Do the Americans know how to do peace talks? Can they get a final status agreement within nine months?

Well, they have tried it before — the Annapolis process, Wye River, Camp David July 2000 and let’s not forget former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker announcing “here’s my phone number, call me when you’re ready”…]

Kerry's Iftar - full table - US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Kerry’s Iftar – full table – US State Dept on Monday 29 July 2013

Above photo Tweeted by @michelghandour + posted here

Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators
Secretary Kerry Iftar dinner for Israeli + Palestinian Negotiators

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Israerli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner
Israeli + Palestinian negotiators at Secretary Kerry Iftar Dinner

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

So, as Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni said at a joint press conference in Washington on Tuesday evening [with an emotion-laden voice, before apparently impulsively kissing U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on both cheeks],  there’s now a second chance:

“A new opportunity is being created for us, for all of us, and we cannot afford to waste it…”

Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday
Saeb Erekat + John Kerry + Tzipi Livni after press conference Tuesday

Photo taken + Tweeted by AP Photographer Charles Dharapak + posted here

Kerry said, at the beginning of the press conference on Tuesday, that:

“As all of you know, it has taken an awful lot of work and a long time, a lot of time, to reach this new moment of possibility in the pursuit of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict”.

He said one striking thing at the end of his prepared remarks:

“I think everyone involved here believes that we cannot pass along to another generation the responsibility of ending a conflict that is in our power to resolve in our time. They should not be expected to bear that burden, and we should not leave it to them. They should not be expected to bear the pain of continued conflict or perpetual war”.

And in between, he said:

“The United States will work continuously with both parties as a facilitator every step of the way. We all understand the goal that we’re working towards: two states living side by side in peace and security. Two states because two proud peoples each deserve a country to call their own. Two states because the children of both peoples deserve the opportunity to realize their legitimate aspirations in security and in freedom. And two states because the time has come for a lasting peace.

We all appreciate – believe me – we appreciate the challenges ahead. But even as we look down the difficult road that is before us and consider the complicated choices that we face, we cannot lose sight of something that is often forgotten in the Middle East, and that is what awaits everybody with success. We need to actually change the way we think about compromise in order to get to success. Compromise doesn’t only mean giving up something or giving something away; reasonable principled compromise in the name of peace means that everybody stands to gain. Each side has a stake in the other’s success, and everyone can benefit from the dividends of peace.

We simply wouldn’t be standing here if the leaders – President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu – and their designated negotiators and all of us together didn’t believe that we could get there”…

A few weeks ago, just after Kerry’s flying visit to Ramallah on 19 July, Rami G. Khouri wrote here: “I have not given up hope that a negotiated peace can one day be achieved, but I pretty much have given up hope that it can be attained through renewed negotiations mediated these days by the United States … It is impossible to expect both sides under their current leaderships to make major substantive concessions on core issues simply in order to get to the negotiating table, where they will not be able to agree on a final accord that addresses the big sticker items of land, settlements refugees, and Jerusalem. The strategy now being used seeks to formulate vague agreements simply to resume negotiations will not work because the imprecision of positions on settlements, borders or mutual recognition necessary to restart the talks only cements the inability of both sides to achieve a permanent, comprehensive agreement”.

So what happened in the last ten days? One thing, apparently, was the U.S. issuance of still-unpublished “letter[s] of assurance”, in which the American administration took a stand in favor of concrete positions [such as, the negotiations will be based on pre-4-June 1967 borders, which changed things for the Palestinians…]

US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators
US President Obama + VP Biden meet Palestinian + Israeli negotiators

This photo was Tweeted by the US State Department and is posted here.

Now, Khouri wrote, in a piece entitled “What Do We Learn from 45 Years of Negotiations?”, syndicated by Agence Global and posted here, that he was disappointed in Kerry’s call, Monday [and Tuesday] for a “reasonable compromise” — Khouri said Kerry “sounded more like a high school guidance counselor speaking to teenagers who had an argument”.

Continue reading “Do the Americans know how to do peace talks? Can they get a final status agreement within nine months?”

Qaddura Fares: many things are not clear about the pending prisoner release

A slightly different version of this story appeared earlier today on +972 Magazine, here.

****************************

“No, I am not satisfied”, said Qaddoura Fares, crisply, commenting on the Israeli Cabinet vote Sunday — after hours of debate and delay for persuasion of the unconvinced —  to release 104 Palestinian prisoners.

