Neither Salam Fayyad nor Yasser Abed Rabbo were at meeting with Netanyahu this evening

Palestinian Authority [P.A.] Prime Minister Salam Fayyad did not accompany the P.L.O.’s Chief Negotiator Sa’eb Erekat today to see Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, as previously announced [ten days ago].

The meeting was held in the Israeli Prime Minister’s Official Residence in Jerusalem.

Israeli PM Netanyahu receives 2 Palestinians [center] on 17 April 2012Photo posted on YNet here and also on the website of the Israeli Foreign Ministry here – it does not look good for the Palestinians hereinvolved — is that why Salam Fayyad and Yasser Abed Rabbo did not attend?

In the morning Fayyad presided over a meeting of the P.A. cabinet in Ramallah.

By midday, as the P.A. Cabinet meeting was drawing to a close, or soon thereafter, there were hints that Fayyad might not head the delegation that delivered a long-awaited letter signed by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.

But, there was then total silence for some seven hours.

Sometime between 6:30 and 7:00 p.m., the news broke, via AP [and Tweeted by @diaahadid] that Fayyad had “backed out” of the meeting, and the Palestinian side offered no public explanation.

Continue reading Neither Salam Fayyad nor Yasser Abed Rabbo were at meeting with Netanyahu this evening

Reports from Cairo that Hamas will join PLO [election planning/monitoring] commission

This is only a preliminary report… and is still Breaking News —

UPDATE: Nabil Shaath told journalists at a pre-Christmas in Bethlehem tonight [Thursday] that “I heard good news, basically, from Cairo … Hamas is willing to accept non-violence, basically, a long-term ‘hudna’, but they do not want us to talk about it very much … What these people in Gaza are really saying is that our right to armed struggle should not be abandoned, and we agree, but we choose not to exercise it”

The real question at stake in today’s meeting in Cairo was: will arrangements finally be made for Hamas to join the PLO, as previously agreed in Cairo in 2005 — and as suggested in a “reconciliation” agreement between Fatah and Hamas in late April, then encoded in a document signed in Cairo in early May?

Apparently, agreement on that has not yet been reached, but a small step has been taken to keep things moving — or to appear to keep things moving — in the right direction.

Today’s meeting of Palestinian political movements and “factions” in Cairo was chaired by Mahmoud Abbas, who is, simultaneously:
(1) Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO], recognized by the UN as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people;
(2) head of the largest Palestinian political movement Fatah, and
(3) … um … well … despite the fact that the mandate ran out either in January 2009 or January 2010, depending on one’s legal view … is still President of the Palestinian Authority set up by agreement under terms of the Oslo Accords [+ subsequent practice] between the PLO and Israel.

Last night, in Cairo, there was a previously-unannounced meeting of Abbas and Hamas’ Politburo Chief Khaled Meshaal.

Until now, the major obstacle to Hamas joining the PLO has been the objection of Fatah.

The problem existed even prior to the mid-June 2007 Hamas military rout [in Ramallah, it was called a “military coup”] of Fatah/PA Preventive Security Forces from Gaza, but that sealed the present division. PA President Mahmoud Abbas immediately responded to this “military coup” with his own “political coup”, dissolving a short-lived [3 months, to be precise] “National Unity” government [negotiated in Mecca by Saudi Arabia] — which was, like the two prior governments formed in the wake of the 2006 elections, led by Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas. Hamas reportedly feared an imminent American backed military attack led by Fatah’s Mohammed Dahlan [then a star, now in disgrace].

In the aftermath, Abbas then set up an “Emergency Government”, and named Salam Fayyad as PA Prime Minister. The U.S. and other major donors celebrated with a major “love-in”, praising Fayyad, the American-trained Security Services, and showering Ramallah with donor funding.

Apart from that major rift, the core issue of contention about Hamas joining the PLO: Hamas wanted to have a proportion of seats in the PLO’s Palestine National Council [PNC] similiar to the proportion it won in the 2006 Palestine Legislative Council [PLC] elections = over 60%.

