Basis for resumption of talks still shrouded in fog

Palestinians, Israelis differ on Kerry commitments regarding using 1967 lines as baseline; Indyk tabbed as US point man for talks.

Netanyahu with Begin picture in background 370 (photo credit: courtesy Prime Minister's Office)
Netanyahu with Begin picture in background 370
(photo credit: courtesy Prime Minister's Office)
Two days after US Secretary of State John Kerry, standing alone in Amman, announced the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian talks, Palestinian Authority officials began again raising preconditions for the talks. Meanwhile, Israeli officials continue to insist Jerusalem made no commitments regarding the 1967 lines or a settlement freeze.
None of this seemed to trip up Kerry, with Laura Rozen writing on the Al-Monitor website Sunday that he was assembling a team for the negotiations, and Martin Indyk – a two-term US ambassador to Israel during the Clinton Administration and a man very much identified with the Oslo process – may play a lead role.
On Friday, after Kerry announced that the talks would restart, Indyk tweeted the following: “So Kerry did it. By George he did it! Negotiations will resume forthwith. Now watch the naysayers declare there’ll never be an agreement.”
No announcement of a role for Indyk has yet been made, and Israeli officials could not confirm the report.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addressed the announcement of the resumption of talks at the weekly cabinet meeting, saying the Palestinians would need to make concessions during negotiations that will enable Israel to ensure its security and protect its vital national interests.
Netanyahu, at the meeting held at the Begin Heritage Center in Jerusalem to mark the centenary of Menachem Begin’s birth, stressed that any agreement would be brought to the nation in the form of a referendum for its approval.
“I don’t think that decisions like these are possible to make with one coalition or another, but have to be brought to the nation for its decision,” he said, in an apparent effort to neutralize opposition from those on his right by assuring them that ultimately the nation will vote on any agreement.
Netanyahu reiterated that in his mind, restarting the diplomatic process was a “vital” Israeli strategic interest, and that he would be guided by two principles: to thwart the creation of a bi-national state, and to prevent the establishment of another Iranian-backed terrorist state on Israel’s borders.
“We will need to find the balance between those two things,” he said, adding that to do this the Palestinians would need to make concessions.
It was coincidental that this particular meeting took place at the Begin Center, under a picture of the former Likud prime minister who withdrew from the Sinai, uprooted settlements and released security prisoners as part of the peace treaty he negotiated with Egypt.
Netanyahu said that Begin’s “great importance” was his dual outlook of peace and security. While he made history by making peace with Egypt, he said, Begin also understood that he had to maintain security.
“The principles of security, demilitarization, and Israel’s defense were integral parts of the agreement [with Egypt]. They are still before us today, decades later, as clearly important as always,” he said.
Begin, Netanyahu continued, both understood and acted on the principle that security comes before all else.
“He attacked Saddam Hussein’s nuclear reactor and I think that history teaches us how important a step that was,” he said. “And he also did not hesitate to act against terrorist concentrations in nearby Lebanon and elsewhere. We are committed in the same manner to peace and security.”
International Relations Minister Yuval Steinitz, speaking to reporters before the cabinet meeting, said that to the best of his knowledge there was no commitment given to the Palestinians that the 1967 lines would be the starting point for the talks. He also raised the idea of an interim agreement – long anathema to the Palestinians – saying that if it is not possible to reach a final agreement, perhaps interim solutions could be found.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority representatives – facing increased criticism for agreeing to resume peace talks with Israel – began talking once again about preconditions for reviving the peace process.
The PA leadership, meanwhile, instructed its representatives to refrain from public statements regarding the circumstances that prompted PA President Mahmoud Abbas to agree to the resumption of the peace talks.
A statement issued by Abbas’s office late Saturday said that only two officials were authorized to speak on behalf of the PA and PLO: Nabil Abu Rudaineh, Abbas’s spokesman, and Yasser Abed Rabbo, secretary-general of the PLO.
Abed Rabbo announced Sunday that the Palestinian leadership still hasn’t decided to return to the negotiating table with Israel.
He said that such a decision was “conditioned on many clarifications about core issues.”
Abed Rabbo, in an interview with the PA’s Voice of Palestine radio station, added that there were still many “sticking points” that need to be resolved.
The basis for the resumption of the negotiations will be laid during the Israeli-Palestinian-American meeting in Washington in the coming days.
It remained unclear Sunday whether the Palestinian leadership had received written or verbal assurances, if at all, from US Secretary of State John Kerry.
A PA official, speaking on condition of anonymity, claimed that Kerry gave the Palestinians written assurances regarding their three demands: Israeli recognition of the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiations, cessation of settlement construction and release of Palestinian prisoners.
However, other Palestinian officials denied that Kerry had provided Abbas with any written assurances.
Israeli officials were instructed not to comment on the Palestinian claims, nor on any details regarding the decision to resume the talks. The Americans have made clear that they are keen on keeping the beginning of the talks as discreet as possible.
Abbas Zaki, member of the PLO Executive Committee, said that Kerry did not give Abbas any written assurances that the talks would be held on the basis of the pre-1967 lines.
Zaki said that Arab pressure prompted Abbas to agree to Kerry’s proposal for re-launching the talks with Israel.
The PA’s official newspaper, Al- Ayyam, published an article by political analyst Hani Habib in which he accuses Kerry of being skilled in “selfdeception.”
Habib noted that the Palestinians did not receive any written assurances from Kerry that the talks would be based on the pre-1967 lines.
Instead, he said, they received “worthless verbal assurances” from the secretary of state.
“We have discovered that one of Kerry’s characteristics is his extraordinary ability to deceive not only others, but first and foremost himself,” the PA-affiliated analyst wrote.
“This man is under the illusion that he has brought Palestinian and Israeli negotiators together.”
Abbas’s agreement to resume peace talks with Israel drew sharp criticism last weekend from most Palestinian factions, with the exception of his ruling Fatah party.
Mohamed Dahlan, a leading Fatah operative and political foe of Abbas, Sunday joined the chorus of critics, accusing the PA president of committing “political suicide” by agreeing to return to the talks with Israel.
Dahlan, a former PA security commander in the Gaza Strip, said that Abbas’s “personal” decision to resume peace talks with Israel in return for some privileges was tantamount to political suicide.
Dahlan accused Abbas of taking important decisions without consulting with others or seeking the approval of his people.
PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah announced that the US was planning to invest $4 billion in the Palestinian private sector once the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations resumed.
Hamdallah expressed hope during a visit to Tulkarem in the northern West Bank that the talks would succeed, adding that the economic situation was linked to political developments.
Mohamed Shtayyeh, a former PA negotiator and top Fatah official, said that the resumption of the peace talks requires a “clear position and an Israeli commitment to accept the pre-1967 lines, release prisoners and stop settlement construction.
Shtayyeh was speaking during a meeting with the Chinese envoy to Ramallah, who voiced his country’s support for the resumption of the peace process.