George Mitchell gets (very mild) rebuke by EU's Ashton in person in Brussels

George Mitchell is still going through the motions.

On his way back to the USA after a more-or-less useless visit to the region, he met yesterday in Brussels with Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s “Foreign Minister” (the exact title is High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy). Ashton is also Vice-President of the European Commission.

Mitchell + Ashton represent half of the Quartet (the USA, EU, Russia + the UN).

After the meeting, Ashton went through the motions of making a statement that was more-or-less identical to one issued in Brussels earlier in the week (see our earlier post on this blog).

What’s new?
Maybe the tone: “urgent progress is needed“…? And, the Palestinian national aspirations were qualified, by Ashton, as “legitimate“…?

The recommendation that the process “should be achieved through negotiations + with the support of the international community”…? The order in the phrasing is apparently a sign of deference to the U.S. backing for Israel’s campaign against any unilateral Palestinian moves towards UN membership for a Palestinian state. [See example of Israeli rhetoric below. Meanwhile, almost every Israeli move, without exception, has been done unilaterally…]

However, the EU seems to be trying to insist that its position be taken more fully into account, (by the lead player, the US), by calling for “the importance of intensified coordination with the Quartet“…?

Ashton’s statement repeated EU + US support for “the establishment of a contiguous, viable and sovereign state of Palestine alongside a secure state of Israel. We believe that urgent progress is needed towards a two state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that ends the occupation that began in 1967. We recognize that our common goals for peace and security in the Middle East should be achieved through negotiations and with the support of the international community. The US and the EU have recommended immediate engagement by the parties with the US on the core issues of the conflict, the US as outlined by the Secretary in her speech on December 10, 2010 and the EU in it’s Council Conclusions on December 13, 2010“, [Apparently these are dueling, not complimentary, texts, but they must be parsed carefully…]

Ashton’s statement continued: “We urge the parties to make progress on this approach. In those discussions, the parties must take into consideration Israel’s legitimate security concerns and the Palestinian’s legitimate national aspirations. The US and the EU reiterate their call for the immediate and unconditional release of Gilad Shalit. The EU and the US stress the importance of intensified coordination within the Quartet, as well as of close cooperation with Arab partners, building on the Arab Peace Initiative”

One real question is why the U.S. is now trying to discourage any Palestinian move to seek UN membership and greater recognition for the Paletinian State that Yasser Arafat proclaimed in 1988?

Is it only because the current Israeli leadership appears to be so upset by the prospect?

One example of Israeli reaction is a policy paper written by Alan Baker, a former legal adviser at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, which was just published by the Jerusalem Center for Policy Affairs (JCPA) now headed by Dore Goldberg, a large and socially-conscious man who favors Brooks Brothers-style blue blazers, gray trousers and kippas (or yarmulkas, signalling an orthodox religious view), who previously filled high Israeli diplomatic posts in New York and Washington and is also reportedly a close ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.

This paper, by Alan Baker, states that recent declarations made by several Latin American governments [including Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Bolivia] in which they recognize “a free and independent Palestinian state in 1967 borders”, have no meaning other than indicating a political viewpoint (support).

And, Baker said, these declarations — which were encouraged by the Palestinan leadership and happily welcomed by them — “run counter to statements by Brazil and Argentina in the United Nations Security Council in 1967 in favor of freely negotiated borders between the parties and an internationally sponsored peace negotiation process as set out in Resolution 242”.

Palestinian moves toward statehood should be bound, Baker argues — without being very specific — by “the context of the substantive, tailor-made requirements of the various United Nations resolutions dealing with the settlement of the Middle-East issue, as well as the specific commitments by the Palestinians in several still-valid agreements signed with Israel over the years” [here, Baker seems to mean the Oslo Accords].

Baker wrote that “Legally speaking, the actions by Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas, and his aide Sa’eb Erekat, in pushing to achieve this aim are in violation of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement of 1995 [one of the Oslo Accords], article IX, paragraph 5(a), according to which: …the [Palestinian] Council [n.b. – this seems to mean what became the Palestinian Authority, rather than the elected parliament, known as the Palestine Legislative Council] will not have powers and responsibilities in the sphere of foreign relations, which sphere includes the establishment abroad of embassies, consulates or other types of foreign missions and posts or permitting their establishment in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, the appointment of or admission of diplomatic and consular staff, and the exercise of diplomatic functions. No less importantly, the Palestinian leadership is committed, in Article XXXI, para. 7, not to “‘nitiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations’. Any activity by the Palestinian leadership, including lobbying foreign governments for individual recognition and initiating resolutions in United Nations organs to bring about the unilateral establishment a state outside the negotiation process, is a serious violation of their commitments vis-a-vis Israel. It is tantamount to bypassing the internationally accepted negotiating process, and undermining the very resolutions and agreements that serve as the basis and foundation for the peace-negotiation process”.

