WASHINGTON – Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu flew to Washington on Tuesday
firm in his position that the way to reach an agreement with the Palestinians is
to deal with all the issues together as one package, and then to phase
implementation of an agreement over time.
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In recent days Netanyahu has
spoken vigorously against what he has called “cherry picking” certain issues,
such as the settlement moratorium, and making those issues central to the whole
process, and ones over which the process would rise or fall.
statements have been made within the context of a Palestinian threat to pull out
of the talks if the settlement construction moratorium was not extended at the
end of the month.
Netanyahu is expected to argue in Washington that just
as Israel isn’t saying that it will not negotiate with the Palestinian Authority
until PA President Mahmoud Abbas exerts full control over Gaza, so too the
Palestinians must not place the settlement moratorium issue as a roadblock right
at the outset of the talks.
Likewise, Netanyahu has said that while
everyone knows that for an agreement to be concluded the Palestinian refugee
issue must be solved outside the borders of Israel, Jerusalem is not demanding
that the PA dismantle a single refugee camp, or even a single street in a
refugee camp, by a certain date before carrying on with the
Netanyahu’s position is that the core issues need to
discussed as a package. In this way, concessions on settlements, for instance,
could be counterbalanced by Palestinian concessions on other issues, such as
refugees or Jerusalem.
In this way, too, Netanyahu has argued, it will be
easier to sell an agreement to the public.
Netanyahu has spoken recently
– in the context of the continuing debate about the settlement construction
moratorium – of not wanting to expend all his political capital on one
Regarding implementation, Netanyahu is expected to present the
position that this must be done in stages, spread out over a period of years,
and that any Israeli withdrawal would be gradual and based on Palestinian
security performance and security arrangements implemented on the
Netanyahu believes that both spreading the implementation of an
agreement over time and making it performance-based are critical from a security
point of view, to see whether the security guarantees promised are implemented
He has said that since the last time he negotiated with
the Palestinians, at Wye Plantation in the late 1990s, the security situation in
the region has worsened considerably, and this must be taken into account and
Specifically, Netanyahu has referred to Iranian control of
“half of Lebanon,” through Hizbullah, and half of the Palestinian Authority,
In Netanyahu’s view, what are needed are not only security
promises, but effective security arrangements on the ground that actually work.
The model Netanyahu frequently holds up as an example are the Camp David Accords
with Egypt, where security arrangements were implemented on the ground and – in
his mind – have been instrumental in the perseverance of that agreement for some
In Netanyahu’s view, concern in the Arab world about Iran
and Islamic radicalism has created a positive regional constellation that could
help bring about an agreement.
In recent days Netanyahu has said
repeatedly that he is going to the talks looking for a solution, not a pretext
or excuse to torpedo the talks, and that the Palestinians should approach the
negotiations in the same spirit.
He has said that if the two sides want
to move down the road, they will have to get around the speed bumps of the first
With the settlement construction moratorium looming large on
the horizon, government officials said it was not coincidental that the prime
minister, at an appearance before Likud activists Monday night, did not make any
declarations about the moratorium – or vow that building would take place at
full speed once it ended – so as not to appear provocative.
The US has
appealed to both sides not to do anything, nor make any statements, that could
harm the atmosphere for the talks. On Monday, Netanyahu pointedly said only that
the moratorium would end, but nothing more, one official noted.
Thursday’s launch of direct talks, Israeli officials downplayed concern that the
announced year time frame for an agreement was unrealistic, saying that
Netanyahu – during his visit to Washington in July – was the one who first said
that an accord could be reached within a year.
If an agreement is out
there, the sides can get to it within a year, Netanyahu has said. But, in a
reference to the moratorium issue, he has also said that if hurdles are placed
in the path, an agreement will never be reached.
Abbas said Tuesday the
success of the talks, aimed at forging a peace deal with Israel within a year,
will depend on how hard US mediators push to break any deadlocks.
told reporters accompanying him to Washington that if the two sides reach a
deadlock, the Obama administration should “present bridging proposals to bridge
the gap between the two positions.”
The Palestinian Authority president
said the one-year deadline is reasonable because many of the issues have already
been discussed in previous rounds of talks.
“If there is goodwill, then
it [one year] is more than enough,” he said. “Everything is
Meanwhile, the United States backed Israel’s proposal for the
format of peace talks, as it continued with its preparatory meetings even as the
murder of four Israelis near Hebron threatened the nascent process.
are very aware that as we go forward in this process, not everyone sees this in
the same way, and there are those who will do whatever they can to disrupt or
derail the process,” said US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley, in
response to the Palestinian shooting attack.
