Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is under “intense” pressure by the international community to return to negotiations, with every European leader he meets telling him he must renew talks, a senior European diplomat told The Jerusalem Post
The diplomat acknowledged, however, that this pressure does not go beyond trying to persuade the Palestinian leader to return to the negotiation table, with European leaders arguing that at the moment it is the Palestinians who are being perceived as the ones refusing the opportunity to negotiate over the future.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu is expected to urge the Europeans to keep trying to push the Palestinians to return to talks when he meets on Tuesday with ambassadors from the EU countries in Israel.
Even though the EU as an organization gave the PA some €500 million in 2009, with another €500m. being contributed by individual European states on a bilateral basis, this was not a lever being used to force the PA to talks, the senior European official said.
“As long as there is hope that [a Palestinian] state will be formed, we are happy to do so [contribute], and we know that once it is established we will give more for security and to develop the economy. But now in Europe – in parliament and among taxpayers – people are asking how long we will do this,” he said.
The official said that for this reason once negotiations begin, there must be a “time horizon.”
“We can’t continue to pay for the creation of a state, when the state is not coming,” he said.
Amid media reports that Abbas has agreed to the American suggestion of low-level proximity talks, the European official – as well as officials in the Prime Minister’s Office – said no formal word has yet been received from Abbas signaling acceptance of the idea.
Abbas is currently visiting European and Arab capitals sounding them out about the idea of proximity talks, where the US would mediate indirect talks between the sides and an envoy would shuttle between Israel and Palestinian negotiating teams. According to senior Israeli sources, Abbas is unlikely to announce a return to negotiations until after he gets green light from the Arab world, something that might not happen until after a meeting of the Arab League in Libya in late March.
The Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and the UN – is expected to hold a high level meeting toward the end of February in Moscow to assess the current diplomatic situation.
According to the European official, Abbas still seems to be maintaining that negotiations at this stage would not lead to anything, and would only undermine his position among his own constituency. The official said it was difficult now for Abbas to convince his people that going to negotiations would be any different than in the past, and that just as nothing came out of the Oslo process, Camp David, Annapolis or talks with former prime minister Ehud Olmert, so too new negotiations would not likely lead anywhere.
“What they fear,” the official said of the PA leadership, “is that they will go into negotiations and everything will be opened yet again. They want to know where the starting point is, and their starting point is what they think was agreed in the past: that a Palestinian state will be established on territory along the 1967 lines, that Jerusalem will be a shared capital, and that there will be an agreed – not unilaterally imposed – solution to the refugee issue.”
Once those principles were agreed upon, he said, the Palestinians would
be willing to enter talks and discuss where borders would run, which
settlements would be removed and which would stay, and the terms of a
European and Israeli diplomatic officials have said in recent days that
the proximity talks are designed to answer questions such as the
“starting point” for negotiations.