Sunday, July 21, 2013

"A Vile Mess"

I would like to offer my readers clarity, but there is none right now with regard to projected "peace negotiations."
Even without clarity, it is unquestionably a vile situation -- wrought with innuendo, misrepresentations, unfortunate statements and arm-twisting.   And these same factors render it a mess.
My discussion of the situation will be brief, and I will follow with more when the fog lifts a bit and a more accurate understanding of what's going on is possible.  As it is, I held off writing over the last couple of days because the situation was changing by the hour and it was impossible to offer anything even remotely definitive.
Thursday was a nerve-racking day.  The Palestinian Arabs were announcing that Netanyahu had agreed to their key pre-condition for negotiations -- that those talks would be based on the '67 lines.  This would have been shocking and beyond totally unacceptable. But it wasn't until late in the day that Netanyahu said definitively he hadn't agreed to anything of the sort.  At least one solid source I was in touch with felt confident that there was no crisis. 
For after the denial by Netanyahu, PLO sources were said to be adamant: there would be no talks unless Israel agreed to base them on the '67 line.  They were not content with the Kerry plan.  Abbas, who had gone to the PLO for a go-ahead, seemed quite unlikely to receive it.
Friday, even before any announcement was made by Kerry, there were news reports that gave me an inkling of what was happening:  Apparently there had been an expectation by the Palestinian Arabs that Kerry -- not Netanyahu -- would announce talks that were going to be based on the '67 line.  But Netanyahu undid this with his clear and explicit denial. 
What absolutely enraged me on Friday was the press release from the White House indicating that President Obama had called Prime Minister Netanyahu and urged him to work with Secretary of State Kerry to the best of his ability to enable peace negotiations to proceed.  For me, the meaning was clear: We cannot get the PLO to compromise on anything, so we're leaning on you to do more "giving."  Really, really leaning on you.
Make no mistake about it: Netanyahu has been in an international vise.
Then, in Amman, Jordan, late yesterday, after having met with Abbas, Kerry addressed the press (emphasis added):
"I'm pleased to announce that we've reached an agreement that establishes a basis for resuming final status negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis,
"This is a significant and welcome step forward. The agreement is still in the process of being finalized so we are absolutely not going to talk about any of the elements now."
Clearly, there is little to respond to in this announcement. But I note that as close as this seems to an announcement that negotiations are about to begin -- and as much as the news has announced that they are, I see a slight hedge here with "still in the process of being finalized."  Even "establishing a basis" for talks is one step shy of "having agreed to return to the table."
When it comes to understanding what's going on right now, we face a major problem: while Kerry said little, the parties are making claims -- profoundly conflicting claims, it should be noted.
The only thing that Netanyahu has actually said -- and this tonight -- is that the negotiations are in Israel's "vital strategic interests."  I will table comment on this for the moment.  There's plenty to comment on in due course: I don't like what he's saying at all.  But he spelled out nothing specific about the basis of an agreement to return to the table.
Other Israeli sources -- unnamed ministers, according to the Times of Israel -- have said that the PA dropped all conditions.  Sorry, I do not accept this for a moment.  It simply is not a believable statement.
Elsewhere I read that Israel will be releasing Palestinian Arab prisoners, including some terrorists with Jewish blood on their hands.  The anonymous Israeli sources are saying this isn't caving to a "pre-condition" because they will not be released before negotiations begin, but only in stages after talks start.
Very sorry, but this is game playing.  If the AGREEMENT to release them was solidified before talks start, this is caving to a pre-condition.  Never mind that such terrorists -- somewhere between 100 and 350 according to different sources -- should not be released at all.
Meanwhile, "a Palestinian official said Abbas agreed to restart talks only after receiving a letter from Kerry guaranteeing that the basis of the negotiations will indeed be Israel’s pre-1967 borders (sic)."
Did Kerry deliver such a letter?  Here we're on shaky ground.  I can see Kerry having done this -- it might well be what moved Abbas to agree after having adamantly refused.  Kerry gave Abbas something, this is certain.  Extant reports about Kerry threatening to withhold financial assistance would not explain the Abbas turn-around -- for this would not protect Abbas' greatly vaunted honor, which is key. 
Could be that Obama told Netanyahu to shut his mouth when this announcement was made by the Palestinians, not confirming it, but also not killing it.
But I can also see the possibility of something else: That Kerry -- having delivered no such letter -- is permitting or even encouraging each side to say whatever it needs to in order to appear to have achieved the upper hand, while he remains mum about details.
The same PA source that spoke about Kerry promising that negotiations would begin based on the '67 line also indicated that his letter "stipulated that both the Israelis and Palestinians must refrain from taking any steps that would jeopardize the outcome of the talks. Thus, allegedly, Israel is not to issue new tenders for West Bank settlements, while the Palestinians are to refrain from pursuing diplomatic actions against Israel at international organizations."
And indeed, there have been rumors about an "unofficial" building freeze.  While keeping Abbas from the UN has been one of Kerry's key goals.
The Palestinian Arabs are saying that the talks would last six to nine months and focus on "borders and security."  Israeli sources are saying nine to twelve months.
All that seems clear is that in the next week or two a first meeting -- whether to begin talks or to set up arrangements for talks is vague -- is supposed to take place in Washington, with Tzipi Livni, Israel's chief negotiator, Netanyahu envoy Yitzhak Molcho and the PLO chief negotiator Saeb Erekat.  I must assume that Kerry or other US representatives would be present. 
I had never expected the situation to get to this point, because it is not viable.  The mere fact of the different stories indicates precisely this.  How are the parties going to seriously negotiate anything, if they cannot agree on terms going in?  Israel and the PA/PLO are simply too far apart. 
Abbas is dead (literally) if he compromises.  This is not going to go to a final agreement.
What is clear, however, is that the Israeli government must be watched very very closely as this proceeds, so that no regrettable precedents are established and nothing is given away. 
Make no mistake about it: Even as I wrestle in analytic terms to understand what's taking place, I am furious.  And sick. This should not be happening. The Palestinian Arabs should not be given anything to coax them to a negotiating table. What seems to not occur to the Americans, or to not matter to them, is that if they have to be coaxed they don't really want a "two state solution" that brings "peace."
But first and foremost, I want assurance -- real assurance, not empty political words -- that our prime minister has not agreed to negotiations based on the '67 line. And I want to know what he has agreed to up front.
The idea of a Palestinian state was a non-starter from the beginning. It's time to throw out the notion of this "solution" and examine other alternatives. Those alternatives must consider Israeli rights.  I cringe when I hear "security."  Yes, it's important. But so are our rights.  Too many Israeli leaders have forgotten about them.
As we watch this in the days and weeks ahead, there will be many premises that will require examination.
 What I want to do here is recommend some very important articles on related, but different, subjects:
Jan Sokolovsky and Ari Briggs of Regavim have written a very important piece about Arabs taking over land in Judea and Samaria with EU support.  This is information we should all have:
Then from Alan Baker, "The European Union -- Hypocrisy, Hostility and Blatant Prejudice."
Baker, an international lawyer, looks at the legal fallacies of EU positions on settlements, as well the long standing hostility to Israel exhibited by the EU.  
This is an important piece, providing solid documentation. It should be saved and shared.
Lastly here, NGO monitor looks at the relationship between NGOs, hostile to Israel, and EU positions.  It's a story that is important and not well understood.
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