Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said on Sunday that “We are now facing a moment of truth”.
He told journalists in Ramallah (according to a press release issued by the PLO’s Negotiations Affairs Department that he heads) that “the move to issue a Security Council resolution recognizing the Palestinian state on the borders of June 4th, 1967 has begun”.
Reaction has continued to roll in.
Israeli ministers have threatened to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank if the Palestinians make such a move.
Israeli statements mix references to a “unilateral” Palestinian declaration of a state on 1967 borders with what is clearly being planned as a multilateral move to bring the matter to the UN Security Council, and ask for recognition of such a state as well as full UN membership. Sa’eb Erekat said that this strategy has been approved by Arab states.
Erekat also said on Sunday that “the Palestinian leadership calls on the international community to support this move” and he “called on European countries to back the Palestinian decision by expressing their commitment to international law to end the Israeli occupation and save the two-state solution”.
The Voice of America’s Lisa Bryant reported today that “Speaking to reporters in Brussels, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt of Sweden, which holds the rotating European Union presidency, said the time is not right for recognizing a Palestinian state.
‘I do not think we are there yet’, he said. ‘I would hope that we would be in a position to recognize a Palestinian state, but there has to be one first. So I think that is somewhat premature. We have said previously if you go back to what the European Union has said that we would be in a position to recognize a Palestinian state, but the conditions are not there as of yet’. Bildt said the European Union is discussing other steps to increase support for Palestinian aspirations … [However] at a press conference later in the day, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana offered strong backing for an eventual Palestinian state. ‘I do not think it is too early to have a Palestinian state. We would [have liked] to have a
Palestinian state years back’, Solana said. ‘The point is … you know the negotiations have failed so far. [But a Palestinian state] is something the European Union has been defending for years back’.” This VOA report can be viewed in full http://www.voanews.com/english/2009-11-17-voa22.cfm
Solana kicked off this whole process, last July, in a speech he gave in London saying “We have to act now. The key question is: how can we get a political solution? The parameters are well known: the Clinton Parameters, Taba and even the Geneva Initiative. A state is not only a set of well functioning institutions providing security and services to its citizens. The Palestinian Authority is working hard in that direction. President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have to be praised even if much remains to be done. A state is essentially a geographical space over which a legitimate government has control over population and natural resources. So we must first define the space. This means borders. And if we insist so forcefully on the need to freeze Israeli settlements, it is precisely because their continuing expansion is an obstacle to the design of this physical space. Settlements not only cast doubts on the viability of any Palestinian State. They add, in their day-to-day lives, to the frustration of the Palestinian people. Let me give you some figures. In 1993, when the Oslo agreement was reached, there were 75.000 settlers in the West Bank. In 2008, there were 290.000 of them. In 2008, the Israeli population inside the Green Line grew 1,6%. The number of settlers increased by 4,9%. In addition, the situation in Gaza is unacceptable. Changing the realities there is a pre-requisite for re-uniting the land and the people that will form the future Palestinian state. Whether we like it or not, Hamas will have to be part of the solution. I want to thank Egypt for their work on that. Defining the borders would solve the issue of territory, control over water resources and a good part of the equation for Jerusalem. And it will help tackle the question of settlements. Because it will establish on which side each various population centres will be. The point of departure are the 1967 borders. Territorial exchanges can be negotiated between the parties, on the basis of the 1967 line. The various territorial offers fluctuate between 6 and 2%. It should not be impossible to find a figure. The parties can negotiate within this margin, not outside. Nobody rejects the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiation. The Arab League accepts them. The EU has said the same. The United States have also made clear its attachment to them. I have spelt out the broad coalition which is behind this effort. There will be no solution without an active Arab contribution. The Arab Peace Initiative is key. Maybe it has to be made more operative. Its binary character – all or nothing – has to be nuanced. But having the Arab countries reacting in a positive way, with concrete actions, to every step will contribute immensely to success. The next ingredient for success is a real mediation. The parameters are defined. The mediator has to set the timetable too. If the parties are not able to stick to it, then a solution backed by the International community should will be put on the table. After a fixed deadline, a UN Security Council resolution should proclaim the adoption of the two-state solution. This should include all the parameters of borders, refugees, Jerusalem and security arrangements. It would accept the Palestinian state as a full member of the UN, and set a calendar for implementation. It would mandate the resolution of other remaining territorial disputes and legitimise the end of claims. International monitoring will then be crucial. As will be guarantees and contributions offered by the international parties regarding security, economic aid and refugees. We all will have to make deposits to that end. Arab states would immediately establish full diplomatic relations with Israel. I strongly believe the time has come to, finally, bring this conflict to an end. The international consensus is there. But time is of the essence. The second half of this year is crucial if we want to offer a real choice to the Palestinian people when they vote in January 2010. Something radically different from a choice between violence and desperation. … Never before had we have such a common line. We cannot afford wasting this opportunity. It is time to act”. The full text of Solana’s statement in July can be found here.
