What will Palestinians do now? U.S. reportedly accepted Israel's position…

According to a report compiled by three senior Haaretz correspondents (Barak Ravid, Akiva Eldar, Avi Issacharoff) published today, U.S. Special Envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell, who met with the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah yesterday after two days of talks in Israel, “told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during talks this week that the understandings reached following the 2007 Annapolis Conference are non-binding in the current round of negotiations, Haaretz has learned.

The Haaretz article continued: “The Obama administration announced Monday night that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have agreed to resume the peace process by means of indirect negotiations, facilitated by Mitchell … The announcement that negotiations are resuming came despite disagreements between the three sides over the structure of the talks … In a Jerusalem meeting with quartet envoys on Friday, Mitchell’s deputy David Hale said the negotiations after Annapolis and the understandings reached by Tzipi Livni and Ahmed Qureia, as well as Ehud Olmert and Abbas, would not be binding. The talks will be based on agreements signed by Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including the road map. Olmert had offered Abbas an Israeli withdrawal from 94 percent of the West Bank, and Israeli territory in exchange for the remaining 6 percent. In addition, Israel would symbolically accept 5,000 Palestinian refugees and enable international governance for the holy sites in the Old City. Abbas never responded to Olmert’s offer, but the Palestinians insisted that the negotiations resume from where they stopped during Olmert’s term as prime minister. The U.S. apparently accepted Israel’s position on the matter, which was to ignore everything that was not signed as part of an agreement. The talks will also be based on the Obama administration’s two statements from the past year: President Barack Obama’s speech to the United Nations, which described the goal of a secure, Jewish state in Israel alongside a viable, independent Palestine and an end to the 1967 occupation; and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement regarding a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders with territory exchanges, combined with Israel’s desire for a secure Jewish state that includes ‘recent developments’, meaning the settlement blocs”. This article is published by Haaretz here.

This confirms part of what we reported yesterday — there is a difference between what the Palestinians say they want and must have, and what the U.S. mediator is now trying to impose. What will the Palestinian leadership — and the Palestinians — do now?

In a separate article published in Haaretz today, Akiva Eldar wrote that “According to a senior official in the Palestinian Authority, the Obama administration has promised Abbas that if either side fails to live up to expectations, the United States will not conceal its disappointment, nor will it hesitate to take steps to remove the obstacle. In addition, the PA was promised that the United States would not be satisfied with playing the role of messenger. According to what the official read to me, the Obama administration will present its own proposals in an effort to bridge the gaps”. This article can be read in full

While the Palestinians may well have assumed that Israel would be the more likely target for any future U.S. criticism as a result of these “indirect” talks — if they ever get underway — it now seems that there could be a rebound surprise, and the Palestinian leadership could bear the brunt.

The Haaretz report, by the way, differs in one important respect from what we reported yesterday: Haaretz and other media have reported already that Palestinian President Abbas “never responded to Olmert’s offer”, while the Palestinian official we quoted yesterday said that the Palestinians had responded, during the Annapolis process, and gave the Americans (but not the Israeli side) a copy of the “territorial swap” map and documents they had prepared, which proposed an exchange of 1.9 percent of West Bank territory. The Israelis had shown, but refused to hand over any copies, of the Israeli proposal, which the Palestinian official specified had asked for 6.5 percent of the land.

With thanks to Hidar, whose comment reminded me of it, a previous post on this blog in December, showed a map published in Haaretz of what was reported as Olmert’s offer to Abu Mazen, published here, discussed an earlier Haaretz story which published — for the first time, it said — a graphic of the map, as Haaretz reconstructed it, of the “unprecedented” offer made during direct contacts in 2008 between Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen ):

