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October 13, 2010: Where Are We Now?

February 14, 2011

With regard to the possibility of face-to-face talks, it’s all been a bit nonsensical. Because even if there were talks held, there would be no meeting of the minds.  But at this point the situation has generated to something akin to ludicrous. 
 
I wrote two days ago about the fact that Netanyahu offered to consider a limited extension of the freeze if the PA would recognize Israel as a Jewish state.  That was rejected out of hand, of course — something I believe Netanyahu anticipated would happen. He was out to expose the Palestinian Arab position and intransigence.
 
But, following this, Nabil Sha’ath made another demand on behalf of the PA: No temporary freezes any more, he said. “What is needed is a full cessation of settlement activities.  How can settlement continue on the lands that were supposed to be traded for peace?”  And, this freeze should include Jerusalem.  There will be no coming to the table unless Israel agrees on these points.
 
That’s when it became perfectly clear that the PA was opting out.  
 
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Today’s JPost carried a front page story — written by three journalists, including Khaled Abu Toameh — that cited a Fatah official who said the peace process based on a two state solution was over.  Mahmoud Aloul, a member of the Fatah Central Committee, said that, “The Palestinian Authority made every effort to avoid reaching this conclusion, but the Israeli racist policies led to the failure of the peace process.”
 
Opting out, indeed.  And missing no opportunity to sling mud at the same time. They, who have made it clear they wouldn’t want a single Jew in their state, call us “racist.”
 
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Now it has come down to the point of mockery.  Said PA senior official Yasser Abed Rabbo today, the PA might (“in accordance with international law,” whatever that means) consider recognizing Israel as the Jewish state, if Israel withdraws to the pre ’67 lines, which he, erroneously, calls borders: “We officially demand that the U.S. administration and the Israeli government provide a map of the borders of the state of Israel which they want us to recognize…If this map is based on the 1967 borders and provides for the end of the Israeli occupation over all Palestinian lands…”
 
He is not serious. Mark Regev, Netanyahu’s spokesman, referred to this as the “Palestinian Authority running away from the issue [of establishing borders through negotiations].”   
 
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The US is playing a nonsensical game of looking for a way out of this impasse.  (It reminds me of: “Children, now, now. Let’s work this out. Be nice.”) But it’s not a serious-minded impasse with both sides really wanting to sit down, yet stuck on some point that makes it difficult.  From the beginning Abbas wanted no part of this business and made that clear by putting up roadblocks.  (I will not address here what Netanyahu truly did or did not want, no matter what he said.)
 
I would say — although I must qualify this, as one can never be sure of anything in this part of the world — that the notion of Israel negotiating with the PA is likely finished for now. 
 
I feel relief, if this is so.  Because I have feared what we might have been squeezed into conceding at that table. It would be a dangerous business with statements made even tentatively coming back to haunt us.
 
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But there is no way to say that we’re home free.  As if we are ever “home free.”
 
In fact, I want to look at what seems to me the reason why Abbas and company stiffened their demands in just the last couple of days, making it clear that they weren’t interested in considering compromises to make it possible for them to come to the table.
 
I wrote in my last posting about the two visiting foreign ministers from France and Spain, Kouchner and Moratinos, respectively.  And how they were interested in “helping” in the “peace process.”  If you remember, Kouchner gave an interview to a PA paper, in which he said the “Security Council option” could not be ruled out.
 
Well, a third dignitary also showed up here yesterday: Finland’s president, Tarja Halonen. 
 
I know that Abbas met this week with Kouchner and Moratinos in Amman, and I believe Halonen was part of that meeting.  Her itinerary included stops in both Jordan and PA territory. But if she wasn’t at that meeting, then Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb certainly was.
 
In fact,The Jordan Times, in discussing this meeting between Europeans and PA officials reports that the representatives of the PA said they have six options as to how to proceed (six?), “including unilateral declaration of an independent Palestinian state without an agreement with Israel…”  Of the six, only this was specified.
 
And what do you think these European trouble mak… excuse me, I mean diplomats said to Abbas?  It is not likely that they encouraged him to lower his demands regarding the freeze and sit at the table and hammer things out.  What is most likely the case is that they stiffened his back, either jointly or one at a time, giving him a sense of increased strength about the possibility of going it alone, via a unilateral declaration. I believe he has been encouraged, even if only subtly, in his plans.  I believe he has heard how eager Europe is to see the formation of a Palestinian state, without delay.
 
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So, unless Obama pulls a rabbit out of a hat, and speedily, we’ll soon be able to stop thinking about the freeze and all the rest.  And breathe a sigh of relief on that score.
 
Nor need I offer any pretense with regard to my pleasure that what Obama tried to push artificially, for political purposes of his own, but with great disregard for our rights and security needs, will likely fail.  If even the prospect of direct talks disappears before the elections (something he has been trying mightily to forestall), he will be greatly chagrinned.
 
Of course, he has only himself to blame.  For excessively raising hopes, for setting unreasonable time tables, and for himself originally demanding that we freeze construction, making it difficult for Abbas to do less.
 
What I ponder — although it’s unlikely we’ll ever know — is what Obama thinks of European statements and behavior now.  And how angry he is at Abbas, though he’ll be loathe to admit any anger at all.
 
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But then, after we find we can breathe that sigh of relief, it will be time for the best diplomats and lawyers and international strategists that our nation has to apply themselves to what is likely to be coming down the road within the next ten months or so.  It is roughly in August of 2011 that PA Prime Minister Fayyad has said he would be ready to unilaterally declare a state.  Petitioning of the Security Council, if that is the way he would opt to go, would proceed next.  Or, alternately, seeking the backing of Europe and possibly the US.
 
This will be a time when American supporters of Israel will need to act to maximum effectiveness.
 
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Focus of my recent posts has been almost exclusively on this issue.  I will end here, and hope tomorrow to look at a number of other significant matters.
 
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