines, with agreed swaps, and the Israeli goal of a Jewish state with secure and recognized borders that reflect subsequent developments and meet Israeli security requirements."

Israeli officials at the time praised this comment, indicating that it could possibly serve as the elusive terms of reference for talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Washington is believed now to be trying to get Palestinian approval of this formula as well.

In what some observers are interpreting as an indication that this is proving more difficult than anticipated, US Mideast envoy George Mitchell, who was widely expected to visit the region either this week or next, is now not expected until the third or fourth week of January. He has not been here since early November.

Rick Richman and I had an extensive discussion of the 'terms of reference' at Contentions and on this blog last week. Just to add to that discussion, it's interesting to note that the Post article reminds us that President Obama used the word 'contiguous' to describe the 'Palestinian state' at the UN, while Secretary of State Clinton did not use that term in her statement.

My gut reaction is that the 'Palestinians' really have no interest in talking. Abu Mazen has no interest in reaching a deal with Netanyahu because he knows that it will be less than he was offered by Ehud Olmert or than Yasser Arafat was offered by Ehud Barak. Abu Mazen is weak and unpopular, and cannot go to the 'Palestinian people' to tell them that they sustained thousands of deaths and injuries for a deal that is less than they were offered nine and a half years ago. He doesn't want to go to talks at all, because he doesn't want to end up where Yasser Arafat ended up with Bill Clinton. Besides, it's much easier to keep waiting for the world to support him and for Egypt to try to force Hamas to reconcile with him. That's why Abu Mazen has insisted on conditions that he knows are most unlikely to be fulfilled.

So don't expect negotiations anytime soon. The real question is whether Netanyahu will continue to damage his standing by keeping the freeze in effect for ten full months, and what will happen at the end of those ten months when there are still no negotiations. But by then, an Iranian nuclear weapon may be close to or online, and we will have bigger issues to attend.


At 6:31 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

My thoughts exactly. There will be no negotiations this year, for the rest of the decade and for our lifetime. Israel could give up everything it could give up and the bottom line is the Palestinians still won't make peace with the Jewish State.


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