Carl Bildt had plenty of time, if he disagreed, to react before today. Why did he wait until now?
Ma’an News Agency later reported that in a news conference in Egypt, Palestinian President Abbas confirmed the Palestinian initiative “in accordance with the recent Arab Peace Initiative committee’s support”. According to the Ma’an account, “Abbas confirmed the Palestinian Authority’s commitment to appealing to the UN Security Council for a
resolution recognizing a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders, with Arab support. The PA completely rejects former Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz’s plan to establish a state on temporary borders, Abbas said” Ma’an added that Abbas “further criticized Hamas’ approval of the temporary borders plan”. This Ma’an report is posted
here. Without the full text of the transcript, it is impossible to know what, exactly Abbas actually said about Hamas’ position on this proposal. What has otherwise been reported is that Hamas is sceptical, and has said something like why stop at the 1967 borders — and why not go for all of [the former British Mandate of] Palestine.
Also in Cairo, as Ma’an reported, Sa’eb Erekat maintained that “ ‘This is the right time’ to seek Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state … in response to comments made by EU officials calling the move ‘premature’.” Ma’an said that “Erekat responded almost immediately through an interview with Agence France Presse (AFP) from Cairo … Erekat argued that the EU recognized the State of Kosovo before other official channels supported its claim for independence. Sweden is not alone in determining EU policy, Erekat then quipped, noting other EU countries support
the Palestinian decision and adding that as of yet, the EU does not have a common foreign policy”. This Ma’an report can be read in full here.
Meanwhile, at the State Department in Washington, D.C., spokesman Ian Kelly had this exchange with journalists:
“QUESTION: On the peace process, Israel has approved today the construction of 900 new housing units in East Jerusalem. How do you view this approval at this specific time?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think, Michel, you’ve heard us say many times that we believe that neither party
should engage in any kind of actions that could unilaterally preempt or appear to preempt negotiations. And I think that we find the Jerusalem Planning Committee’s decision to move forward on the approval of the – approval process for the expansion of Gilo in Jerusalem as dismaying. This is at a time when we’re working to re-launch negotiations, and we believe that these actions make it more difficult for our efforts to succeed. So we object to this, and we object to other Israeli practices in Jerusalem related to housing, including the continuing pattern of evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes. And – just to repeat what we’ve said all along, our position on Jerusalem is clear. We believe that the – that Jerusalem is a permanent status issue that must be resolved through negotiations between the two parties.
QUESTION: Can you tell us, did this come up in Ambassador Mitchell’s meetings in London yesterday? Apparently, we were told that he met an advisor to Netanyahu, asked them to not permit these new buildings, and then that request was flatly turned down.
MR. KELLY: Yeah. Andy, I just don’t want to get into the substance of these negotiations. They’re
sensitive. I think you’ve seen the Israeli – some Israeli press reports that did report that this was raised in the meetings. This is – I mean, these kinds of unilateral actions are exactly the kind of actions that we think that both sides should refrain from at a time when we’re trying to start the negotiations again. But I don’t want to get into the substance of the discussions yesterday in London.
QUESTION: Would you steer us away from not believing the Israeli press reports?
MR. KELLY: I just don’t want to get into the substance. I’m not going to steer you one way or the
other on it.
QUESTION: Where’s Senator Mitchell today?
QUESTION: How long is the U.S. going to continue to tolerate Israel’s violation of international law? I mean, soon it’s not even going to be possible – there’s not going to be any land left for the Palestinians to establish an independent state.
MR. KELLY: Well, again, this is a – we understand the Israeli point of view about Jerusalem. But we
think that all sides right now, at this time when we’re expending such intense efforts to try and get the two sides to sit down, that we should refrain from these actions, like this decision to move forward on an approval process for more housing units in East Jerusalem.
QUESTION: But should U.S. inaction, or in response to Israel’s actions, then be interpreted as some sort of about-face in policy – the President turning his back on the promises he’s made to the Palestinians?
MR. KELLY: You’re – okay, you’re using language that I wouldn’t use. I mean, again, our focus is to get these negotiations started. We’re calling on both parties to refrain from actions, from – and from rhetoric that would impede this process. It’s a challenging time, and we just need to focus on what’s important here, and that’s —
QUESTION: Well, what actions (inaudible) the Palestinians taken recently that would impede progress?
MR. KELLY: Well, as I say, we would discourage all unilateral actions, and I think —
QUESTION: Fair enough. But the Palestinians —
MR. KELLY: We talked yesterday —
QUESTION: — don’t appear to be taking any unilateral actions. It seems to be (inaudible).
MR. KELLY: Well, we did talk yesterday about the – and I want to make sure I get my language right
here – about the – discouraging any kind of unilateral appeal for United Nations Security Council recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. That would fall in that category of unilateral actions.