Several European countries, including France and Norway, have recently upgraded the level of Palestinian representation (from “representative office” to “diplomatic mission”) in their capitals…

In the UN, the PLO now has the status of “Observer”…

Baker continued, in his article, that “This factor was perhaps amplified following a Palestinian attempt to declare statehood in 1988, when over 100 states gave their recognition. But clearly, this unilateral Palestinian attempt to dictate a solution to the Israel-Palestinian issue outside the internationally accepted and sponsored peace negotiation process established by the UN Security Council in Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) was never seen to be a serious factor in solving the issue”.

In addition, Baker wrote, “The unceasing efforts among states by the leadership of the Palestinian Authority to attain recognition of unilateral statehood within the 1967 borders and thereby bypass the accepted negotiation process, runs counter to their commitments in their agreements with Israel, as witnessed and guaranteed by members of the international community. The hostile actions and statements of the Palestinian leadership lack bona fides and prejudice any reasonable negotiating ambiance between parties that seek to establish peaceful relations between them, and are indicative of an utter lack of a genuine will to reach a peaceful settlement”.

Baker concluded that “it would appear that the Palestinian leadership is, by its own hand, undermining and prejudicing any negotiating ambiance or good faith between the two sides through a series of offensive actions such as:
* Hostile statements by their chief negotiators, both vis-à-vis the internal Palestinian population and vis-a-vis the international community
* Open encouragement and initiation of legal proceedings in international as well as foreign national courts against Israeli leaders and officials, and other activities in foreign states aimed at undermining Israel’s status
* Attempts to utilize and abuse the international community to question the national and historical heritage of the Jewish people
* Daily official incitement in schools, universities, and in the Palestinian media
Clearly this activity, openly, officially, and even proudly sponsored and supported by the head of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and the head of the negotiation division of the Authority Sa’eb Erekat, in addition to its inherent and obvious bad taste, is utterly incompatible with any negotiating ambiance”…

The JCPA paper is entitled “Recognition of a Palestinian State – Premature, Legally Invalid, and Undermining any Bona Fide Negotiation Process”, and can be read in full here.

However, analysts like Moshe Machover. a socialist activist and academic [see a shorter version which was published in The Cambridge Student, 25 November 2010, here!, say that as a result of the combination of the first Palestinian Intifada [n.b., which broke out five years after Yasser Arafat and thousands of Palestinian fighters were expelled from Beirut by a massive Israeli military invasion led by Israel’s then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon], plus the subsequent very bad position the PLO found itself in following the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and Saddam Hussein’s expulsion by a U.S. led coalition in operation Desert Storm, “The Israeli leaders realized that they could exploit the situation of the PLO leaders and, by dangling in front of them vague political promises as well as granting them some real personal privileges, get them to serve, in effect, as proxies for Israel in controlling and suppressing the Palestinian masses. At that point, Israel departed from its previous policy of not talking to the PLO. Instead, it embarked on a strategy of an endless so-called ‘peace process. This is how it goes. At each stage, Israel demands new concessions from the Palestinian side. If the latter balks at making these concessions in full, Israel breaks off the talks and blames the Palestinians for being extreme and intransigent. If the Palestinians accept, then Israel ­making few if any actual concession on it part ­ finds some other excuse to prolong the process. A favourite Israeli ploy is to strike at Palestinian targets, for example assassinating leaders it describes as ‘terrorists’. If some Palestinian group responds by killing Israelis, then Israel can break off the ‘peace process’ and blame the Palestinians. Meantime Israeli colonization of the OTs proceeds at full steam, thus creating new facts on the ground. Next time the negotiations resume, the concessions made by the PLO at the previous round are taken as the new starting point, and Israel demands fresh concessions. And so it goes … the current dialogue is just the latest phase in this process. It is highly unlikely to lead to different results than past phases”.

According to Machover’s analysis, “Israel’s strategic aim is to prevent the creation of anything that can even remotely be described as a sovereign Palestinian state; to colonize as much as possible of the best Palestinian lands; and to confine the Palestinians to a series of disconnected enclosures not so much like Bantustans (which were a useful reserve of exploitable labour power for the South-African apartheid regime), but like US Indian reservations, or open prisons. The Gaza Strip has already been converted into the largest prison camp in the world … Iraeli colonization of the West Bank will proceed and escalate in any case ­ whatever happens in the talks. If the talks fail to produce any tangible improvement in the life of the Palestinian masses (as they most probably will), a new intifada may erupt. Under present conditions, a so-called Palestinian ‘state’ led by the compliant PLO elite, will be a travesty. However, Israel is trying to prevent even this. It prefers to continue the endless ‘peace process’.”

Machover wrote, “In my opinion, the Israeli settler state is regarded by the dominant imperialist power, the US, as a factor promoting stability in the region. That is, Israel, as a junior partner and local enforcer of imperialist domination, promotes the stability of this domination, and the stability of the corrupt and subservient Arab regimes. Conversely, this regional ‘stability’ is a key factor in preventing a resolution of the Israeli ­Palestinian conflict”. This analysis was published on the Israel Occupation Archive website, here.

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