Yesterday, Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh hosted a meeting in Amman with Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat and various members of the Quartet: envoy Tony Blair and a representative of each of the members, the US, the UN, the EU and Russia. There was then a second meeting without the Quartet representatives.
There was no statement issued by the two sides after the 3-hour meeting, which was described as having a “positive” atmosphere. Judeh conceded that there had been no breakthrough, but said that the very fact that the two sides had met was significant.
The two sides did agree to meet again. At this meeting the Palestinian Arabs presented Israel with their proposal on border and security issues — which had been earlier submitted to the Quartet, and the Israelis said they would submit their proposal at a subsequent meeting. Perhaps there is the thought that it remains to be seen first how many “subsequent” meetings there truly are.
Judeh was cited in the JPost today by Khaled Abu Toameh and Herb Klein as saying that an agreement on borders would solve the entire settlement issue. Talk about “pie-in-the-sky” thinking!
Abbas has not sent Erekat into the meeting with instructions to be prepared to compromise and make concessions. Indeed, Abbas made it clear to reporters in Ramallah yesterday, once again, that we were not looking at renewed negotiations and there would be none until Israel froze all building beyond the Green Line and agreed to the “’67 lines” as the basis for a solution. And so these meetings are going to go nowhere quickly.
Why is the PLO participating? I believe there are two essential reasons.
Yesterday I wrote about the convergence of interests that Israel has with Jordan (in particular with regard to standing against radical elements in the area), and thus Israel’s desire to support Jordan’s efforts here.
But this is true as well of the Palestinian Arabs. The NYTimes today cited Dore Gold, head of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs: Abbas “has lost his Egyptian backing because of the fall of Hosni Mubarak, so is turning to Jordan.” It would be severely impolitic for Abbas to be uncooperative with regard to meeting.
But I see something else, as well. Abbas made a statement the other day regarding the fact that if Israel didn’t go along with his demands for re-starting the peace talks, he would have to take “hard measures.”
So here is Abbas, positioning himself. When he declines to proceed with further talks, and turns to those “hard measures,” he wants to be able to look Western leaders in the eye and say, “It wasn’t our fault. We came to the meetings, we submitted our plan, but the Israelis just weren’t cooperative.”
The next question to be asked, then, is what those carefully unspecified “hard measures” will be. As in the past, speculation arises as to whether Abbas is planning on resigning or dissolving the PA; but I give these thoughts no credence. There is the “diplomatic” card, i.e., appeals to the UN and the international courts, etc. And there is the “violence” card. The diplomatic efforts are likely to come first, but “resistance” should not be ruled out. Ever.
Just about a week ago, reports began to surface regarding the fact that Abbas — without first informing US Lt. Gen. Michael R. Moeller, the American security coordinator between Israel and the PA or Israel’s military coordinator with the PA, Maj. Gen. Eitan Dangot — fired top security officer Maj. Gen. Diab el-Ali and replaced him with Palestinian military intelligence chief, Maj. Gen. Nidal Dokhan.
What we’re looking at here is control of what is still known informally as “Dayton’s forces” — the PA security troops that were and still are being equipped and trained by Americans. Previously this was under the supervision of Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, who was deeply involved in promoting the program and ultimately was succeeded by a more low-key Moeller.
Broadly, the reports I’ve seen have interpreted what Abbas has done as the first step towards restructuring the forces so that they would begin that “third intifada” of “resistance.”
That these PA forces may ultimately turn on Israel would come as no surprise to yours truly. I have written a couple of reports that assessed the possibility that this might happen. Should it happen, we will be able to thank those Americans who advanced this “splendid” plan to strengthen the PA on the way to statehood. (This was going to help the PA fight terrorism.) They advanced it in spite of a history of PA forces turning on Israel, and without guarantees that Hamas would not some day participate in controlling those forces. See:
I consulted today with an Israeli analyst who is Arabic-speaking and has PA connections. This is what he told me:
(As my readers are likely aware) Hamas, in negotiating “reconciliation” with Fatah, had demanded that Salam Fayyad, currently PA prime minister, no longer be in the picture. Abbas agreed to this, but the Americans would not permit Abbas to dispense with Fayyad. Fayyad truly is the darling of the West, the one who is most trusted and considered most moderate (never mind if this assessment is true). And so, since Abbas could not get rid of Fayyad, he is weakening him by getting rid of those loyal to Fayyad, and thus the security force restructuring that is starting to take place.
This source says the restructuring is not being done by Abbas with the specific goal of turning on Israel. However, if his logic is followed, what we are seeing is Abbas attempting to acquiesce to a key Hamas demand. In the end it may lead to the same thing.
It is worth noting, if we are going to consider Abbas’s motivations, that he has just appointed Gen. Mahmoud Damara as a presidential advisor to serve in his Ramallah offices. Damara, who was traded as part of the Shalit deal, was serving 15 years in Israeli prison because of his involvement in terrorist acts that resulted in the deaths of several Israelis. He had been one of the leaders of Fatah’s Force 17 special operations terror unit, which was subsequently absorbed into the PA’s national security forces.
I express a word of relief here, that Ron Paul — a man with deeply troubling positions — came in only third in the Iowa Caucus.
What matters most is that a strong and highly credible Republican candidate emerge shortly, and that all parties support this candidate in defeating Obama.
I have envisioned Gingrich as having a solid chance to beat Obama both because he is very sharp — understands the issues with clear-eyed depth, and because he is a slugger — and this quality would stand him in good stead. Gingrich, who came in third, says he will remain in the campaign.
If it’s not Gingrich, however, but rather either Mitt Romney, who came in first, or Rick Santorum, who trailed Romney by only eight votes, I will be promoting the candidate comfortably and with sincerity.
Many are already predicting Romney as the winner of the race to become the Republican contender, and should he win in New Hampshire next week, this would come closer to being the case. John McCain has already declared intention to back him in New Hampshire. Romney has proven himself steady, and projects a “presidential” demeanor. He has broad backing and his business experience should equip him to mount a strong challenge to Obama in an election that will focus on economic issues.
I have not mentioned Santorum here before, but his surprising near-win has catapulted him into the serious running. I know of solid positions he espoused when a PA Senator; in recent days he has supported the right of Israel to do a pre-emptive strike on Iran, and has referred to the West Bank as “Israeli land.”
© Arlene Kushner. This material is produced by Arlene Kushner, functioning as an independent journalist. Permission is granted for it to be reproduced only with proper attribution.