Qaddura Fares photo from Ramallah press conference posted on Israel Radio website - interviewed 28 July 2013
Qaddura Fares photo from Ramallah press conference posted on Israel Radio website - interviewed 28 July 2013

That vote led immediately to a formal invitation from the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to both Israeli and Palestinian negotiations to come to dinner in Washington the very next day, for 1st direct meetings [since January 2012].  The State Dept officially announced resumption of “direct final-status negotiations”, and on Monday Pres Obama welcomed the arrival of Israeli + Palestinian representatives to “formally resume direct final status negotiations”,

Qaddoura, a Fatah leader [who, years ago, was a member of what was then-known as “Young Fatah”] spent many years of his youth in Israeli jails, and is now head of the Palestinian Prisoners’ Club in Ramallah, which works to help Palestinians being tried in Israeli courts — most often, military — and held in Israeli jails.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had given Kerry a list of the 104 longest-held Palestinian prisoners, and Kerry sent that Palestinian list to Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu.  Kerry reportedly pressed for their release, and pinched hard when Netanyahu tried to strike off Palestinians who are either Israeli citizens or Permanent Residents of East Jerusalem.  Over the weekend, Netanyahu relented but said he would put the matter to a Cabinet vote on Sunday.

Netanyahu said in a statement published on Facebook on Saturday that “heads of state are at times required to make decisions that go against public opinion when matter of national import is at stake”.

But Netanyahu didn’t want to shoulder this responsibility alone, and said he would submit the matter to a vote in the regular meeting of his Cabinet on Sunday.

He also said the release would happen during the negotiations, not before — and he said it would stop if the Palestinians did not behave well.

Then, Netanyahu started making phone calls to try and get  support for the cabinet vote on the prisoner release…

Israeli government officials said that if Mahmoud Abbas could ask for the release of Palestinians with full Israeli citizenship,  this would imply that the PLO, and not Israel, is responsible for these men.

So, did the Israeli Cabinet on Sunday make the decision that the Palestinians awaited, and the Americans pressed for?  It’s not entirely clear.

Continue reading “Qaddura Fares: many things are not clear about the pending prisoner release”

Despite opposition, a Palestinian delegation will go to Washington on Monday to start talks after Israel's Cabinet approves release of 104 Pre-Oslo Prisoners

After hours of deliberation, Israel’s Cabinet voted on Monday to authorize the release of 104 of the longest-held Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails.

There was a delay of one and half hours before the start of the cabinet meeting, as Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu moved to shore up his own Likud party and make sure he had enough votes to pass the motion.’

Citizens were protesting outside Netanyahu’s office. A mountain of meanness was being expressed about the prisoner release, and the word “terror” was getting quite a workout.

Dani Dayan, for example, Tweeted this:
@dandayan — Releasing terrorists for peace, is like trying to put out a fire with gasoline, it is dangerous, immoral and irresponsible.
@dandayan — Who did John Kerry set free? My piece at @TimesofIsrael . Releasing terrorists is obscene. http://dlvr.it/3jx4VK
@dandayan — a) I see no reason for any payment for the right to negotiate. b) Release of terrorists is morally flawed

@Marianhouk — Where is the leader who’ll tell his people that both sides have suffered? MT @DanWilliams Netanyahu: “Don’t lecture me abt fighting terror”.

According to Haaretz correspondent @BarakRavid on Twitter, Netanyahu reportedly told Likud ministers that “every Palestinian provocation will result in halting of the prisoner release process”, and also that “every decision to release Arab-Israeli prisoners will be brought back for a vote in the cabinet”…

UPDATE: Barak Ravid later wrote in Haaretz here that this latter proposal was based on a suggestion from Minister Silvan Shalom: “During the debate, Shalom proposed a compromise that eased the way for many Likud ministers to not vote against. Under the proposal, which was adopted by Netanyahu, any decision to release Israeli Arabs would require a new vote by the full cabinet. Based on the tentative schedule of prisoner releases, such a discussion is likely to take place, if at all, only in another nine months”.

Haaretz writer @AnshelPfeffer Tweeted slightly earlier that:
No PM in #Israel ever lost vote on releasing prisoners. #Netanyahu trying to “convince” ministers meant to show how “hard” the decision is

But, this leads to questions:
@Marianhouk — So it can be stopped if there are problems in talks? MT @rcolebourn – #Israel PM: prisoner releases will only happen after talks start + in a staged way…

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Abbas called his Government ministers to the Muqata’a for a [rare] meeting at 2 pm.

And, a protest demonstration was called by the PFLP in Ramallah at noon.
@DaliaHatuqa reported that according to @Addameer:  A Ramallah demo against negotiations was broken up by PA police who beat protesters, including PLC member Khalida Jarrar

@RZabaneh Tweeted an amazing video of the clashes duringt the #PFLP protest against the resumption of negotiations. http://youtu.be/yF-IfN7Uw1Q

@LinahAlsaafin wrote that Demo against negotiations broken up by Palestinian Authority. PA is now arresting injured demonstrators from Ramallah Hospital v @Addameer

During the wait for the Israeli Cabinet vote, @DaliaHatuqa Tweeted that The Palestinian Prisoners’ Society published the list of names of detainees expected to be released = http://bit.ly/1c2lp3g

And, a PLO official told Haaretz that “The release of all the prisoners was an agreement between the U.S. + Israel, not between Israel + the Palestinians…Based on this agreement, the Americans received our consent to renew talks”…

