PM mulling new initiative on Palestinian statehood

PA’s refusal to negotiate, as well as world pressure and regional changes, spurred Netanyahu to consider new plan.

Netanyahu 311 reuters (photo credit: Reuters)
Netanyahu 311 reuters
(photo credit: Reuters)
The current instability in the region, coupled with the continued refusal of the Palestinians to negotiate, will likely lead to an Israeli initiative to move the diplomatic process forward, senior government officials said Tuesday.
The officials said that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was contemplating a phased approach “that will lead us on the path toward his formula of a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state.”
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One official said Netanyahu was “seriously considering” a major policy address to launch the initiative, the details of which have not yet been revealed.
It is believed that the initiative – which likely would be along the lines of a long-term interim agreement – has been coordinated with the US.
Although there is little expectation that the Palestinians would accept such an agreement, the feeling in government circles is that it would at least take some of the international pressure off Israel and preempt world recognition of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines.
Netanyahu has been urged for months by various quarters, both inside Israel and abroad, to put a concrete proposal on the table that would force the Palestinians to respond and take the onus of responsibility for the stymied diplomatic process.
According to government officials, while Netanyahu would prefer a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians, the sense in the Prime Minister’s Office is that it was unlikely that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would sit with Netanyahu and negotiate, and as such there was no choice but for Israel to initiate its own steps because the “current diplomatic and political status quo is not sustainable.”
The officials said that the recent unrest in the Arab world had pushed negotiations further away. Unlike a month ago, when Hosni Mubarak was still president of Egypt, there is currently no one in the Arab world with the authority to give Abbas a green light to negotiate with Israel, even if he wanted to, they said.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has for some time been working on a plan for a long-term interim agreement, meaning that the Palestinians would be able to declare a state with provisional borders on a certain percentage of the territory.
The idea is that once a state is established along provisional borders, negotiations could continue toward an agreement that includes permanent frontiers. Neither Netanyahu nor Lieberman’s office would confirm that the two men had talked about the plan, or that this was the core of Netanyahu’s planned initiative.
Government officials also would not say whether recent government steps against settlement outposts were tied to the new plan. Netanyahu has established a committee to formulate the government’s policy regarding petitions submitted to the High Court of Justice demanding the demolition of outposts.
The idea of a Palestinian state on provisional borders was proposed two years ago by Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz, though it is believed that the land he was willing to cede to the Palestinians – some 60 percent of the West Bank – was more than the amount Lieberman might offer.
While officials in the Prime Minister’s Office would not say when the new plan might be launched, it was expected to be unfurled before the next meeting of Quartet principals – US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon – scheduled for mid- March on the sidelines of a G20 meeting in Paris.
Israel, meanwhile, decided Tuesday not to send Netanyahu envoy Yitzhak Molcho to Brussels on Wednesday to meet with lower-level Quartet officials in an extraordinary session the Quartet had called in order to meet separately with Israeli and Palestinian officials and push the process forward.
While Quartet representatives meet frequently among themselves, this would be one of the first times that they would be meeting as a group with Israeli and Palestinians representatives.
A Palestinian representative is expected to meet with the officials, who include US Mideast envoy George Mitchell’s adviser David Hale; the EU’s deputy secretary-general for the new External Action Service, Helga Schmid; Russian Middle East envoy Sergei Yakovlev; and the UN’s Mideast envoy, Robert Serry.
A government source said that instead of going to Brussels, Molcho would meet with the Quartet representatives here a week later. Israeli diplomatic officials said Netanyahu did not want Molcho to meet Quartet officials until he launched his new initiative. Israel has also been historically hesitant about attending meetings of this type and giving status to other players – outside of the US – in the negotiations.
Meanwhile, foreign ministers are continuing to pour into Jerusalem, with Norwegian Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store scheduled to arrive Wednesday for a day of talks with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders. He will join El Salvador’s Hugo Martinez and Sweden’s Carl Bildt, who are already here. Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Baconschi was in Israel earlier in the week.
This is Store’s second visit in a month and a half, and he will be coming for less than a day, arriving from meetings in Egypt. He will meet separately with Netanyahu, Lieberman, Abbas and PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Diplomatic officials said Netanyahu was interested in meeting visiting foreign officials at this time to share assessments of the changes sweeping across the region.