The Manoeuvering Continues

Last week Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had an extended meeting with US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton where they are believed to have reached certain understandings about the future of the peace process.

These include:

* Israel freezing all new building in the West Bank, but not East Jerusalem, for another 90 days. The US will pledge that they will not call for a further freeze after the 90 days.

* The US encouraging the Palestinians back into direct negotiations with the Israelis.

* Once the talks have resumed, Israel must immediately begin discussions on the future borders with the Palestinian State as well as other core issues.

* The US will “use its veto in the UN Security Council against unilateral efforts for Palestinian statehood and other proposals aimed at delegitimizing Israel or preventing it from exercising its right to self-defence. The US would also oppose such efforts in other UN and international forums”.

* The US would also give Israel 20 F-35 joint strike fighter jets worth $3 billion (see more).

While a senior US administration official has said that they are still “nailing down the specifics (see more)” it is likely that we will hear more about this in the next few days. 

PM Netanyahu has also indicated that such a deal would get Cabinet approval declaring, “If I were to receive a proposal that advances peace and also preserves Israel’s interests, primarily security, I will bring it before the cabinet and I have no doubt the other ministers will approve” (see more). 

The moratorium would also retroactive to 26 September 2010, when the previous freeze expired (not included in the 90 days). 

For those that do not recall, in late November of 2009, PM Netanyahu “authorised a policy of restraint regarding settlements which will include a suspension of new permits and new construction in Judea and Samaria for a period of ten months” (see more). When that expired in September, 2010, construction promptly resumed and Israel was accused of once again derailing the fragile peace process. This was despite the fact that the policy had been operational for about nine months before the Palestinians could be persuaded to enter into direct peace talks.

Moving forward, one can only hope that the freeze will bring (and not force) both parties to the negotiating table.

Past form has showed us that this may not be the case. While the Palestinian leadership has repeatedly asserted that the settlements are not just an obstacle but the biggest obstacle to peace, the last freeze lasted for ten months and the two sides attempted to return to the negotiating table just three weeks before the freeze expired.

What was everyone doing for the first nine months? 

In the meantime, Abbas is said to be disappointed with the reported US proposal but has stopped short of criticizing it until they have seen something more concrete on paper (see more). The Palestinian leadership is also searching for a commitment from the US which would include settling the borders of the future Palestinian State and solving the refugee problem (see more). 

Meanwhile, an article written by a senior Arab journalist, Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, in a London paper has declared that Abbas’s insistence on a settlement freeze has handed the Israelis the deal that they wanted on a silver platter. 

He declared, “in exchange for 90 days of construction freeze the Palestinian president gave Israel 20 fighter jets, $20 billion… Had it not been for the freeze terms, the Israelis might not have won all this. The Palestinian side fell victim to the illusion that halting settlement building is beneficial” (see more). Al-Rashed and I may disagree on many things, but I can agree that Abbas’ continual insistence has not helped his people’s cause or the prospects for the establishment of a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel.

As Mark Regev stated last year, “it’s like we have to accept the outcome of negotiations before negotiations start”. 

One must ask what is PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas afraid of? 

On the one hand, the West Bank seems to have come so far in terms of security building measures, in terms of infrastructure and in terms of developing institutions and building up the economy. These advances can only be strengthened by a comprehensive peace deal with Israel.

However, on the other hand, incitement to violence in still prevalent in weekend sermons in Mosques, on a daily basis in PA-controlled television and in the printed media. The constant glorifying of terrorists and of naming town-squares after murderers continues unabated in the West Bank, and Abbas frequently appears in front of plaques and pictures that show the map of Palestine being the entire State of Israel (see more).

In this regard Abbas is failing to live up to PA agreements and obligations to curb such incitement as a prerequisite to establishing a framework. Does he want peace or is he holding out for a better deal? 

Is he afraid to make a deal on the final borders of the Palestinian State or does he have a vision of the final borders that spread much further? Only time will tell. 

When we are talking about the future Palestinian State, we must remember that the issue of Gaza will also need to be dealt with. Gaza, where not a single Jew resides except for Gilad Shalit, who is being held there against his will by Hamas. Gaza, where not a single settlement has existed since the unilateral withdrawal in 2005. Gaza, where rockets continue to be smuggled in through illegal tunnels only to be fired at the Southern communities in Israel.

So it should come as no shock to any of us that Ahmed Yussuf, the Deputy Foreign Minister in the Hamas administrator called on Iranian President Mahmoud Admadinejad to visit the Gaza Strip and that the visit would be “of the highest importance”. 

The move has apparently been heavily criticised by the Egyptian media, who see Iran’s influence on Hamas as a threat to Egypt’s national security (see more). If Ahmedinejad were to accept the offer, and the Egyptians did not allow him to enter via the Rafah Crossing, then I would like to see Ahmedinejad attempt to enter Gaza by sea. 

What a wonderful photo opportunity it would be to see the man himself, perhaps stepping into the port of Ashdod!

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