Continue reading “Despite opposition, a Palestinian delegation will go to Washington on Monday to start talks after Israel's Cabinet approves release of 104 Pre-Oslo Prisoners”

Salam Fayyad, still in office, saying that he wouldn't be quitting, if he thought Kerry's efforts had a chance

The former New York Times correspondent in Jerusalem Ethan Bronner, back for a visit [and presumably a friend of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad] reported today here that Fayyad “says Palestinian leaders must acknowledge their failure to deliver on their promises and call new elections. That is not happening. He tells friends that if he believed Mr. Kerry’s efforts had any chance of yielding results, he would not be quitting“…

Kerry eats a shawarma sandwich in Ramallah today

Here is the photo just Tweeted by the U.S. State Department —

@StateDept — (Photo) #SecKerry stopped by a shawarma shop for lunch in #Ramallah today.  http://flic.kr/p/eoY9a4

This is Samer Restaurant on Nablus Street in Ramallah, not very far from the Muqata’a — and that is Samer himself, opposite Kerry.

US State Dept photo of John Kerry enjoying a shawarma sandwich in Ramallah today
This photo is posted on the US State Department’s Ramallah May 23, 2013 Flickr set, here.

The food here is simple, but healthy [shawarma, bits of grilled meat pressed together with a lot of garlic, is very like Greek souvlaki… We now know from the Passport Blog investigation here that it was turkey (chicken) shawarma that Kerry had.]

Full disclosure: I bought a grilled chicken last night from Samer!

But, Kerry’s adventure in a small block of Ramallah not far from the center was breath-taking, when you see the security measures that the Palestinian President takes in town [much less the U.S. Consulate’s normal precautions]…

And, as one Palestinian official in Ramallah told me a few hours later, it was “very smart!”

He treated a few Palestinian small businessmen as if they were…well, normal people, people that anyone could have a  pleasant interaction with on a sunny spring afternoon, not people who are scary or who should be locked up behind checkpoints.

It’s amazing that the security detail allowed this highly unusual mingling with the people — while a small anti-Kerry demonstration took place a few streets away…

There was a comment on this exact point on Twitter:
Palestine Video ?@PalestineVideoPA news tried to cover protests against Kerry’s visit with news of a Shawerma stunt http://youtu.be/USt9xKAAImE  #Palestine #Video #Palestinian

The State Department photo appears in their Ramallah May 23, 2013 set on Flickr here.

It seems there were a lot of photographers snapping  pictures of this photo-op — here’s another view via @MarquardtA on Twitter:

Kerry eating a shawarma sandwich at Samer Restaurant in Ramallah
Kerry eating a shawarma sandwich at Samer Restaurant in Ramallah

 

Kerry converses with Samer of Samer Restaurant, Ramallah
Kerry converses with Samer of Samer Restaurant, Ramallah

In his meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem earlier today, Kerry said:
“Let me just say to everybody I know this region well enough to know that there is skepticism. In some corridors, there’s cynicism. And there are reasons for it. There have been bitter years of disappointment. It is our hope that by being methodical, careful, patient – but detailed and tenacious – that we can lay out a path ahead that could conceivably surprise people, but certainly exhaust the possibilities of peace. That’s what we’re working towards…”

Well, this is a surprise.

UPDATE: A Ramallah taxi driver told me he noticed the whole street was closed with lots of security + presidential guards, so he quickly turned to an alternative route. The whole visit lasted mayhbe 15-20 minutes, he said.

Kerry also visited the bicycle-and-other-things shop across the street from Samer Restaurant – photo from the US Consul General in Jerusalem, here:

Kerry talks with people in the bicycle-and-other-things shop near Samer Restaurant
Kerry talks with people in the bicycle-and-other-things shop near Samer Restaurant

UPDATE: Ma’an News Agency later reported here that “Kerry’s tour [n.b. – he also visited Samer Sweet Shop across the street] followed a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas in the latter’s office in Ramallah.  Several officials attended the talks including PLO secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo, Executive Committee member Saeb Erekat, Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rdeina and a presidential adviereser on economic affairs. Abbas told Kerry the Palestinians were serious about resuming peace negotiations to save the two-state solution. The president also addressed ongoing settlement expansion and settler assaults against the Palestinian people in the West Bank”.

The Israeli apology to Turkey – two [mirror-image + nearly-identical] texts

In fact, this was clearly all worked out well in advance — the long-awaited but still not expected apology, by Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to the Turkish people via his counterpart, Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, for the deaths of nine Turkish men.

The brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama [and, according to the Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglo, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry was instrumental in the process, which Davutoglu said was “interesting”…]

The Turkish Government has apparently produced two [mirror-image and nearly-identical] texts, in English and in Turkish, here, which are also reproduced below:
Continue reading “The Israeli apology to Turkey – two [mirror-image + nearly-identical] texts”