Uzi Arad questions if Israel has partner for accord

NSC head says US gave written commitment not to ask for an additional moratorium; Kurtzer says deal rewards Israel for "bad behavior."

November 21, 2010 02:02
Uzi Arad questions if Israel has partner for accord

uzi arad. (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)


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With Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on the verge of agreeing to another 90-day settlement moratorium to facilitate negotiations with the Palestinians in exchange for a squadron of planes and a package of written US commitments, his top adviser Uzi Arad said Saturday night it was not clear whether Israel had a Palestinian partner for an accord.

Arad’s comments during an interview on Channel 2 stand in sharp contrast to what Netanyahu said in Washington nearly three months ago when direct talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas were restarted, calling him at the time his “partner in peace” during remarks at the White House and then again at the State Department.

PA looks for its own incentive package for negotiations
PA surprised, disappointed at US 90-day freeze proposal

“For a year we are seeing a phenomenon of refusal from Abu Mazen [Abbas] to go to direct talks. We see him grasping onto different pretexts in order not to go, even though no pre-conditions are being asked of him, and he is not willing to come [to the talks] under the same terms he was willing to when Olmert was the prime minister. This raises question marks,” Arad said.

Asked directly whether he thought Israel had a partner, Arad replied, “it is not clear, and only the future will tell whether we have a partner for a permanent agreement.” But, Arad said, if a permanent agreement can’t be reached, “I don’t think we have to rule out the possibility of things that are less than a permanent agreement.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been one of the leading voices saying that a permanent peace accord with the Palestinians was unlikely, and that the focus of talks should instead be on reaching a long-term interim agreement.

Among the ideas of an interim agreement that have been raised in the past are the creation of a Palestinian state within provisional borders, with key issues such as Jerusalem put off to the future.

The Palestinians have consistently rejected these ideas.

Regarding the status of the commitments the US would give to Israel in return for another three-month settlement freeze, Arad said that the two sides were currently trying to translate agreements reached at the meeting in New York 10 days ago between Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton into “concrete and operational” language.

The question then will be whether these commitments meet Israel’s national interests, and if Netanyahu believes that they do, he will only then bring the package to the security cabinet for a vote, Arad said.

Arad did say “a commitment not to ask for an additional freeze after 90 days was written by the Americans,” the first time an official has said that such a written commitment was made.

Arad said that it was natural that the translation of the agreements reached between Clinton and Netanyahu into “operational details” takes time.

Arad said there were three different planes to the Clinton- Netanyahu understandings. The first had to do with a second squadron of F-35 fighters to be provided to Israel, with an agreement on the sale of a first squadron already agreed upon over the summer.

The second plane had to do with the freeze itself, with Netanyahu making it clear that this would be the last moratorium, and that the US would have to commit to not asking for an additional freeze, Arad said.

And the third plane was in the diplomatic realm, with the US committing itself to using its full weight at the UN, including a Security Council veto if necessary, to keep the Palestinians from getting UN recognition of statehood without negotiations.

Arad said it was clear all this was being done “in writing.” Arad said it was also clear that there would be no final accord without the Palestinians recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, although this was not a pre-condition to entering into talks, rather a condition for any eventual accord.

In Washington, meanwhile, US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the discussions with Israel over the matter were continuing, and “If there’s a need to put certain understandings in writing, we will be prepared to do that.”

He said it was not unusual in negotiations that “if there are understandings that need to be codified in writing, we’re fully prepared to do that.”

Responding to criticism in Washington that the US offer was “excessive,” Crowley said, without providing specifics of what exactly was being offered, that “This is important to the region. It is important to our national security.

It’s important to the future of Israel and a prospective Palestinian state.

How do you put a price tag on that? “We are interested in doing what needs to be done to see a two-state solution. That is something that goes beyond a particular price tag on a particular set of actions,” he said.

Former US ambassador to Israel, Daniel Kurtzer, joined the critics, writing an op-ed that appeared on The Washington Post website Saturday saying that the US offer of advanced weaponry and military assistance in return for a threemonth freeze, excluding Jerusalem, was “very bad idea,” tantamount to rewarding “Israel for its bad behavior.”

“While Washington will almost certainly come to regret bribing Israel, Israel may regret receiving such a bribe even more,” Kurtzer wrote.

Kurtzer contrasted the current offer with previous administrations that did not reward Israel for stopping construction in the settlements, but rather penalized it for not doing so by deducting money from loan guarantees.

“Will the United States similarly reward Palestinians for stopping their own bad behavior?” wrote Kurtzer, who has been a sharp critic of the Netanyahu government.

“Will Washington pay them to, say, halt the incitement against Israel and Jews in their public media and some educational materials – something that shouldn’t have been going on in the first place?” Moreover, he wrote, this deal would “shake the foundation of the US-Israeli strategic partnership, which since the early 1980s has included Washington promising to ensure Israel’s “qualitative military edge” over any combination of Arab threats.

“This commitment has been insulated from the vicissitudes of politics and diplomacy,” he wrote.

“Whatever the state of US-Israeli relations or the peace process, America’s commitment to Israel’s security has been manifest. Not so, if this deal materializes. By subjecting Israel’s defense needs to the political demands of an American administration, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has done something quite dangerous for Israel – he has made those needs contingent, negotiable, optional.

Israel’s security requirements are now merely a bargaining chip with which to negotiate what Jerusalem will or will not do to advance the peace process.”

Abbas, meanwhile, arrived in Cairo on Saturday for talks with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the latest US efforts to resume peace talks.

The Palestinians and the Egyptians said over the weekend that they still haven’t received the full details of the American incentives package for Israel.

Abbas was quoted by the London- based Asharq Alawsat newspaper as saying that there should be no linkage between freezing settlement construction and supplying Israel with weapons. He also complained that the US Administration still hasn’t come up with new ideas to revive the peace process.

The paper quoted a senior PA official as saying that US envoy David Hale, who met with Abbas in Ramallah last week, informed the Palestinian leadership that the US Administration and Israel have yet to agree on a formula for freezing settlement construction.

“We understand from Hale that all that has been published so far [about an agreement between Israel and the US] is nothing but Israeli leaks,” the official said. “President Abbas made it clear that the Palestinians can’t accept any agreement that excludes Jerusalem.”

On the eve of Abbas’s talks with Mubarak, chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinians won’t accept any “partial” freeze of settlement construction.

Erekat said that the PA still hasn’t received any official word from the Americans about the latest US proposal for resuming the peace talks.

Erekat said that Abbas and Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa agreed to convene the Arab League foreign ministers to discuss the future of the peace process once the Americans provide the Palestinians with details of the proposal.

Erekat said that the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table only when Israel halts settlement construction in Jerusalem, as well as the West Bank. He too rejected any attempt to create a link between settlement construction and the supply of US weapons to Israel.

“The settlements are a violation of the international law and those who violate the law should not be rewarded,” Erekat added. “We want a full and indefinite cessation of settlement construction. Settlement construction should be halted until the final-status talks on all core issues end.”

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