For Fatah, furious that it lost a great deal of ground to Fatah in those 2006 elections, that was, and is, unthinkable.

The most Fatah could agree that Hamas deserves was about 25% maximum.

This is where the new elections come in. Not only has the term expired for the PA President + the PA’s PLC… Fatah is somehow hoping that Hamas will lose any new elections it participates in. This would have the felicitous effect of confirming the correctness of Fatah’s stand [which has prevented Hamas from joining the PLO so far, even if Hamas wanted to]: Fatah firmly believes that Hamas deserves less [preferably, much less] than a majority stake in the PNC.

Basically, the position still is: if Hamas joins the PLO, it will have be on Fatah’s terms, already explained by PLO Chairman [and Fatah leader] Abbas.

As Nabil Shaath said in his remarks to journalists in Bethlehem on Thursday night, if I understood him correctly: Hamas “has to go back to where it was in 2006, apologize to the Palestinian people [for the events of 2007], and abandon all pretense to representing the Palestinian people”…

Does anybody seriously think Hamas is going to apologize for what happened in 2007?

The incremental step announced so far in Cairo — Hamas joining a PLO committee on elections — appears to suggest that some progress in Palestinian reconciliation is being made. [After all, it is something demanded by most Palestinians].

At the same time, the step announced does not yet trespass over the limit suggested by the US, which has said that Hamas must not join any new Palestinian government until it has acceeded to all three conditions set by the Quartet [and by Israel]:
(1) recognition of Israel [Netanyahu has officially set the barrier even higher, at recognition of Israel as a Jewish state];
(2) an end to “terrorism”;
(3) acceptance of all prior PLO agreements and positions.

If there is Hamas participation in a new Palestinian government prior to fulfilling those conditions, the U.S. has threatened a cut off of humanitarian funding to the PA…

Slowing down the arrival of day that decision may have to be taken, while keeping up the appearance of movement and progress towards reconciliation, is one of the main goals shared by the Fatah + Hamas, the two largest Palestinian movements participating in the current exercise.

Meanwhile, there will be a lot of gymnastically-contortionist statements involving circuitous positions of logic that will be advanced to explain all this…

The Quartet: Proximity talks + Positive thinking

Envoys from the Quartet met, separately, with Israeli and Palestinians at the UN’s lovely and venerable Government House — the seat of government built by the British during the Palestine Mandate period — on the southern edge of Jerusalem today.

The location seems to have been specially selected to please the Palestinian side, and was a gesture laden with symbolic significance.

Quartet Special Envoy Tony Blair, who seriously irritated Palestinian officials recently in what they said was a heavy-handed attempt to dissuade them from pursuing their “UN bid” for full membership in the international organization, was also present. Despite some comments that Blair was “persona non grata”, etc, the Palestinian negotiators seemed to have little-to-no problem in dealing with him in these “proximity” or indirect talks, in which the two sides didn’t actually meet each other, but stayed in separate places while the Quartet envoys moved between them.

According to one news report [in the Wall Street Journal, here], Tony Blair was the essential actor in the Quartet meeting, shuttling in the meetings “between Israelis and Palestinians on Wednesday with an international blueprint for a return to negotiations” — which seems to be just ever so slightly misleading, particularly given the Palestinian anger and unease with his performance during the four+ years he’s held his functions, being present in Israel-Palestine less than one week a month in those four+ years, and meanwhile earning a fortune on the side …

The idea, according to a U.S. State Department official speaking ahead of today’s talks, was “to get each of them working on concrete proposals on security and borders / territories”.

Basically, the U.S. says it has heard “positive noises” from the two sides, and is determined to ignore anything else.

So, the Quartet has just passed the first stage of the plan [the two parties should have an initial meeting] proposed on 23 September, the day Mahmoud Abbas deposited the Palestinian “UN bid” at UN headquarters in New York.

