High-level talks continue to avert ‘train wreck’ at UN

Ashton extends stay in region for more meetings; Netanyahu confers with Ross, Hale; Abbas tells Tantawi it’s "too late to backtrack."

By
September 15, 2011 01:07
Catherine Ashton and PM Binyamin Netanyahu

Catherine Ashton and PM Netanyahu 311 (R). (photo credit: Avi Ohayon/GPO)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu held late-night meetings Wednesday with US envoys Dennis Ross and David Hale, and a scheduled second one of the day with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, in an effort to head off what one diplomatic official termed a “diplomatic train wreck” at the UN.

The focus of last-minute diplomatic fury, according to the official, was to prevent a “one-sided anti-Israeli resolution from being adopted by the UN.”

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None of the parties involved in the talks are being specific about what is being discussed, and it is not even clear whether the goal is to prevent the PA from going to the UN and asking for any type of statehood recognition, or whether the aim is to convince the Palestinians to bring to the UN a resolution that Israel could live with and that would form the basis for future negotiations.

Ashton, who on Tuesday met in Cairo with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, met Wednesday morning with Netanyahu, and then separately afterward with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

Following those meetings she said that Israel asked her to extend her stay, and hold another meeting in the evening.

Diplomatic officials said Ashton presented a formula made up of three parts. The first part is that the Palestinian status at the UN would be upgraded from observer status to a nonmember UN state, similar to the status enjoyed by the Vatican.

The second would be a new Quartet statement that would form the basis of negotiations.

And the third element would be some kind of UN declaration that the Palestinian statehood issue would be dealt with in the future.

According to the officials, these elements could either be separated and be part of other formulas currently being discussed, or be kept together as some type of package deal.

Washington, meanwhile, is working hard to prevent the issue from coming to the UN Security Council, not wanting to be forced to use its veto, which US President Barack Obama has said the US would do.

If the last-minute efforts do not succeed, and the Palestinians do go to the UN seeking statehood recognition, the ramifications of the move would be “grave and difficult,” Lieberman said at a conference in the Negev on Wednesday.

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He said that he hoped that “reason” would prevail and prevent the “grave and difficult ramifications.”

Lieberman, reflecting Israel’s policy of not revealing how it will respond to the Palestinian move, said this is not the time to give details of what Israel would do or to issue threats.

Nevertheless, he came out last month in favor of scrapping the Oslo accords if the PA went through with the move, and ending all cooperation with the PA.

Other ideas range from economic sanctions to annexing the large settlement blocs. The decision how to respond is expected to be determined both by what the Palestinians do at the UN, and the response on the ground in the territories and along Israel’s borders.

The PA, meanwhile, remained defiant on Wednesday in the face of mounting US and, to a different degree, EU pressure.

The PA said that it would be prepared to discuss American and European proposals for reviving the peace process only after it submits to the UN a request for full membership of a Palestinian state next week.

Abbas, who held talks in Cairo with Muhammad Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Egyptian Armed Forces, reiterated his determination to go ahead with the statehood bid at the UN, a PA official said.

“It’s too late for us to backtrack,” the official quoted Abbas as saying.

Abbas reportedly told the Egyptian leader that the PA had no choice but to go to the UN because of Israel’s “refusal” to accept the pre-1967 lines as the basis for future peace talks with the Palestinians. Abbas added that Israel’s refusal to cease construction in the settlements and east Jerusalem was another reason why the PA was refusing to return to the negotiating table, the official said.

Abbas also discussed the statehood plan with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who is currently visiting Egypt. Erdogan told Abbas that his country fully supports the statehood bid, according to the PA official.

Netanyahu’s inner cabinet of eight ministers met Wednesday and reportedly discussed the recent Turkish moves over the Mavi Marmara incident and Erdogan’s threats, but did not issue any statement after the meeting. One diplomatic official said Israel would continue “letting Erdogan rant,” but not respond in kind.

He said this policy was appreciated in Washington and other western capitals, and made Israel look – in comparison to Erdogan – like the “mature adult in this confrontation.”

On his way back to Ramallah from Cairo, Abbas stopped in Jordan, where he met with the Quartet envoy to the Middle East, Tony Blair, and discussed with him the statehood bid.

Blair advised Abbas to abandon the plan and agree to the resumption of peace talks with Israel – advice that was rejected by the PA president, a PA official said.

PA officials said they did not expect Ross and Hale to bring any new proposal that would change Abbas’s mind regarding the statehood bid.

Chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat complained that the US Administration was mobilizing all its efforts to foil the statehood initiative. He said the Americans were in daily contact with the PA leadership in an attempt to convince the Palestinians to resume peace talks with Israel unconditionally.

Erekat stressed that the PA was determined to go ahead with its plan despite US pressure and opposition from other parties.


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