Monday, August 23, 2010

Netanyahu And Abbas Accept Separate--And Different--Invitations To Peace Talks (Updated: More Convolutions)

Writing about What it took to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to talks, David Ignatius notes that there were actually 2 different invitations to the peace negotiations, and Netanyahu and Abbas did not respond to the same one:
The Palestinian side agreed Friday to come to the talks based on a statement of principles that was issued by the Quartet, a group of nations that includes the U.S., Russia and the members of the European Union. That document calls on the parties “to resolve all final status issues,” such as Jerusalem and refugees. It also affirms the goal of “a just, lasting and comprehensive regional peace as envisaged in the Madrid terms of reference, Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, however, has not affirmed these Quartet principles in agreeing to join the Washington talks. He is responding to the invitation issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, without endorsing any terms of reference. Indeed, Netanyahu is said to have explicitly rejected the language of the Quartet statement as a framing document.
Actually, not only did the Clinton invitation not endorse any terms of reference--it explicitly refused to set any preconditions:
As we have said before, these negotiations should take place without preconditions and be characterized by good faith and a commitment to their success, which will bring a better future to all of the people of the region.
This is not the same as the Quartet invitation, which clearly sees what it refers to as the 1967 borders as being the starting point for negotiations--a problem, since the 1967 border as pertains to the West Bank was never a border at all.

Ignatius calls this "a classic piece of diplomacy"--but he agrees that it just covers up the gulf that separates the two sides.

Considering the fact that Abbas is already making a settlement freeze a precondition, I think it is safe to say that the cover has been blown.

UPDATE: Check out Arlene Kushner's post from yesterday. She also notes that there are basically 2 separate invitations, but the full import of the Quartet invitation is not immediately clear--
"The Quartet reaffirms its full commitment to its previous statements, including in Trieste on 26 June 2009, in New York on 24 September 2009, and its statement in Moscow on 19 March 2010 which provides that direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues should 'lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties...'"

This is the old "inclusion by allusion" technique. The Quartet did not have to declare that there were pre-conditions, it merely had to declare its commitment to an earlier statement that implied there were such pre-conditions. Friday's statement simply says that there should be direct bilateral negotiations to resolve all issues, etc. This is slippery (and not accidentally so). One must look at the Moscow statement in its entirety to know what's really being referred to.

The text of that statement can be found here:

While it specifically says there are no pre-conditions to negotiations, it also says:
"The Quartet urges the government of Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, dismantle outposts erected since March 2001; and to refrain from demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem."
And, further, that:
"Recalling that the annexation of East Jerusalem is not recognized by the international community, the Quartet underscores that the status of Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties and condemns the decision by the government of Israel to advance planning for new housing units in East Jerusalem."
And understand that when "East Jerusalem" is referred to, this is not a geographic designation but a political one, referring to everything over the Green Line, so that new housing units in Gilo or French Hill would be prohibited.
So as far as Abbas is concerned, he is getting what he has been holding out for--before walking in the door.
Someone is in for a rude awakening.

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