QUESTION: Okay. So the Palestinian call for this, which was rejected by both the EU and yourself
yesterday, you’re putting that on the same level as them building – as the Israelis building —
MR. KELLY: No, I’m not saying that. You just said that, Matt. I’m not saying that. I’m just saying that —
QUESTION: Well, you’re saying you’re calling on both sides to stop doing these things.
MR. KELLY: We are.
QUESTION: Yeah. But the rhetoric from the —
MR. KELLY: I’m not saying they’re equivalent.
QUESTION: — Palestinians is not actually constructed in a —
MR. KELLY: I’m not saying they’re equivalent. I’m just saying that we – they – we have to treat these
things as sensitive issues.
QUESTION: You said a little bit earlier that we understand the Israeli point of view on Jerusalem. Can you explain what you mean by that?
MR. KELLY: Well, you have to ask – I’m not going to stand up here and characterize the Israeli point
of view on —
QUESTION: No. I’m just asking you, if you understand the Israeli point of view on Jerusalem, why are
you saying that this is not a good thing?
MR. KELLY: I’m not saying we support the Israeli point of view. We understand it.
QUESTION: Right. And then, last one on this, you characterized this decision by the planning commission as dismaying.
MR. KELLY: Yes.
QUESTION: You can’t come up with anything stronger than ‘dismaying’? I mean, this flies in the face of everything you’ve been talking about for months and months and months.
MR. KELLY: It’s dismaying.
QUESTION: Yeah, you can’t offer a condemnation of it or anything like that? (Laughter.) I mean, who is in charge of the language here.
MR. KELLY: I have said what I have said, Mr. Lee.
QUESTION: Would you say, though, that your own envoy has – does he have any leverage at this point, given the fact that the Israelis not only refuse, but blatantly have ignored his wishes on this?
MR. KELLY: Well, let’s take a step back and let’s also recognize that both sides agree on the goal, and that goal is a comprehensive peace. That goal is two states living side by side in peace and security and cooperation. So that is why we continue to be committed to this. That is why Special Envoy Mitchell meets with both sides at every opportunity, and why we are continuing to expend such efforts on this. So let’s remember that, that we do share a common goal.
QUESTION: Well, where’s Senator Mitchell today?
MR. KELLY: I believe Senator Mitchell is on his way back today.
QUESTION: Could you give us just a brief synopsis of the progress that Senator Mitchell has made in
his months on the job?
MR. KELLY: Well, I think we have – we’ve gotten —
QUESTION: Yeah, maybe if the —
MR. KELLY: — both sides to agree on this goal. We have gotten both sides —
QUESTION: Ian, they agreed on the goal years ago. I mean, that’s not —
MR. KELLY: Well, I think that we – this government —
QUESTION: You mean you got the Israel Government to say, yes, we’re willing to accept a Palestinian
state? You got Netanyahu to say that, and that’s his big accomplishment?
MR. KELLY: That is an accomplishment.
QUESTION: But previous Israeli administration – previous Israeli governments had agreed to that already.
MR. KELLY: Okay, all right.
QUESTION: So in other words, the bottom line is that, in the list of accomplishments that Mitchell has
come up with or established since he started, is zero.
MR. KELLY: I wouldn’t say zero.
QUESTION: Well, then what would you say it is?
MR. KELLY: Well, I would say that we’ve gotten both sides to commit to this goal. They have – we have – we’ve had a intensive round or rounds of negotiations, the President brought the two leaders together in New York. Look —
QUESTION: But wait, hold on. You haven’t had any intense —
MR. KELLY: Obviously —
QUESTION: There haven’t been any negotiations.
MR. KELLY: Obviously, we’re not even in the red zone yet, okay.
QUESTION: Thank you.
MR. KELLY: I mean, we’re not – but it’s – we are less than a year into this Administration, and I think we’ve accomplished more over the last year than the previous administration did in eight years.
QUESTION: Well, I – really, because the previous administration actually had them sitting down talking
to each other. You guys can’t even get that far.
MR. KELLY: All right.
QUESTION: I’ll drop it.
MR. KELLY: Give us a chance. Thank you, Matt.
Yeah, in the back.
QUESTION: It seems Senator Mitchell is focusing in his meetings on the Israeli side. Is he – does he have any plans to talk with the Palestinians, or there is no need now for that?
MR. KELLY: Well, he, as I say, he had meetings yesterday with the Israelis. He’s coming back to the
U.S. now. He always stands ready to talk to both sides. There are no plans at this moment to meet with the Palestinian side”…
The Palestinian leadership can’t back down now, not after their flip-flop over the Goldstone report, and not after the elections proclamation and cancellation … though Sa’eb Erekat said that he never said this proposal to go to the UNSC would be made immediately.