Ross, Hale arrive for final push to start talks

Netanyahu again says he’ll go anywhere to meet Abbas; Palestinian leader ‘met with Barak two weeks ago,’ says PA, Israel security cooperation continues.

By
September 6, 2011 00:34
PA President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations

Abbas 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)

Top US Middle East negotiators Dennis Ross and David Hale are due in Israel on Tuesday for a final push at trying to come up with a formula that would launch Israeli- Palestinian talks and keep the PA from taking its statehood recognition bid to the UN in two weeks time.

The visit is coming a day after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a group of Israelis that the PA was intent on going to the UN so the Palestinians could enjoy “freedom and independence.”

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At about the same time, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu met with visiting Belgian Prime Minister Yves Leterme and said “the only peace that will be achieved will be a peace through direct negotiations. Peace cannot be imposed from the outside and it will only come from direct negotiations between the parties, direct negotiations without preconditions.”

Netanyahu reiterated he was prepared to begin those negotiations immediately, and said the Palestinians have “done pretty much everything in their power to avoid such direct negotiations, and I think this is a mistake, because I think they need peace as much as we need it.”

Warning that going to the UN might set back peace for years, Netanyahu said he would go anywhere and meet Abbas.

Abbas, meanwhile, told the Israeli delegation he has had several meetings recently with President Shimon Peres and Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meeting Barak on August 24 in Amman.

Though Abbas did not elaborate on the discussions, and Barak’s spokesman would not comment on it, Channel 2 reported Barak urged the PA president to drop the UN bid, saying the Palestinians had a lot to lose by violence in September, and it was possible to move forward in negotiations without preconditions.

Abbas said he had no reason to believe Netanyahu and asked for guarantees, which Barak did not provide. Barak also reportedly urged him to refrain from “provocations” that will lead to violence, with Abbas saying the Palestinians did not intend to carry out any provocation.

Abbas was also quoted as telling the Israeli group that as long as he was in power, he would see to it that security coordination between Israel and the PA would continue. He also said Hamas was part of the Palestinian people, and he would pursue efforts to achieve unity among the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, US officials Ross and Hale are expected to try to stop the Palestinians from going to the UN by pushing forward a deal whereby Israel would agree to entering negotiations using the pre-1967 lines, with mutually agreed upon swaps, as the baseline of talks; and the Palestinians would agree that the final goal of negotiations would be two states, a Palestinian one and a Jewish one.

The idea behind this formula was for each side to get something: The Palestinians would get the pre-1967 lines as the baseline, something they have long sought; and Israel would get Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Israeli officials have noted that Jerusalem, while not endorsing the pre- 1967 lines, would agree to language that would say Israel recognized this was the position of the international community.

The Palestinians have so far opposed the insertion of this type of language inside the formula, saying they would return to talks only if Israel agreed to enter them with the pre-1967 lines as the baseline, and after freezing all construction in the settlements.

“We are willing to bite the bullet on language on borders, if they can bite the bullet on issues important to us,” one Israeli official said, skeptical, however, that the most recent efforts will bear fruit.

“Our estimation is that the chances to try to get them to come down from the tree are low,” he said. “But the international community is working to keep the ladder up there.”

Meanwhile, writer Sefi Rachlevsky, who was among the group that met with Abbas, told The Jerusalem Post that he and his colleagues went to Ramallah to express their full support for the PA’s plan to ask the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines later this month.

“We warmly support the declaration of a Palestinian state,” Rachlevsky said. “This is the realization of the Zionist dream when a people declare their independence.”

Among the other members of the group who met Abbas were Holocaust historian Yehuda Bauer, former Labor MK Yael Dan, author Yoram Kaniuk and Alon Liel, former director-general of the Foreign Ministry.

Rachlevsky said the group was deeply impressed by the “extremely moderate” views expressed by Abbas during the meeting.

Rachlevsky said the group called on the international community and US President Barack Obama to support the statehood bid. He also voiced support for the idea of land swaps between Israel and the future Palestinian state.

According to Rachlevsky, the West Bank and the Western Wall are under occupation and should be placed under Palestinian control.

“When there’s a Palestinian state, Israel can always demand that certain parts of the West Bank and the Western Wall be placed under Israeli control,” he said.

Another member of the group quoted Abbas as saying that when a Palestinian state was established, peace would prevail in the region.

“He explained to us why the Palestinians were going to the UN later this month,” he said. “Abbas denied the statehood plan was intended to delegitimize Israel. He said the goal was to legitimize the Palestinian issue.”

Abbas told the group the Palestinian state would be democratic and free “with equality between men and women.”


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