Analysis: Progress, of sorts

Mitchell might, just possibly, be close to persuading the sides to set out their positions. Maybe.

April 26, 2010 01:58
3 minute read.
Abbas and Mitchell.

Abbas Mitchell 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has made abundantly clear in the last few days that he has “red lines” where building in Jerusalem is concerned, and he’s not going to cross them.

“The Palestinian demand is that we prevent Jews from building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem,” he told ABC last week. “That is an unacceptable demand.”

And to Channel 2, on Thursday, he said, equally flatly: “There will be no freeze in Jerusalem.”

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority has repeatedly insisted that it won’t resume what Mahmoud Abbas at the weekend called “real negotiations” with Israel on final-status issues unless or until there is a halt to building beyond the green line, emphatically including Jerusalem.

So how is it that US special envoy George Mitchell left the region on Sunday ostensibly hopeful that, when he returns in a week or so, he will finally be able to get at least indirect “proximity” talks moving?

One possibility is that the two mutually mistrustful sides – and for once of late, I’m not talking here about mistrustful Israelis and Americans, but rather mistrustful Israelis and Palestinians – are prepared to at least enter the proximity framework despite their differences.

Among the preconditions that have held up progress so far: Netanyahu wants Abbas to declare his recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and Abbas wants Netanyahu to stop the bulldozers in east Jerusalem. Neither is going to get what he wants from the other for now, but it may be that Abbas is close to joining Netanyahu in assenting to the indirect framework anyway.

According to Netanyahu, at least, the US has made plain its position. The Americans, he told Channel 2, “understand that the demand for preconditions is mistaken.”

Netanyahu is said to have issued various positive signals to the Americans in recent days, including, as he did in the Thursday interview, suggesting that the fate of Arab neighborhoods in undivided, sovereign Jerusalem will be up for discussion after all.

If Abbas has given any ground, it’s not immediately apparent. But then, the Palestinians are so much more savvy than the Israelis in opting not to publicize what the US may or may not be asking them to say and do, and what they’ve been saying and doing in response.

The latest Mitchell visit has produced several frenzied and, in some cases, inaccurate headlines and dispatches. It featured no discussion of the possibility of a Palestinian state being established within temporary borders. Neither was there talk of the US imposing a peace accord. This, despite Abbas’s Saturday plea to the Obama administration to do “your duty to call for the steps in order to reach the solution, and impose the solution – impose it.”

The prosaic reality is that the indefatigable Mitchell might, just possibly, be close to persuading the two sides to, separately, set out their positions for the benefit of themselves and the Americans, with the ambition of actually getting them to talk directly to each other in a few months’ time.

This would not constitute the kind of progress likely to set the champagne corks popping and galvanize serious optimism – especially as each side may only be tentatively entering the unpromising framework in the hope that it will be able to blame the other for inevitable failure down the road.

What it would constitute, however, is something that has been lacking for a year: a start.

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