Monday, April 08, 2013

What Is SecState Kerry Doing In Jerusalem and Ramallah?


Secretary of State John Kerry has been shuttling between Ramallah and Jerusalem in an effort to restart the moribund Arab-Israeli peace process, and there have been a number of conflicting stories on whom said what to whom and what's being offered.

Kerry has an additional problem - after President Obama's twists and turns and his attempts to please everyone and be all things to all people, any commitments the U.S. makes are, shall we say, suspect by both sides.

Kerry started out with the Arabs and the Palestinian Authority, spending over an hour with Abbas behind closed doors and meeting with PA prime minister Selim Fayyad.

What went on depends on whom you believe, but according to my sources ( one of whom works directly for the PA) Palestine's unelected dictator Mahmoud Abbas apparently took President Obama's declaration that there should be 'no preconditions' to peace talks with a grain of salt.

According to Ma'an, Abbas refused to retreat an inch from his position of wanting all of his demands agreed to before any talks occur. He wants Israeli PM Netanyahu to commit to the indefensible pre '67 borders including half of Jerusalem, and a  unilateral building freeze by Israel.And he's upped the ante. In addition, he now wants Israel to turn over part of Area C in Judea and Samaria (where the majority of Jewish communities are and only a small minority of Palestinians live) to PA control, that Israel promise to refrain from withholding Palestinians’ tax revenues in the future, and he wants all of the 'prisoners' convicted of murder and other terrorist related offenses in Israeli courts freed...before any negotiations start.

This is roughly equivalent to offering to play poker with somebody and asking to be dealt all the aces and picture cards before sitting down to play.

 For what it's worth ( and it's not worth much) Area C is supposed to be under exclusive Israel control according to the Oslo Accords, but since the Palestinians already have announced that they're no longer bound by the Accords,the Road Map or any other treaties and agreements they signed with Israel, it's nothing more than an indication of how th ePA is going to treat any future agreements.

According to my sources, Kerry made no real objections ( why bother?) but said he would convey Abbas' terms to Netanyahu. He did, however, float one trial balloon...a possible modification of the 2002 Saudi 'Peace' ultimatum which would include language saying the 1967 lines could be  modified through mutual agreement and include stronger security guarantees, whatever that means.

Abbas turned him down flat.

Saeb Erekat,  the PA's chief negotiator and formerly the right fork of Yasser Arafat's tongue confirmed this,  telling the Voice of Palestine radio station on Sunday, “Kerry asked us to change a few words in the Arab Peace Initiative but we refused.”

Kerry, in the meantime scuttled over to Israel on Holocaust Memorial Day, to lay a red white and blue wreath at Vad Yashem, Israel's memorial to the Six Million and talk to Netanyahu about what Abbas had to say. Kerry flew into Israel after a brief visit to President Obama's favorite foreign leader, the Islamist president of Turkey, Tayyip Erdogan.

Apparently the pro-Hamas Erdogan wants Turkey to have a role in mediating future talks between Israeland the Palestinians, but the Israelis were understandably cool to the idea. Erdogan being involved was too much even for Tzipi Livni to swallow, which is saying quite a bit.

The real drama in the Palestinian Authority right now going on behind the scenes and it has nothing to do with the Israelis. It's a turf war between Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.

It's more than 4 years since Mahmoud Abbas' term as president expired, but he's been able to stay on as the West's preferred conduit for Palestinian Jirzyah. One of the big reasons that continues is because of American educated Fayyad,who Abbas appointed after Hamas won the last elections by a 70% plus majority. Fayyad has a reputation for running a fairly clean and transparent ship, at least for an Arab government,  and Western donors have felt reasonably secure that with him in charge  not all of the money will be stolen or diverted.

However, Fayyad's relative honesty has earned him a lot of enemies in the corrupt PA. And he's holding up the Hamas Fatah unity agreement, since one of Hamas' conditions is that Fayyad be fired and someone they agree on be appointed in his place.

According to my sources,  Fayyad's been on shaky ground for awhile, but the latest conflict involves   the resignation of the Palestinian Authority's finance minister,  Nabil Qasis. 

Qasis is a Fayyad ally, and after he reported that the PA's budget deficit in 2013 was going to hit $1.4 billion, he proposed a number of austerity measures. When well connected members of the Fatah Old Guard objected and quashed his plans, he tendered his resignation. 

Abbas refused to accept the resignation and told Qasis he had to stay on... but Fayad agreed to let him resign.

This is a problem because like Fayyad, Qasis is a smokescreen for Abbas and the PA's blatant corruption.And it's a face saving measure as well.  So according to my sources, Abbas has given Fayyad an ultimatum - either Qasis returns as finance minister or he going to fire Fayyad.

According to some reports, Abbas is threatening to form a whole new government if Qasis quits. 

Just a coincidence, I'm sure, but Salam Fayyad has fallen ill suddenly since the fracas began  and  has been hospitalized with a mysterious infection. Perhaps he ought to employ a food taster.

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