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Saturday, July 20, 2013

'Peace talks' to resume in Washington

US Secretary of State John Kerry announced on Friday night that 'peace talks' will resume in Washington.
Kerry specified that Juctice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat could come to Washington "within the next week or so, and a further announcement will be made by all of us at that time".
Asked if that meeting of envoys would be considered the start of negotiations, a US official said: "Yes."
"I am pleased to announce that we have reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming direct final-status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis," Kerry told reporters in Amman.
"The best way to give these negotiations a chance is to keep them private," he said. "We know that the challenges require some very tough choices in the days ahead. Today, however, I am hopeful."
If you think anyone other than Kerry is happy about this, think again.
Kerry's announcement, on the eve of the Jewish sabbath and as Muslims ended their daily Ramadan fast, may have been meant in part to deflect domestic scrutiny from Netanyahu and Abbas.
I believe that the announcement was after the Sabbath started in Jerusalem.

And now the (avoidance of) blame game starts in earnest. 
That is where the difficulties will begin for the United States. In both Israel and the PLO, major coalition players have threatened revolt over basic negotiation points: prisoner concessions, a preliminary acceptance of pre-1967 borders, and settlement construction, among other issues. If these players genuinely threaten to disrupt their respective governments, Kerry may see an end to the negotiations he fought so hard for before they even begin in earnest.
Kerry may have also exhausted a unique brand of political leverage: low expectations. Afraid of embarrassing the secretary of state, both parties have now handed him a much-needed victory. The parties can now say they have made an authentic effort at talks and bail under the excuse of intense domestic political pressures.
Reluctance from the White House to comment on the development may demonstrate trepidation: Kerry still owns the process, and the president can be expected to enter the fray only if he sees genuine partners in peace from both sides.
"It's the first direct talks in several years, and that's significant. But it shouldn't be overblown. They basically agreed to disagree, and to talk about that," says Natan Sachs, a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution.
"There's a sense the parties are entering the talks with an eye on the blame game. So the challenge now for Kerry is to remain quiet, to avoid that."
No one is saying what understandings brought the parties to the table.
Meanwhile, Israeli lawmaker Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Netanyahu, suggested the United States could have found a formula that would avoid the 1967 border issue torpedoing resumption of negotiations.
"The talks should be possible when both sides feel they have not conceded their basic positions. The Americans are entitled to say whatever they want. For instance, they could say that they think the talks should be based on the 1967 borders, but that this does not bind us," Hanegbi told Israel Radio.
"I suppose they will also say that the goal of the negotiations is to reach a deal in which the Palestinians recognize Israel as Jewish state, something that at least at the moment the Palestinians are unwilling to accept," Hanegbi said.
 But apparently some 'Palestinian' murderers are going to be released.
"There will be some release of prisoners," [International Affairs Minister Yuval] Steinitz told Israel Radio. "I don't want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for dozens of years," he said. The release would be carried out in phases, he added.
Steinitz indicated that some of those who would be released had been convicted of violent crimes against Israelis.
"It will not be simple, but we will make that gesture," he said.
Steinitz said that Israel did not acquiesce to freeze settlement construction or base the negotiations on the pre-1967 borders as part of the agreement to return to negotiations.
"There is no chance that we will agree to enter any negotiations that begins with defining territorial borders or concessions by Israel, nor a construction freeze."
The Likud minister told Israel Radio that the Palestinians committed to enter talks that would continue at least nine months and the PA agreed to cease unilateral efforts to gain statehood at the UN during this period.
But apparently no one told the 'Palestinians' they'd agreed to that.
Senior PLO official Wasel Abu Youssef said of Kerry's initiative, "The announcement today did not mean the return to negotiations. It meant efforts would continue to secure the achievement of Palestinian demands ... Israel must recognize the 1967 borders."
Kerry said on Friday that the deal between Israel and the Palestinians was still being "formalized" and he would therefore not discuss it in detail, but that negotiators for both sides could begin talks in Washington "within the next week or so."
In fact, the 'Palestinian' side has wall-to-wall opposition.
Nabil Amr, a senior Fatah official and former PA minister, said the way the PA leadership dealt with the issue of resuming negotiating with Israel was "frustrating."
He added: "Although what Kerry achieved was expected, the way the Palestinian leadership handled the return to the negotiating table over the past two days was frustrating." Amr said that the Palestinians were suffering from a "leadership crisis more than a crisis in the policy adopted by the Palestinian leadership, which excels in hardline talk but eventually succumbs to the fait accompli."
The Palestinian National Initiative, a political movement headed by former presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouti, announced that it was opposed to the resumption of the peace talks with Israel "without clear and specific terms of reference."
The movement said that any negotiations should be based on the pre-1967 lines and a full cessation of settlement construction "in all Palestinian territories, including Jerusalem."
The movement warned that conducting negotiations while settlement construction was continuing "means that Israel would exploit them as a cover for its expansionist settlement projects."
It said that there was no peace partner in Israel because the Israeli government was busy building in the settlements and creating new facts on the ground.
"The alternative is popular resistance, boycotting and imposing sanctions on Israel and restoring Palestinian national unity," the movement added.
Hamas spokesman also condemned the PA for "succumbing to American extortion and complying with Israel's demands." Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said that the PA's decision was a "big gift to the extremist occupation government and a loss for the Palestinian people."
I don't expect these talks to go anywhere. Just to move the goalposts so that the next time, Israel is expected to concede even more before we start.

What could go wrong?

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