Olmert peace plan presented to Abu Mazen as reconstructed by Haaretz - 17 Dec 09

This Haaretz article, published in December, reported that “Olmert presented his map to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in September of last year. Abbas did not respond, and negotiations ended. In an interview with Haaretz on Tuesday, Abbas said Olmert had presented several drafts of his map. The version being disclosed Thursday in Haaretz is based on sources who received detailed information about Olmert’s proposals. Olmert wanted to annex 6.3 percent of the West Bank to Israel, areas that are home to 75 percent of the Jewish population of the territories … Olmert proposed the transfer of territory to the Palestinians equivalent to 5.8 percent of the area of the West Bank as well as a safe-passage route from Hebron to the Gaza Strip via a highway that would remain part of the sovereign territory of Israel but where there would be no Israeli presence. Olmert gave Col. (res.) Danny Tirza, who had been the primary official involved in planning the route of the security fence, the task of developing the map that would provide the permanent border between Israel and the Palestinian state. Olmert’s proposed annexation to Israel of settlement blocs corresponds in large part to the route of the security fence. … Olmert reached a verbal understanding with the Bush administration to the effect that Israel would receive American financial aid to develop the Negev and Galilee to absorb some of those settlers evacuated from the West Bank. Other evacuees would have been resettled in new apartments to be built in the settlement blocs that Israel would annex. Olmert’s office said in response to the disclosure of the plan: ‘On September 16, 2008, [Olmert] presented Palestinian Authority President Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] a map that had been prepared based upon dozens of conversations that the two held in the course of the intensive negotiations after the Annapolis summit. The map that was presented was designed to solve the problem of the borders between Israel and the future Palestinian state. Giving Abu Mazen the map was conditioned upon signing a comprehensive and final agreement with the Palestinians so it would not be used as an ‘opening position’ in future negotiations the Palestinians sought to conduct. Ultimately, when Abu Mazen did not give his consent to a final and complete agreement, the map was not given to him’. Olmert’s office also told Haaretz that ‘naturally for reasons of national responsibility, we cannot relate to the content of that map and the details of the proposal. At the same time, it should be stressed that in the details contained in your question, there are a not inconsiderable number of inaccuracies that are not consistent with the map that was ultimately presented’.” This article is posted on the Haaretz website here.

We commented at the time that the map does not show enough detail of any Israeli intentions in the Jerusalem area, nor does it show Israeli ambitions in the Jordan valley, in the Israeli settlements around Jericho, or along a large part of the Dead Sea coastline, which Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu repeated agains just last week. In the past, the U.S. has apparently consistently opposed Israeli annexation — or anything like it — of the Jordan valley. Has that American position changed as well?.

We also noted in our earlier post that, as Ma’an News Agency reported, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad told the Climate Conference in Copenhagen in December that “Today, 9000 Israeli settlers living in the Jordan Valley consume approximately one quarter of the total amount of water made available to all 2.5 million Palestinians living in the West Bank.” There are now more Israeli settlers living in the Jordan Valley than were living in Gaza at the time of former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s unilateral “Disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in 2005.

Herb Keinon noted in the Jerusalem Post today that “Abbas’s agreement to proximity talks shows that he, too, will cave in if the pressure is high enough … [Usually it is Israel who caves, Keinon wrote, though not everybody is likely to agree, but he continues] … Didn’t Ehud Olmert, as Jerusalem mayor, call on the government in 1996 to firmly state that it was not prepared to relinquish Jerusalem under any circumstances, only to offer Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in 2008 half the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, as well as an Israeli pledge to relinquishing sovereignty over the city’s ‘holy
basin?’ And wasn’t it Binyamin Netanyahu who, at a Likud Central Committee meeting in 2002, said, ‘Dear friends, let me say this once again loud and clear: There will not be a Palestinian state west of the Jordan’ – only to have embraced the ‘two-state vision’ in 2009? There is a pattern here. Israelis say things, but don’t mean them. The Palestinians, on the other hand, have set a track record of saying what they mean. Prior to Oslo, the PLO said it wanted all of east Jerusalem, including the Old City, but nobody really believed they meant it, until they remained adamant – and remain adamant – on that demand to this day … So when Abbas said for months and months that he would not enter into negotiations with Israel unless and until there was a full settlement freeze, including east Jerusalem, it seemed this was a firm Palestinian red line – not one of those pliable Israeli ones – and that he meant what he said. Well, now we see the Palestinians can also move red lines, which is worth noting as some kind of talks resume”. This article can be read in full on the JPost website here.

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