In the second stage, which should last for approximately three months, the two sides must each work, separately, on their own proposals on the two issues [security + borders]. If there is no breakthrough at that point, the problems will become more acute. By six months, which is where the first real crunch will be, the two sides are supposed to have made “substantial progress” in their discussions, if not also on their overall relations with each other…

Two days ago, in a briefing to the UN Security Council, the UN Special Coordinator Robert Serry said: “We remind the parties that the Quartet reaffirmed the international legal basis for peace talks and called for the parties to overcome the obstacles and resume negotiations without preconditions. The Quartet further called for proposals within three months on borders and security, with a view to achieving substantial progress within six months and an agreement no later than the end of 2012. The Quartet stressed the need for the parties to refrain from provocations and reiterated their Roadmap obligations”.

Serry also told the Security Council that “The Palestinian application for United Nations membership is being examined by this Council, and is a matter for Member States. Also, the Palestinian request for membership in UNESCO is being reviewed before a vote by the General Conference. This step could have repercussions for the Organizations as it has legal and political implications for the funding provided by some Member States. The Secretary-General is increasingly concerned about ramifications of such a step for the United Nations and asks all to act wisely in determining a course of action”.

Despite this note of caution, or warning, Mahmoud Abbas said in Ramallah that the Palestinians will press ahead with their UNESCO bid, too.

Serry participated in today’s meetings.

UPDATE: The Jerusalem Post’s Herb Keinon reported on Saturday night here that the Quartet participants in the proximity talks were “David Hale from the US, Helga Schmid form the EU, Sergei Vershinin from Russia and Robert Serry from the UN”…

Keinon added that “Back in the early part of 2010, George Mitchell, who was then Obama’s hand-picked Middle East envoy, was doing the same thing that the Quartet representatives tried to do on Wednesday: meeting with the sides to urge, nudge, cajole, pressure them back to direct negotiations. There was even a name given to this whole exercise: proximity talks. Tellingly, more than a year later, we are pretty much at the same spot: trying to get the two sides once again to agree to direct talks, with the Palestinians saying they will only do so if Israel freezes settlement construction, and various types of pressure being exerted on Israel to stop the building. The Quartet, in its plan for renewing negotiations that was unveiled at the UN on September 23, called for a direct meeting between the sides within a month. Instead, what it got was a reincarnation of ‘proximity talks’, and even that three days late. What distinguishes late 2011 from early 2010 is that now the man in the middle is no longer the US represented by Mitchell, nor even Hale, his low-profile replacement (Mitchell handed in his resignation in May). The man in the middle is actually a grouping of men and women – the Quartet representatives. Is this another example of the US leading from behind? Blair, in an interview this week with the Los Angeles Times, said the Quartet’s more active role in the peace process was not due to the US stepping back, because, as he said, ‘the US is still very much there’. But, he said, the US is ‘also saying to the international community, “You’ve go to step up with us here”.’”

After the proximity talks, Serry’s office put out a statement claiming — with remarkable optimism — that “Both Parties expressed their readiness to engage with the Quartet, on the basis of its statement of 23 September, to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral negotiations without delay or preconditions. The Parties agreed with the Quartet to come forward with comprehensive proposals on territory and security within three months in the context of our shared commitment to the objective of direct negotiations leading toward an agreement by the end of 2012. Envoys reiterated the Quartet call of 23 September upon the parties to refrain from provocative actions if negotiations are to be effective. Quartet Envoys agreed with the parties to meet regularly for the next 90 days to review progress”.

However, the Chief Palestinian Negotiator, Saeb Erekat gave no indication that the meeting had been quite so positive. Erekat is back on the job despite having resigned [he now explains that his resignation was not accepted] after a series of unflattering revelations following a major leak of documents [the “Palestine Papers”] from his office and a few other places in Ramallah, and then were used as the basis for a series of explosive programs on Al Jazeera TV about the conduct of the negotiations in recent years. 

Instead, after the Proximity Talks hosted by the Quartet, a statement was issued in Erekat’s name saying that “We explained to the Quartet that we are prepared to sit at the negotiating table as soon as the Israeli government freezes all settlement construction and accepts clear terms of reference, specifically the 1967 borders. These are not favors that Israel is doing for us. These are its obligations in accordance with international law and the Road Map. Anything short of that will simply put us back on the failed track that we have been on for the last 20 years”.  The Palestinian participants in these meetings were, apparently Saeb Erekat and Mohammad Shtayyah.

