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PM would accept pre-’67 lines as baseline for talks
By HERB KEINON, HILARY LEILA KRIEGER IN WASHINGTON
03/08/2011
Israel to negotiate using 1967 lines, with mutually agreed swaps, if Palestinians accept two states, one Palestinian and one Jewish.
 
With the Palestinians set to seek recognition of statehood at the UN in just a number of weeks, Israel said Tuesday it would be willing to accept the 1967 lines as a framework for talks as part of a package in which the Palestinians would recognize Jewish state.

Israeli officials said this framework would be a package deal whereby Israel would agree to entering negotiations using the 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 Jewish one.

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Israel raised the formula as officials from both parties, the US, EU and Russia are continuing to work on a document to provide a framework for a return to negotiations that could make a Palestinian bid at the UN superfluous.

According to this formulation, one official explained, each side would get something: The Palestinians would get the 1967 lines as the baseline, something they have long sought; and Israel would get Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Israel, according to the official, has made clear that it would agree to language in the framework that would reflect the ideas of US President Barak Obama’s two speeches on the Middle East in May in which he first used the 1967 lines, with swaps, as a baseline for a return to talks.

Jerusalem, while not endorsing the 1967 lines, would agree to language that would say that Israel recognizes that this is the position of the international community. The willingness to show this degree of flexibility, the official said, would be contingent on the Palestinians demonstrating flexibility of their own and endorsing language nodding at recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

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.

An additional issue is whether the Obama speech that would serve as the basis of the talks would be his speech at the State Department, with language that is more pleasing to the Palestinians; or his speech days later at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which had additional nuances sought by Israel.

From the American perspective, both speeches needed to be considered as inextricably linked.

“President Obama has outlined principles and goals for these negotiations in his historic remarks. We are working with the parties and the Quartet to encourage direct negotiations on that basis,” said a State Department spokesman, specifying he was referring to both speeches.

“Both those remarks – you can’t take one and not the other. They’re both the same message and the same thing,” he said. “The idea that those remarks go together is important.”

The Europeans, however, are understood to be pushing for language that would be closer to the State Department speech, as they want to be more assured of Palestinian support for any statement they would back.

Tony Blair, envoy to the Quartet of the US, EU, UN and Russia, is handling coordination in an attempt to find a workable text. The major sticking points are seen as the size of the swaps envisioned, the issue of Israel as a Jewish state and how strong the language would be on rejecting a Hamas role in a Palestinian national unity government.

A package framework was brought to the Quartet at a meeting in Washington in mid-July, but the Quartet itself could not agree on it, with Russia reportedly balking at the need to include the Jewish state element into the deal.

“In the wake of the Quartet meeting last month, there were still gaps between the parties about whether there was a common basis to resume negotiations,” noted David Makovsy of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. “I think the gaps have been narrowed, but they haven’t been closed. If past performance is an indication, odds are the Europeans are going to seek Palestinian support before agreeing to close those gaps.”

Makovsky continued: “This is a key moment because having terms of reference for peace talks may be the best way to avert a confrontation in September, and this seems to have motivated Israel at least in part to search for a common formula.”

He characterized the Israelis as having come “a considerable distance” on moving towards the principles outlined by Obama as a basis for talks.

Makovsky also pointed out that this episode was the first in which the Quartet had inserted itself into negotiations, which he described as “a reflection that the Europeans are considered pivotal voters at the UN in September.”

Government officials said that since the July Quartet meeting there have also been signals that the Palestinians themselves were looking for ways to come off the UN statehood recognition tree, with PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and other senior Fatah members saying as much recently.

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Two weeks ago, Nabil Amr, a member of the PLO Central Council and a former PA minister, said the PA leadership had climbed a very high tree with its UN gambit.

“The leadership does not have any guarantees that it would be able to climb down safely from the tree,” he said, calling on the PA to delay the statehood declaration by another year.

Though Netanyahu told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee on Monday that he believed Abbas had made a strategic decision to go to the UN on the statehood issue no matter what, there is a feeling in Jerusalem that others in the Palestinian hierarchy are not as set on this path.
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