The Israeli Peace Initiative is the Arab Peace Initiative-plus, with a better name?

The announcement came by email today, from Ben Or, an Israeli PR firm in Tel Aviv.

The email says: “President Abbas has invited the leadership of the Israel Peace Initiative to the Mukaata [sic] in Ramallah to present their new regional peace initiative. The invitation follows the Palestinian President’s recent statement regarding his willingness to relinquish the plan to appeal to the UN General Assembly, if the political negotiations, based on the ’67 borders, are renewed”.

A report by Israel National News today — along the same lines — said Israel’s Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren told Israel Radio “that Washington is attempting to convince its European allies that a unilateral declaration of statehood for the Western-backed Palestinian Authority will bring conflict and not peace”, and that “Israel is trying to renew negotiations with the PA in order to draft an agreement of two states for two nations in the Land of Israel”. The report is posted here.

So, if these two assertions are correct, both the Palestinian and the Israeli leaderships are looking for a way to create a Palestinian State by September. Could that be true?

One of the problems with the email sent out by the Israeli PR firm about tomorrow’s [Thursday’s] meeting at the Muqataa is that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas seems not to have made the statement attributed.

It was Yasser Abed Rabbo who said it — he is Secretary (and member) of the PLO Executive Committee, and he is also head of Palestinian Television, and he was (and still may be) the head of the Palestinian team in the “civil society” Geneva Initiative [signed December 2003]. He reportedly said it in an interview in the London paper Al-Hayat, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz here.

There are, in fact, a number of signatories to the Israeli Peace Initiative who are associated with the Geneva Initiative. Before he was elected President, Abbas himself was involved in drafting the Geneva Initiative through the efforts of his staff member Ghaith al-Omary, now at the American Task Force on Palestine in Washington D.C. This is one of several indications of the tacit approval given was to the effort by the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat Israeli former Justice Minister Yossi Beilin was Yasser Abed Rabbo’s counterpart, and Beilin’s staff assistant Daniel Levy, now also in Washington at the New American Foundation, was al-Omary’s counterpart in the drafting process.

The Geneva Initiative was viewed with hostility in Israel — mainly because the Israeli government at the time said it had not been informed in advance. The Swiss government, which did give substantial diplomatic and financial support to the Geneva Initiative, was surprised and flustered by the Israeli rejection. The Swiss support since then has fluctuated. Other European states, the United Nations, and the U.S. were cool — though former U.S. President Jimmy Carter was at the signing ceremony in Geneva on 1 December 2003.

Since then, the Geneva Initiative Israeli team has been much more active than the Palestinian team — though they seem to have revived a bit, and recently held a meeting in Nablus on the Right of Return, one of the points in the Geneva Initiative most criticized by Palestinians and their supporters.

A recent Tweet from the Israeli Geneva Initiative office (@genevaaccord on Twitter) said, based on the Haaretz report, that: “Geneva Initiative’s cofounder Yasser Abed Rabbo: PA prefers negotiations to unilateral declaration of Palestinian… http://fb.me/y2FruuVl”

According to the Haaretz report, “The Palestinian Authority will defer its attempts to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state at the United Nations if “real and serious” negotiations with Israel begin, an official was quoted saying Monday. Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization Yasser Abed Rabbo told London-based Al-Hayat newspaper on Monday that the basis of any negotiated agreement must be according to ‘the 1967 borders, very limited exchange of land and no exchanges of populations’. Abed Rabbo called on the Middle East quartet, comprised of the UN, the European Union, the United States and Russia to ‘tackle these negotiations in accordance with the timetable we previously agreed on, which ends in September’, he told the London-based daily … ‘Otherwise’, the PLO official said, ‘we will go to the United Nations, then ask them to deal with the military presence and the Israeli settlements as an assault on the sovereignty of another state, which is a member of the United Nations’. He added that ‘these are the two solutions for international powers, especially Washington. We do not have a third option’. Abed Rabbo said that the PA will honor all of its internal and external obligations as a formal state, but that it would not accept Israeli military or civilian presence in its territories”…

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has never said anything publicly like this, and has continued to insist that the Palestinians would present their request for recognition of a Palestinian state to the UN in September.

Given the track record, however, that doesn’t mean he disagrees with the proposition.

Maybe there is something in the works that we all don’t know about, yet.

The head of President Abbas’ press office, Mohamed Edwan, said Wednesday “No, the President has never said that he was willing to relinquish this plan” if political negotiations are renewed. However, Edwan noted, “if we reach that [a Palestinian state] by negotiation by September, that would logically change the current plan, IF…”

The website of the Israeli Peace Initiative, we are informed by today’s email, is here.

The email sent out by the Israeli PR firm also says that “The Israeli Peace Initiative is a new regional peace initiative, calling upon the Israeli government to take action that will ensure the existence of Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State, its security and prosperity, and also to ensure normal relations between Israel and the Arab and Muslim world, and not be dragged along by the political events. More than 70 Israeli leaders from the fields of economy, defense, education, media, diplomacy and academy have already signed the initiative”.

This is the same Israeli PR company that is representing another group of Israelis who made their own recent peace initiative in Tel Aviv last week, the Declaration of Independence from the Occupation (as we wrote about here yesterday, see our post, A Tale of Two Translations, here.

Though both groups are represented by the same Israeli PR firm, only one is being taken to the Muqataa tomorrow to present their plan to the Palestinian President.

Is this a conflict of interest? Does one group of Israelis simply pay a better retainer to the Israeli PR firm?

Or are their other reasons for this selection? Does the Palestinian leadership prefer to deal with ex-military and ex-security officials? Does it judge that they have a greater chance of success? Does it feel that this particular group of Israelis will be in a better position to make accusations against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu if there is no other development between now and September? Is it the linkage (though not explicit) with the Geneva Initiative part of the charm?

This Israeli Peace Initiative has already been welcomed by the U.S. as a “positive contribution”, according to a report by AFP posted here.

That, of course, is polite, but falls short of a full endorsement. It’s not a cold shoulder, however.

According to AFP, the U.S. State Department spokesperson Mark Toner said: “We remain committed to achieving an agreement… we also support the goal of fully normalized relations between Israel and the Arab world … We welcome all ideas to achieve those goals and we look forward to hearing more about the Israel peace initiative. We believe it could possibly make a positive contribution”.

Akiva Eldar, Israeli journalist who is big supporter of Arab Peace plan, and one of the signers of this new Israeli Peace Initiative, has said that the biggest problem, for Israelis, with the Arab Peace Initiative is its name.

This is not a joke.

A number of other Israelis I’ve questioned over the last three years all agree — Israel can never sign on to an “Arab Peace Initiative”. It has to be Israeli, they said.

So, now we have it — the Israeli Peace Initiative (proposed by private Israelis, not the government).

However, it is written as if by the government.

The full text of the proposed Israeli Peace Initiative [IPI], posted here.

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