That Israel and the Palestinians, after 16 years of direct talks, are now back to indirect talks is an undeniable retreat. But in a must-read analysis, the Jerusalem Post’s diplomatic correspondent, Herb Keinon, points out that this may nevertheless be one of the most hopeful moments of the entire peace process — because for the first time, “the Palestinians gave in on something.Now it turns out that Abbas knew better--much better.
“Israelis, Palestinians and the world have become accustomed to Israel setting red lines, and then moving them,” Keinon wrote. “The Palestinians, on the other hand, have set a track record of saying what they mean.” For instance, they have never budged from their demand for “all of east Jerusalem, including the Old City,” or for “the right of Palestinian refugees to return to Israel proper.”
But after months of proclaiming that he would not resume talks with Israel without a complete freeze on Israeli construction in both the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has backed down. And this offers a crucial lesson for the future.
“The reason Abbas was willing to move his red line was because he came under intense pressure from the US, certain elements inside the EU, and from Arab states such as Egypt and Jordan to start talks, even though all his conditions were not met,” Keinon noted. “The valuable lesson here: The Palestinians, too, and not only Israel, are susceptible to pressure. [emphasis added]”
Because Abbas has gotten Obama to serve up Israel on a silver platter--with Abbas's most outrageous demands on the table:
"Everyone knows the basic outlines of a peace deal," said one of the senior officials, citing the agreement that was nearly reached at Camp David in 2000 and in subsequent negotiations. He said that an American plan, if launched, would build upon past progress on such issues as borders, the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees and the status of Jerusalem. The second senior official said that "90 percent of the map would look the same" as what has been agreed in previous bargaining.Back in November, Olmert revealed in an interview what he offered Abbas on the issues of "the right of return" and Jerusalem:
"No 2 was the issue of Jerusalem. This was a very sensitive, very painful, soul-searching process. While I firmly believed that historically, and emotionally, Jerusalem was always the capital of the Jewish people, I was ready that the city should be shared. Jewish neighbourhoods would be under Jewish sovereignty, Arab neighbourhoods would be under Palestinian sovereignty, so it could be the capital of a Palestinian state.
"Then there was the question of the holy basin within Jerusalem, the sites that are holy to Jews and Muslims, but not only to them, to Christians as well. I would never agree to an exclusive Muslim sovereignty over areas that are religiously important to Jews and Christians. So there would be an area of no sovereignty, which would be jointly administered by five nations, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, the Palestinian state, Israel and the United States.
"Third was the issue of Palestinian refugees." This issue has often been a seeming deal-breaker. The Palestinians insist that all Palestinians who left Israel - at or near the time of its founding - and all their spouses and descendants, should be able to return to live in Israel proper. This could be more than a million people. Olmert, like other Israeli prime ministers, could never agree to this: "I think Abu Mazen understood there was no chance Israel would become the homeland of the Palestinian people. The Palestinian state was to be the homeland of the Palestinian people. So the question was how the claimed attachment of the Palestinian refugees to their original places could be recognised without bringing them in. I told him I would never agree to a right of return. Instead, we would agree on a humanitarian basis to accept a certain number every year for five years, on the basis that this would be the end of conflict and the end of claims. I said to him 1000 per year. I think the Americans were entirely with me.
"In addition, we talked about creating an international fund that would compensate Palestinians for their suffering. I was the first Israeli prime minister to speak of Palestinian suffering and to say that we are not indifferent to that suffering.At the time, Abbas left and never returned. Till now, it appeared that he had missed out on a major opportunity. Now it appears that by ignoring Obama's invitation to direct negotiations, Abbas may have scored big time.
What Olmert offered as closure to negotiations could become merely the starting point in negotiations under Obama.
UPDATE: Word is that Netanayhu is not impressed by the conditions of renewed talks and is standing firm:
Israel will not accept a Middle East peace agreement that is forced on it by external forces, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said in private meetings in recent days, sources said Wednesday.So Bibi stands firm--but for how long?
Netanyahu reportedly told close aides that "it won't work and it won't be acceptable if a settlement is forced on us," stressing the need to ensure proper security arrangements as part of any future peace deal.
For that end, the PM reportedly said, Israel would have to retain a military presence along its eastern border with Jordan, adding that any agreement that doesn't allow for those measure will not be accepted.
Jennifer Rubin writes:
So where does this leave the Obami? To stamp their feet and send George Mitchell shuttling back and forth between fruitless meetings with the two sides? If one ever needed proof that the peace process can be not only a waste of time but also counterproductive, this is it.
Meanwhile, with all those former national-security advisers in the building, do we think the Obami asked them for advice on getting out of their dead-end Iran policy? It doesn’t appear so from the news reports, and that speaks volumes about the misplaced priorities of a foreign-policy team that is increasing divorced from reality.
Technorati Tag: Obama and Abbas and Right Of Return.