The Israeli press is reporting that today’s meeting in Jerusalem between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas marked the beginning of the negotiating process, because — after yet another closed-door one-on-one session — the two brought in their respective negotiations teams. The negotiating teams are due to start meeting next week.
However, the Israeli press also states, the negotiations won’t really start until after the Middle East Peace Conference that the U.S. wants to host in Annapolis, Maryland, in November. (It was originally suggested that the Peace Conference would be in September, perhaps around the time of the UN General Assembly’s annual high-level general debate).
On top of that, the Middle East Peace Conference might now be postponed a couple of weeks more, to allow more time for the Israelis and the rather un-technical Palestinian negotiators to spend together. The Jerusalem Post, for example, reported Wednesday evening that: “Sources in Washington said Wednesday that the international peace parley, scheduled for mid-November, might be postponed by two weeks or a whole month, to allow the sides to reach agreement, Army Radio reported.”
The JPost report that Washington is willing to postpone, again, the MidEast peace conference.
In another report, the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh wrote that Abbas told reporters yesterday iafter meeting Jordan’s King Abdullah II in Amman that: “We’re negotiating with Israel, and after that there will be an agreement, which we will carry to the international conference to be blessed, adopted and endorsed, and then detailed negotiations shall begin…He said at least 12 Arab countries had agreed to send representatives to the conference. ‘There will be a very strong Arab presence at the conference’, Abbas said after holding talks with Jordan’s King Abdullah. ‘In addition, there will be some Islamic countries like Malaysia, Turkey and Indonesia’.”
The JPost report of Abbas’ remarks on the Middle East Peace Conference in Amman yesterday are here.
Meanwhile, the Jerusalem Post is reporting that “Defense officials” [are they referring to Defense Minister Ehud Barak,the former Prime Minister who tried to push the Palestinians to accept what Barak called historic Israeli concessions in talks at Camp David in July 2000?] are very present in the about-to-start negotiations. The JPost published a story saying that “Defense officials expressed skepticism Tuesday that Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s negotiating team could agree with the Palestinians on fundamental final-status issues ahead of the US-sponsored peace conference next month … The officials said that with Shas and Israel Beiteinu in the coalition, Olmert had little leeway in negotiating with the Palestinians and would be forced to use vague language in the declaration of principles to be presented at the conference. One example had to do with the final borders of a future Palestinian state. ‘The declaration will not be able to say: “The borders will be the pre-1967 lines”,’ a defense official said. ‘But instead, it will have to say something like: “In accordance with” or “based on” the pre-1967 border’.”
The JPost report on the input of the Israeli Defense Ministry is here.
On the question of borders, Haaretz is reporting that: “Olmert is also demanding that the declaration include a reference to two previous documents: President George W. Bush’s letter to prime minister Ariel Sharon on April 14, 2004, and the road map for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The Bush letter to Sharon stated that the border between Israel and the future Palestinian state could not be identical to the 1949 armistice line (i.e. the Green Line), due to the presence of ‘Israeli population concentrations’ in the West Bank. Israel interprets this as referring to the large West Bank settlement blocs. The letter also says the final border will be established by agreement, which Israel interprets as referring to territorial exchanges. The road map lays out a three-stage program for establishing a Palestinian state, and states that in the first stage, the Palestinian Authority must wage war on terrorism and reform PA institutions, while Israel must remove all illegal outposts established in the West Bank since 2001.”
The Haaretz report on Olmert’s negotiating position is here.
This JPost report also says that “Defense Minister Ehud Barak has appointed the head of the Defense Ministry’s Diplomatic-Military Bureau, Amos Gilad, as his representative at the talks with the Palestinians … Along with Gilad, the Israeli negotiating team consists of the prime minister’s political adviser, Shalom Turgeman; Olmert’s bureau chief Yoram Turbowicz; and Foreign Ministry Director-General Aharon Abramovitch”. Gilad was very involved in the Camp David talks in 2000, and in the subsequent negotiations up to Taba in 2001, at which point Barak left office after losing an election, and the “peace process” came to an abrupt stop.
The Palestinian independent news agence, Ma’an, reports that: “The names of those appointed to lead the negotiation teams in the coming months were revealed on Israeli television’s Channel 2 on Tuesday evening. Channel 2’s political analyst, Amnon Avramovitch, said that disputes had erupted between the Israeli Labour party and Kadima on who would head the Israeli negotiating team. Ehud Barak protested against Haim Ramon heading the team, and so the director of Olmert’s office, Yoram Turbowitz was appointed instead.
The Israeli team will comprise: Ehud Olmert; Olmerts’ office director Yoram Turbowitz , Olmert’s deputy Haim Ramon, Head of Security Negotiations Amnon Shahak, the Director of the Israeli Foreign Relations Department Ahron Ahronovitch, Head of Security Amos Gilad and political advisor to Olmert, Shalom Turjeman.
The Palestinian team are: Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmad Qurai’, who will head the permanent settlement negotiations team, PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo, Palestinian National Security Council member Jibreel Rajoub, the PLO’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, who will co-ordinate the different teams, and Abbas’ political advisor, Akram Haniyeh.
There will be also a number of attorneys and experts within the delegation.
A member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, Zakariyya Al-Agha has announced that the negotiations’ team have agreed with President Abbas that any proposal regarding permanent settlement negotiations must be submitted to the team and not just be dealt with in one-on-one negotiations between Abbas and Olmert.”
The Ma’an report on the composition of the Israeli and Palestinian negotiating teams is here.
The other independent Palestinian news agency, Ramattan, reported later that “The Palestinian Chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, announced on Wednesday the names of officials of the negotiation team with Israel chaired by Ahmad Qurei’ (former Prime Minister). The team includes the Yasser Abed Rabu the Secretary of PLO Executive Committee, and Saadi al-Kronz the Secretary General of Ministers Council, in addition to Erekat and some of experts and lawyers. Erekat said in a press conference that President Abbas adheres to Road Map, Arab Initiative, and all resolutions of International Legitimacy which contains freeing the occupied territories since 1967…” The Ramattan report on Saeb Erakat’s announcment of the composition of the Palestinian negotiating team is here.