Before these Proximity talks, Erekat issued a statement saying that the continuing Israeli settlement enterprise in occupied Palestinian territory was nothing other than “legalized looting”.

According to a press statement published by the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department, “Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat said, ‘All Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal according to international humanitarian law. There are no exceptions to this well-established legal principle’. Dr. Erekat responded to attempts by the Israeli government to draw false distinctions between different kinds of illegal settlement construction, whereby Israel alleges that there is so-called private and public construction. ‘Looting is not made legal under any circumstance. International humanitarian law and relevant UN resolutions draw no distinction between different forms of settlement construction. These actions constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute’, said Dr. Erekat”. This statement is posted here.

According to Israeli media reports, the Israeli participant in the Quartet’s Proximity talks with the two parties was Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu’s aide, Isaac Molcho.

Continue reading The Quartet: Proximity talks + Positive thinking

The Quartet…calls for Palestinians and Israelis to return to negotiations

Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu has been saying that he is ready to return to negotiations — without preconditions — at any time. He suggested meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the UN, right after his speech yesterday.

The Palestinians say that there has to be a complete stop to Israeli settlement activities on the ground, first. They now also say they want the negotiations conducted within an international framework of legitimacy. And, they have made it clear that they want to start where Netanyahu’s predecessor, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, left off with them in September 2008, shortly before he was required to resign during a corruption investigation.

The Quartet spent five intensive days in New York trying to draft a statement they could all agree upon and that would also meet Palestinian requirements, in an effort to avert the Palestinian “UN bid”. After yesterday’s speeches by Abbas and by Netanyahu, the Quartet issued the following statement, which proposes a resumption of negotiations within the month, and agreement by the end of 2012:

“The Quartet takes note of the application submitted by President Abbas on 23rd September 2011 which is now before the Security Council.

The Quartet reaffirmed its statement of 20th May 2011, including its strong support for the vision of Israeli-Palestinian peace outlined by United States President Barack Obama. [[note – This refers, therefore, only to Obama’s speech at the U.S. State Department on 19 May, in which he called for negotiations to resume first on borders, which Obama said should be the 1967 borders, and security. It deliberately omits reference to Obama’s speech to AIPAC on 21 May, in which he caves in to Israeli pressure and for the first time endorses the controversial language in the 2004 letter of George Bush to Israel’s then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, which recognized existing demographic realities on the ground – meaning the Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank...]]

The Quartet recalled its previous statements, and affirmed its determination to actively and vigorously seek a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, on the basis of UN Security Council Resolutions 242, 338, 1397, 1515, 1850, the Madrid principles including land for peace, the Roadmap, and the agreements previously reached between the parties.

The Quartet reiterated its commitment to a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East and to seek a comprehensive resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and reaffirms the importance of the Arab Peace Initiative.

The Quartet reiterated its urgent appeal to the parties to overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations without delay or preconditions. But it accepts that meeting, in itself, will not reestablish the trust necessary for such a negotiation to succeed. It therefore proposes the following steps:

Continue reading The Quartet…calls for Palestinians and Israelis to return to negotiations

Report that Israel placed more anti-personnel mines in Golan in advance of September protests

This is a story that gets little reaction, despite more news coming in from time to time.

This time, it’s from a report, presumably in Hebrew, published in an Israeli military magazine.

The right-wing Israeli website, Arutz Sheva, is reporting here, that the latest edition of the Bemachaneh (On the Base) military magazine says that “Anti-personnel mines have been placed beyond the Golan border fence but on Israel’s side of the border … The mining in the area of the Golan territorial brigade is the first phase of activity that will extend to all of the border covered by the Israel Defense Forces’ 36th Division”.