He said that the US expects
the sides to press on, and reiterated the American belief that an agreement can
be reached within a year.
“We will be relying, first and foremost, on the
commitment that we think the leaders themselves have made to pursue peace at
this time, understanding that there’s a window here where we think peace can be
accomplished, and our goal is to do so – to reach an agreement within one year,”
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell also stressed the US belief
in the possibility of the sides reaching an agreement before the end of the
year, in a briefing for reporters held before the West Bank attack.
also began to sketch out the American perspective of how talks would proceed,
embracing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s suggestion that he meet personally
with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas every two weeks.
think that’s a sensible approach which we hope is undertaken,” Mitchell said,
also pointing to an American desire to see “meetings at other levels on a
consistent basis.” He indicated that the US would not be “physically represented
in every single meeting” because US officials “recognize the value of direct,
bilateral discussion between the parties.”
He also stressed that an
agreement must be made by the two sides alone, saying, “We recognize that this
is a bilateral negotiation and in the end the parties must make this decision by
and for themselves.”
But he also pointed to a robust American involvement
on an “intensive basis,” as he noted that “the United States will play an active
and sustained role in the process.”
Tuesday was a case in point, as US
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had meetings scheduled with Netanyahu and
Abbas and her counterparts from Jordan and Egypt.
Crowley said that these
talks would address the logistics for the coming days, as the various parties
met frantically to iron out last-minute details, and that the US wanted to
coordinate expectations for each side, as well as the “core issues” of the
One of those was to be the issue of settlements, as Netanyahu’s
temporary settlement moratorium is set to expire at the end of September and
Abbas has threatened to pull out of the talks if it isn’t extended.
officials, however, declined to discuss the moratorium or single out the issue
of settlements despite its impending prominence in the future of the
On Wednesday, Netanyahu and Abbas, as well as Jordan’s King
Abdullah and Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, are set to have bilateral meetings
with US President Barack Obama.
Obama plans to make a statement following
the meetings, and then each of the leaders will make remarks ahead of an
intimate dinner expected to be held in the White House.
day, Clinton will hold a three-way meeting with Netanyahu and Abbas that is
likely to last several hours. Afterwards, the three are expected to make public
addresses formally launching direct talks.
Late Tuesday, Clinton was also
scheduled to met with Quartet envoy Tony Blair and former president Jimmy
Carter, who helped broker the peace accords between Israel and
Egypt, was at the State Department to talk about North Korea following his role
arranging the release of a US citizen being held by the authorities
Crowley said Carter’s meeting being on the same days as the Middle
East talks were getting under way was pure coincidence.
possible that president Carter, given his history on this issue, may offer
advice, but the meeting’s on North Korea,” he said.
US officials did,
however, acknowledge the important work done in the many previous iterations of
the peace process, which haven’t been as successful when it comes to the
Israelis and Palestinians.
Mitchell said he had studied those previous
attempts and the frameworks they engendered, and that while the Obama
administration has tried to “avoid a slavish adherence to the past,” it has
gleaned essential principles.
He pointed to the need for frequent direct
contact between the leaders involved; active and sustained US participation;
maintaining broad international support; and the importance of creating an
atmosphere conducive to success and conveying a “sincerity and seriousness of
purpose” on the part of both sides.
“We’re conscious that a lot of work
has been done over the years and that on both sides there’s an understanding of
what needs to be done, but the broad parameters of an agreement are actually
fairly well known,” Crowley said.
“What we need is the critical will and
creativity to work through the complexity and challenge of these issues to
actually reach an agreement,” he said, adding, “We believe that the leaders
understand that the moment is now.”
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, at a
ceremony Tuesday at Beit Hanassi, expressed hope for success in the
“I am aware of the security challenges we are facing and
yet I believe with a full heart that we can and must reach a
can lead to the peace we have been hoping for,” Barak said.
revealed on Tuesday that when Barak visited Jordan on Sunday, he met
and two other Palestinian officials and discussed how to help the talks
The two met following Barak’s meeting with King Abdullah, and Barak then
“Barak maintains a close connection with Palestinian leaders,”
a source close to the defense minister said. “He speaks regularly to
Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and met with him recently at the
David Hotel and now he also met with Abbas.”
Gil Hoffman and AP
contributed to this report.