Thursday, May 06, 2010

Palestinian Authority: "We're negotiating With The US, Not Israel"

The Arab league appears to have tepidly endorsed proximity talks between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis. There have been some interesting reports coming out about what was said and what the PA's expectations are:

Neither Israel nor the US released any information about the content of the Netanyahu-Mitchell meeting, except for a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office saying that part of the discussion was one-on-one, and the other part included Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho and National Security Adviser Uzi Arad from the Israeli side, and Dan Shapiro from the White House and Mitchell’s deputy David Hale on the US team.

The Prime Minister’s Office also said that Mitchell would be meeting with Netanyahu again on Thursday. The US envoy is then expected to travel to Ramallah and meet with Abbas on either Friday or Saturday, and to leave the region on Sunday.

One diplomatic official said that those expecting the proximity talks to somehow look different than the shuttle diplomacy that Mitchell has conducted between Jerusalem and Ramallah over the last number of months would be disappointed.

Nevertheless, the content of the discussions is expected to shift from how to get into negotiations, to the issues themselves. Even on this, though, there is disagreement about what “core” issue to discuss first, with Israel interested in talking first about security issues and its demand for the PA to recognize Israeli as a Jewish state, and the Palestinians desirous of starting off with a discussion about borders.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said during a photo-op in Jerusalem with his Czech counterpart, Jan Kohut, that “the very fact we are holding talks with the Palestinians is important, but I am still wondering about their intentions. It is not a reasonable situation to negotiate with us on the one hand, yet on the other to commemorate terrorism by naming streets after terrorists such as Yihyeh Ayash [aka ‘The Engineer’].”

A security cabinet meeting on Wednesday, where a government report on incitement was to be presented, as well as a new mechanism to monitor incitement at regular intervals, was postponed for a week because the ministers were called to the Knesset for a vote.

The very fact that the PA had not yet announced that it was entering into indirect negotiations, “while giving various excuses,” raised doubts about the “seriousness of the other side,” Lieberman said.

He said he hoped that despite this, “we will manage to hold talks in a proper manner.”

Meanwhile, a PA official in Ramallah told The Jerusalem Post that when and if the indirect talks were launched, the PA would be negotiating with the US and not with Israel, because it had no confidence in the Netanyahu government.

“Indirect talks mean that we will negotiate with the Americans, who, for their part, will be negotiating with Israel,” the official said. “It’s easier for us to negotiate with the Americans because they share most of our positions, especially on the issues of security and the future borders of the Palestinian state.”

The official said the Arab League’s decision to support the proximity talks came after the Palestinians and the Arab countries were “assured” that the US administration would exert “unprecedented pressure” on Israel to stop construction not only in the West Bank, but also in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem.

“For the next four months, we will be negotiating with the Americans, and they will be negotiating with the Netanyahu government,” the PA official said of the indirect talks. “If after that period we and the Americans reach the conclusion that the Israeli government is just wasting our time, we will have to decide whether to proceed or not. The Americans have promised to be tough with Israel, and we expect them to fulfill their pledge.”

In other words, according to this narrative, the Palestinians plan to simply present their demands to the sympathetic Obama and his envoys and rely on the US to twist Israel's arm into accepting them. And since it's the Jerusalem Post's ace reporter Khalid Abu Toameh, I have no problem accepting an unnamed source. As a matter of fact, I even have my suspicions on whom it was.

Now, Abbas had a somewhat different story:

“The Americans stressed that neither party would be allowed to take measures or provocations that would harm the negotiations,” Abbas told the London-based pan-Arab daily Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. “We relayed the US statement as it is to the Arab League meeting, which approved the launching of the indirect talks.”

The PA understood that acts of “provocation” include settlement construction by Israel and incitement by the Palestinians, he said.

Abbas’s comments were published on a day when US envoy George Mitchell met for the second time in 24-hours with Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The talks are taking place amid an almost total news blackout, with neither side releasing any information about the discussions.{...}

Abbas admitted that the PA did not receive any specific assurances regarding construction in Jewish neighborhoods in east Jerusalem. He also denied that Israel had promised to release Palestinian prisoners ahead of the talks.

So...what are we to make of these two contradictory narratives?

My guess is that they're both right, as far as they go.

I've mentioned before that in my opinion Netanyahu and Obama came to a sort of 'gentlemen's agreement' on a few items like building in Jerusalem for a short temporary period to give Abbas some legitimacy and something to crow about at the Arab League Summit, allow Netanyahu to focus on Iran and provide a thaw in US-Israeli relations for Obama's domestic political purposes. That among a few other items I mentioned accounts for Mahmoud Abbas suddenly agreeing to talks after stonewalling for 15 months.

What the US is undoubtedly doing is telling the Palestinians what they want to hear, and it was that version that Khalid Abu Toameh has reported. And there is likely some truth to it as far as it goes, although Obama's leverage at this point on Israel is fairly limited.

Abbas obviously heard the same thing, but is dissembling for Asharq Al-Awsat, most likely at the request of George Mitchell. The Arabs understand face, honor and shame and Mitchell's telling Abbas to downplay publicly the idea of excessive US pressure on Israel to cave in to all of Abbas' demands is one the capo del tutti del Ramallah understood.

Meanwhile the beginning phase of the talks are scheduled to last four months..which brings us to September, an optimum month in terms of conditions and scheduling for Israel to take out Iran's nukes and defang the mullahs.

That's what Netanyahu is focusing on and that's where the real ballgame is.

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1 comment:

B.Poster said...

If things happened differently here and say the an Israeli official were to say something like "we're negotiating with the US not Palestine" the media and all the talking head pundits would scream out in unison "The US does not have the right to dictate terms to the Palestinians. This is a matter that needs to be decided between the Palestinians and the Israelis. The Israelis should negotiate with the Palestinians and not a third party." Furthermore if America undertook such a role America and its government would be lambasted in the medi and among all the talking head pundits as being "arrogant", "imperialistic" or worse. Yet it seems perfectly acceptable to apply a heavy handed approach when dealing with Israel. I'm puzzled as to why there is a double standard here.

The statement on behalf of the "Palestinain" is wrong headed on several levels. First, as you point out, Obama has very little leverage over Israel any way. Secondly, America itself has little leverage over Israel. Its economy is in shambles, its national debt is massive, its military is worn down almost to the breaking point, and even if America had the ability for yet another foreign deployment there is little appetite for it among the electorate. Given all of these factors, Israel needn't worry about what America thinks or doesn't think about what it does or does not do. In summary, there is little appetite among the American people to "arm twist" Israel or any one else and there is even less ability on the part of America to do that at this point.

For suggesting the Americans are or can negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians or that the Americans would or could enforce an agreement on Israel is either nuts on the part of the Palestinian official or he has another agenda.

Perhaps he knows the negotiations will fail and wants to be able to blame someone. Blaming America generally costs nothing or very little and is usually quite profitable.