Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Both The White House AND The State Department Give Israel The OK (Updated)

Well, this is unexpected:
Mitchell told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during talks this week that the understandings reached following the 2007 Annapolis Conference are non-binding in the current round of negotiations, Haaretz has learned.

..In a Jerusalem meeting with quartet envoys on Friday, Mitchell's deputy David Hale said the negotiations after Annapolis and the understandings reached by Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qureia, as well as Ehud Olmert and Abbas, would not be binding.

The talks will be based on agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including the road map.

Olmert had offered Abbas an Israeli withdrawal from 94 percent of the West Bank, and Israeli territory in exchange for the remaining 6 percent. In addition, Israel would symbolically accept 5,000 Palestinian refugees and enable international governance for the holy sites in the Old City.

Abbas never responded to Olmert's offer, but the Palestinians insisted that the negotiations resume from where they stopped during Olmert's term as prime minister.

The U.S. apparently accepted Israel's position on the matter, which was to ignore everything that was not signed as part of an agreement.
Ideally, starting from a relatively blank slate--building on the foundation of the Road Map and signed agreements--instead of rewarding Abbas for sitting on the sidelines, will signal the Palestinian side that they need to take negotiations seriously. In other words, no more unilateral concessions by Israel to boost Abbas's standing among his own people. At least we can hope that is what it means.

On top of that, there was some good news from the State Department as well:
The United States said on Monday that Israel's approval of building 112 new Jewish homes in the West Bank did not violate a limited Israeli settlement freeze but was the kind of act both sides should be cautious about as they embark on indirect peace talks.

"On the one hand, it does not violate the moratorium that the Israelis previously announced. On the other hand, this is the kind of thing that both sides have to be cautious as we move ahead with these parallel talks," U.S. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.

"When you are in talks of this kind, you have to recognize the interests and perceptions of the other side, and both sides should be cautious about actions that might be either misperceived within the region or that might be exploited by those who want to create obstacles," he added.
With any luck, maybe Abbas will stop dedicating memorials to Palestinian terrorists whose only claim to fame is that they have killed Israelis.

Of course, apologists for the Palestinian Arabs will argue that these 2 statements send a discouraging message to the Palestinians just when the US is trying to get them to the negotiating table.

If Palestinians find it discouraging to be held responsible for their actions, that may be a step in the right direction. Besides, after a full year of getting a pat on the back from Obama, it is time for Israel in general--and Netanyahu in particular--to get some sort of recognition for efforts they have made towards peace.

UPDATE: Of course, Joe Biden didn't have to come all the way to Israel just to make this happen. He's come to Israel for a reason, supposedly to make sure Israel and the US are on the same page regarding Iran.

Of course, before being on the same page, it would be helpful to be in the same book. As Wesley Pruden,  editor emeritus of the Washington Times notes about Biden:
As a senator, he voted against sanctions against Iran, said he didn't see anything necessarily wrong with Iranian nuclear ambitions and grumbled that George W. Bush should be impeached if he sent Americans to bomb the Iranian nuclear plants.
Pruden quotes Caroline Glick, who sees another reason for Biden's visit:
"In light of the gaping disparity between the Obama administration's policies and those of the Israeli government," Caroline Glick, an Israeli analyst, writes in the Jerusalem Post, "the apparent goal of the Biden [visit] is to shore up the position of the Israeli left as an alternative to [Mr.] Netanyahu … the picture emerging from all of the senior U.S. officials' meetings with [Mr.] Netanyahu is that Israel's leader still feels comfortable defying them. Presumably they now believe that the only way to force him to toe their line is by making him believe that the price of defiance will be his premiership."
All we can do now is sit back and try to puzzle out if Obama and Biden are successful in moving Israel in the direction they want. Making concessions to Israel on the issues of the freeze and Annapolis is the carrot. We have not yet seen the stick.

Oh, and it seems Chris Matthews is coming along too. Someone should warn him that in the Middle East,  if you feel your leg tingling--its not Obama; its a scorpion

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