The report also says that mines “already in place did not go off” during the May 15 protests in which Palestinian and Syrian protesters crossed the Golan and briefly entered the Israeli-controlled town of Majdel Shams, before being returned to Syria.  And, it says, this new planting of anti-personnel mines “is in addition to the erection of fences, the digging of trenches and other measures to prevent incursions by demonstrators or other hostile forces in September, when violence is expected to accompany the Palestinian Authority’s announced intent to unilaterally declare a state. Anti-tank mines are also being upgraded or replaced, in the first mining of the area in 10 years“.

UPDATE: The AP is now reporting, on Saturday 13 August, that “An Israeli army magazine says the military is planting new land mines along the border with Syria to dissuade protesters from rushing into the Golan Heights. The army decided to go ahead with the move after older mines failed to detonate when Syrian demonstrators rushed into the border area in June during a protest against Israel’s occupation. Israeli forces opened fire, killing some 20 protesters in efforts to push the crowd back. The mines are also part of beefed-up measures Israel is taking ahead of rallies that Palestinians are planning to hold in September”. This AP report is posted here.

NOTE: Our earlier reports on this story are posted:
17 June – here, and
16 June – here,
And our even earlier posts on this are:
9 June – here;
8 June – here;
and 7 June – here.

Continue reading Report that Israel placed more anti-personnel mines in Golan in advance of September protests

EU blocked "unbalanced" US move in last Quartet meeting

It was the European Union — and not just Russia, as earlier reported — that blocked a U.S. move in the last Quartet meeting (a dinner in Washington on 11 July) to back, and impose on Palestinians, a statement that would have endorsed two of Israel’s main recent demands (Palestinian acknowledgement of Israel as a Jewish state, and accomodation of major Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory) according to a report by the Ramallah-based Jerusalem Media Communicatons Center (JMCC) today.

The U.S. also reportedly tried — but apparently failed — to get the Quartet to disapprove of any Palestinian move to upgrade the status of their representation at the United Nations in September.

The JMCC report, published here, contains a twice-translated citation of the wording of the U.S. proposal that was not accepted by the Quartet, which it added to other material partly based on a report in today’s Haaretz, here.

According to the Haaretz report, “senior European diplomats” told Haaretz that “responsibility for the failure of the meeting lies with the United States, which proposed to the other Quartet members – the EU, the UN and Russia – a one-sided wording for an announcement that favored Israel and which had no chance of being accepted by the Palestinians. The U.S. version did include mention of negotiations being based on the 1967 borders with an exchange of territory, however, it also included portions of the [2004] letter of President George Bush to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon which noted that the border changes would reflect the demographic changes on the ground since 1967. This implies the annexation of the settlement blocs to Israel…”

Continue reading EU blocked "unbalanced" US move in last Quartet meeting

Source: Israel relented + is releasing tax refunds to PA, at least for now…

According to a source in Ramallah on Wednesday evening, Israel has relented [under pressure, and temporarily] and is releasing tax revenues due to Palestinian Authority [PA]. This money is expected to be in bank today [Thursday], so that PA salaries can be paid this month.

This is despite the Palestinian reconciliation deal that was finalized by a public ceremony in Cairo on Wednesday.

It was the announcement of Fatah-Hamas reconciliation a week ago Wednesday [27 April] that inspired the Israeli decision, announced by Israel’s Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz on Sunday 1 May and backed by Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to “freeze” transfer of tax revenue collected at Israeli ports on behalf of the PA — money which Palestinian Authority Minister Salam Fayyad announced was needed for payment of May salaries to nearly 200,000 PA employees in government ministries and security services.

The Israeli decision was reportedly questioned by the American government.

The U.S. has said that its contributions to the PA will continue for the moment, but will be reviewed after formation of a new PA cabinet in which Hamas is asking for some key ministerial posts. Financial arrangements will be reviewed, U.S. officials have indicated, after examination of any new Palestinian post-unity government.

Palestinian statements — including earlier suggestions from Fayyad himself — are that a new PA government will be composed of “technocrats” selected on the sole basis of who can best do the job.

Problems would certainly arise, however, if some of these “technocrats” just happened to be affiliated with Hamas.

