News emerged yesterday from Ramallah that Shaul Mofaz would not be going to Ramallah today to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas.
Neither Mofaz nor Israel had announced that Mofaz would be going to Ramallah. The announcement was made in the middle of last week by Sa’eb Erekat, described as the Chief Palestinian Negotiator, who is also a member of the PLO Executive Committee and of the Central Committee of Fateh, the largest Palestinian political movement.
Erekat said that Mofaz had asked for the meeting, that this meeting would not constitute a return to negotiations — and that it was not known what Mofaz would be bringing to the meeting.
This was a little disingenuous.
Mofaz, who is of Persian origin, is leader of the Israeli opposition Kadima Party who made a deal with Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in early May to join the coalition and become Deputy Prime Minister.
Mofaz spoke at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on 20 June, about the range of things concerning Israel [including Iran and Syria and the new Egypt]. He also spoke about the Israel-Palestinian stalemate — which he said was potentially more dangerous for Israel than Iran.
Mofaz said at the Washington Institute that:
– Israel should annex its “settlement blocs” [which he did not define] in the West Bank;
– these “settlement blocs” would then become Israel’s eastern border, he indicated;
– 65% of the West Bank [excluding the “settlement blocs” — therefore this would involve territorial swaps involving West Bank land for West Bank land] would go to the Palestinians, and would include 99% of the Palestinian population living in the West Bank.
– Palestinian refugees who return would only go to the Palestinian state or entity, Mofaz said.
Erekat was in Washington at the same exact time — and both Mofaz + Erekat met [separately] with officials at the U.S. State Department. Erekat could not have been unaware of the presentation and proposals that Mofaz made public at the Washington Institute.
The Mofaz presentation at the Washington Institute followed a series of five meetings held in the Jordanian capital Amman in the early months of 2012, in which Quartet members were observers — after which the Palestinians and Israelis agreed to present their views to the other side in the form of concrete proposals.
The Palestinians sent a first letter — they said it contained the maps and the swap proposals etc that they had basically made since the Annapolis process in 2008, and then resubmitted to Barak Obama’s Special Envoy George Mitchell in 2009.
Weeks after the Palestinian letter was sent this year, an Israeli reply was carried to Ramallah by Prime Minister Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molho, who quietly met Mahmoud Abbas at the Ramallah Muqata’a — without any problem.
It was the Palestinian reply to the Israeli response where things started to break down. Mahmoud Abbas apparently asked a delegation led by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, and including PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo, to go to Jerusalem to deliver the letter. There were questions, then criticism — but until the day of the delivery, it was assumed that these people would go. But by the end of the day it became clear that Fayyad + Abed Rabbo refused to take on this task — so only Saeb Erekat went. He was received, apparently politely, by Israeli PM Netanyahu and his advisor Yitzhak Molho, and an official picture was taken…
In the beginning of May, Erekat suffered a heart attack, and was hospitalized.
Hamas announced their opposition to the Mofaz visit, and asked that it be called off.
The PFLP also opposed the visit.
Palestinian “youth” groups based in Ramallah also opposed the meeting — and particularly the invitation for the meeting. These people, who have been participating in regular protest demonstrations in the West Bank, who came together last year for the March 15 “Arab Spring” protest in Ramallah demanding an end to division and worldwide Palestinian elections for a new PLO parliament. They are very critical of the actions of the Palestinian Authority. Some announced they had asked the Palestinian Attorney General to arrest Mofaz while in Ramallah for war crimes against Palestinians.
But, for most, the worst thing about all this is the impact it has on the already-shaky credibility of the Palestinian leadership.
Haaretz reported on Friday here that Erekat told the Voice of Palestine a day earlier that “Mofaz had asked for the meeting before his centrist Kadima party joined Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition in May. He renewed his call when he was appointed deputy premier and Abbas agreed to a meeting. Erekat and Mofaz were recently in Washington where they met U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who seems to have pushed for the meeting”.
In mid-June, a week before the Washington talks and the Washington Institute discussion, it was reported here that “Earlier this week, an unnamed Palestinian source had told the PA mouthpiece Al-Ayyam that Mofaz and Abbas would likely meet in Amman, Jordan, next week to discuss ways of renewing the peace negotiations, which have been stalled since September 2010”. Again, this was attributed to American pressure.
[The computer connection just failed, and I lost a lot of work here — trying to reconstruct it now…]
On Saturday morning, it was announced in Ramallah that the Mofaz visit to Ramallah had been “indefinitely postponed”.
Nonetheless, despite news that the Mofaz visit was off, the “youth” group who are very involved in demonstrating decided to maintain their protest for Saturday at 5 pm. Reports emerged not long afterward of a brutal repression, involving beatings by plain-clothed men [photos are available on Twitter] then arrests by uniformed Palestinian policemen. By night, all those arrested had been released — reportedly after a renewed protest which moved to the central downtown police station.
By that time, seven men and one woman had been “severely beaten”, it was reported, including “journalist Mohamed Jaradat who was transferred to hospital after his exposure to physical attack by officers from the criminal investigation bureau”. This report is posted here.
On Sunday morning, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid reported that it was actually PM Netanyahu who contacted Mahmoud Abbas and asked that the Mofaz visit be cancelled… Another Israeli media reports suggest that Kadima may be about to leave the coalition formed less than a month ago, over the issue of national service for religious Israeli Jews and for Israel’s Arab citizens. But other Israeli offcials close to Netanyahu said that it had been Abbas who cancelled the meeting, because of the announced Palestinian protests.
There is a moment of stunned silence, just now.
UPDATE: “Youth” protests in Ramallah continued a second night, on Sunday night, with more beatings and injuries and arrests. Whereas a year ago they were calling to an end to the division between Fateh and Hamas [including an end to media incitement and a complete release of Palestinian political prisoners being held by each side], as well as worldwide elections to a new PLO Palestine National Council, they are now demanding an end to the Palestinian Authority and the departure of Mahmoud Abbas.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian leadership has announced that it’s turning its attention to a recommendation made by the PLO Executive Committee last week to return to the UN Security Council — to bring up the issues of settlements, again.
The U.S. vetoed a resolution on this subject in early 2011.
There is no mention of the “UN bid”, which has been frozen in the UN Security Council’s membership committee since last fall, following Mahmoud Abbas’ defiant submission — despite Israeli and American opposition — of a formal request for full UN membership for the State of Palestine he submitted to the UN Secretary-General in New York on 23 September 2011.
Nor was there any mention of an alternative plan to go to the UN General Assembly to seek recognition of the State of Palestine within the 4 June 1967 borders.
Muhammad Shtayyah, Fateh Central Committee member and occasional Palestinian negotiator who discussed this alternate plan to go to the UNGA for recognition of borders at the beginning of June and again last week, has just been assigned a time-consuming project, in his capacity as head of PECDAR [the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, set up just after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993], which will take at least one month, it’s been reported, to raise funds for Syrians and Palestinians in Syria affected by the current conflict.