Negotiations Nervousness: Next week could be make-or-break

Negotiation nervousness reigns in Jerusalem and Ramallah.

Dr. Mustafa Barghouthi, a medical doctor who founded and heads the Palestinian Medical Relief Society, and an independent Palestinian politician who has run for President and been elected to the Legislative Council for the Al-Mubadara (The Palestinian National Initiative) party that he also founded and heads, wrote recently that the “indirect” or “proximity” talks that were declared launched last weekend “hold little hope”.

“These negotiations will not bring peace”, Barghouthi added.

His article was published in USA Today, and adapted for Ma’an News Agency in early May.

No solution will be acceptable, Barghouthi wrote, that does not provide Palestinians with full rights and freedoms: “One set of laws for Jews and one set for Palestinians is intolerable in the 21st Century”. The latest talks, he said, “seem ill-equipped to address this central concern”.

Meron Benvenisti, who was born under the British Mandate in Palestine, ten years before Israel’s proclamation of independence, and who served as Israel’s former Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem under Teddy Kolleck, said in remarks published in an article in The Guardian at the end of April that any form of Palestinian state that would emerge in the present circumstances would mean the legitimisation of the status quo, of Bantustans, of a system of political and economic which is hailed as a solution by the entire world — unlike in South Africa … we are doing this because it is self-serving”.

The Jewish settlers in the West Bank have already taken most of the land they can, Benvenisti said, and the rest is controlled by the Israeli Army.

Benvenisti said that the peace process is “an illusion and it perpetuates an illusion”.

A slightly more optimistic view expressed in weekend discussions by a group convened by IPCRI (Israeli-Palestinian Center for Research and Information) and sponsored by the German non-governmental organization KAS (Konrad Adenauer Stiftung). Still, one prediction was that the real test will be next week, when U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell is expected to return to the region.

“There is a new sense of purpose, direction, and self-confidence” in the Mitchell team, it was reported, and a sense that “the Americans had decided that the parties could no longer veto the process”.

It appeared as if the Americans had “made a decision to stop negotiating over negotiating”, the participants were told in the opening session … although by the final session on Saturday, this was expressed as a hope hat there would be no more “negotiations over negotiations”.

“If proximity talks don’t begin this week, it is a threat to the Obama Administration’s ability to carry out any foreign policy anywhere in the world”, it was said. And, the view was expressed that the stakes are so high, this is a make-or-break situation.

It was reported that American officials have begun, for the first time, to talk about a “toolbox” that they were planning to use in these talks.

It was also reported that there are three views within the American administration on an “imposed” plan, if the parties continue to be recalcitrant, it was reported:
(1) General Jim Jones (former U.S. Special Envoy and Road Map monitor under the Annapolis negotiations under former President George W. Bush, and currently President Barack Obama’s National Security Advisor) is pushing very strongly on a plan to see a Palestinian state within the borders that existed on 4 June 1967, and agreement that Jerusalem would be an open city, with a significant international presence [mainly military] led by Americans,
(2) an opposite view is being expressed by Dennis Ross (described as “Israel’s lawyer” for his conduct when serving as Middle East coordinator for President Bill Clinton, who is now an adviser to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton), who says that an Obama plan will be ignored just as the Reagan Plan and the Rogers Plans wer, and that even if it’s a good plan, the two parties would oppose an imposed plan;
(3) Rahm Emanuel, current White House Chief of Staff (who previously worked for President Bill Clinton, and reportedly organized the September 13, 1993 signing — by PLO leader Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin — of the Oslo Accords Declaration of Prinicples on the White House lawn), is advising that the President forget about this now, because the situation is “a mess”, and not bother with this conflict “until the parties call us”.

However, it was noted that President Obama has just escalated — by one word — the formulation he expressed in his major address to the Muslim world given in Cairo last year, and has recently said that an Israeli-Palestinian agreement is a vital American national security interest.

The most major concerns listed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad are:
(1) the continuing IDF incursions into Palestinian cities, including Ramallah (the de facto capital of the Palestinian Authority) after midnight, and
(2) obstacles to the further deployment of Palestinian Authority forces in Palestinian towns and cities (mostly Area A of the West Bank), and also in Areas B and C where there are Palestinian residents.

A number of participants — even more Israelis than Palestinians — expressed strong support for a Palestinian move to full statehood. Fayyad, it was noted, has said he was making the preparations, but did not say anything about any unilateral move.

But, it was reported, Mitchell had to use a “big stick” in his latest meetings with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — threatening to have an Obama offer of an addition $500 million supplemental expenditure for the Palestinian Authority withheld unless the PLO Executive Committee agreed to start the “indirect” or “proximity” talk process.

It was also confirmed that the Obama administration is currently planning to forge ahead with its two-state plan, without Gaza — the possible proposal would be for the West Bank only, until there is a change in political circumstances…

Some of the most heated discussions were concerning the Palestinian boycott of products made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Some Israelis said this is a dangerous development which they would fight, because it might expand into a boycott of Israeli itself. Other Israelis, at least one, said the boycott of settlement products was a legitimate non-violent way to fight the occupation of the West Bank. It was noted that Palestinians were making a distinction between settlement products and between Israeli products, which West Bank stores are full of. It was noted that Prime Minister Fayyad and Economy Minister Hassan Abu Libdeh had themselves said that the aim of the boycott was to “promote Palestinian products”.

There was hardly mention of the massive Israeli boycott of Gaza…

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