Continue reading Source: Israel relented + is releasing tax refunds to PA, at least for now…

Hamas + Fatah announce in Cairo they've reached agreement

This was a surprise.

The announcement came at the end of the day, in the early evening. Reuters broke the story. Hamas and Fatah, meeting in Cairo, had reached agreement on reconciliation. Further details were not immediately available, and only a few pieces of information filtered out as evening became night, and later.

With the lack of information, there was much scepticism.

And, signs of possible trouble just ahead.

Isabelle Kershner (and four other correspondents in Cairo, Gaza and Washington) wrote in the New York Times that “In a televised address on Wednesday, even before the Fatah-Hamas press conference, the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu, sent a stern warning to the Palestinian Authority president and Fatah chief, Mahmoud Abbas.  ‘The Palestinian Authority has to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas’, Mr. Netanyahu said, adding, ‘Peace with both of them is impossible, because Hamas aspires to destroy the state of Israel and says so openly’.  The choice, he said, was in the authority’s hands”. This story is published here.

One Twitterer (from Gaza) called Netanyahu a “Drama Queen” after these remarks.

A Tweet from the Palestinian President’s office said, in response to Netanyahu’s remarks: @MahmoudAbbas – #Netanyahu has to choose between #Peace or #Settlement’s construction.

Continue reading Hamas + Fatah announce in Cairo they've reached agreement

Tony Blair moving Quartet office in E. Jerusalem

A reliable source has indicated that Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister who is now the part-time Special Middle East Envoy of the Quartet, is moving his office out of the legendary American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem.

Blair’s presence — and its overbearing security requirements — has contributed to ruining the American Colony Hotel’s former unique atmosphere as the meeting place for Palestinian political and economic notables with international visitors and the occasional Israeli official.

The American Colony — now a five-star establishment, one of the Leading Hotels in the World, run by Swiss hotel management — is also now too expensive for most Palestinians, who have moved en masse up the road and up the hill to the Ambassador Hotel, where le-tout-jerusalem-est can now be seen doing business throughout the day and evening [nobody stays up late in East Jerusalem, where there is no night life, but insomniacs].

[The American Colony has managed to fill the void by receiving the Shabbat weekend business of nouveau riche Israeli businessmen and their highly made-up fertility goddess wives in skin tight clothes, who feel safe enough there despite the titillatingly exotic location, and who do enjoy the buffets. The late-Ottoman-era central courtyard with bubbling fountain and lemon trees, and the summer garden with tall palm trees and a grassy lawn remain popular places to sit and relax, despite the change in clientele.]

Now that Blair has ruined the American Colony, he’s following the Palestinian notables up the road and up the hill to a new building, constructed by a member of the Nashashibi family, just below the Ambassador Hotel on Nablus Road.

There goes the neighborhood.

Continue reading Tony Blair moving Quartet office in E. Jerusalem

Netanyahu makes surprising announcement proposing renewal of efforts to complete deal on Gaza gas

In a move stunning in its timing and significance, Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu announced on Friday afternoon – with the Quartet’s Tony Blair standing by his side – that he now thinks it’s time, finally, to develop Palestinian-allocated offshore natural gas deposits buried under the eastern Mediterranean in maritime space, defined by mutual agreement under the Oslo Accords, that extends 20 nautical miles out from Gaza’s coastline.

Netanyahu did specifically mention Egypt in the announcement on Friday, saying: “Most of our [natural gas] supply today is coming from Egypt”, Netanyahu said. But, he added immediately, “It’s important for us to develop additional resources”.

The exact situation on the ground, resulting from the Egyptian-Israeli natural gas deal, is rather unclear.

The announcement – as CNN’s Jerusalem correspondent Kevin Flowers pointed out in a Tweet on Friday afternoon – came on the eve of the first meeting of the Middle East Quartet principles of 2011 on Saturday (February 5) in Germany, on the margins of the Munich Security Conference.

Continue reading Netanyahu makes surprising announcement proposing renewal of efforts to complete deal on Gaza gas