New bid for peace to start on Sept. 2

Netanyahu will take any accord with the PA "to the people."

Clinton Mitchell 311 (photo credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Clinton Mitchell 311
(photo credit: AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will take any accord he reaches with the Palestinian Authority to the Knesset and then to the people, an official in the Prime Minister’s Office said on Saturday night.
The official said Netanyahu believes that if he reached an agreement with the PA that brings peace and protects Israel’s national security interests, it would enjoy wide public support.
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The official would not elaborate on whether “bringing the accord to the people” meant a referendum or early elections.
The official’s comments came a day after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians were set to commence at the beginning of September. She said that the US believed these negotiations, aimed at resolving all final status issues, “can be completed within a year.” Clinton said she had invited Netanyahu and PA President Mahmoud Abbas to Washington on September 2 to meet and relaunch the direct negotiations.
She acknowledged that the goal would be a challenging one.
“Without a doubt, we will hit more obstacles,” she said. “The enemies of peace will keep trying to defeat us and to derail these talks. But I ask the parties to persevere, to keep moving forward even through difficult times, and to continue working to achieve a just and lasting peace in the region.”
Netanyahu and Abbas are expected to first meet separately with US President Barack Obama on September 1, when Obama will also hold bilateral meetings with King Abdullah of Jordan and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, topped off by a dinner for all five leaders that night.
Clinton, who will preside over the trilateral meeting the next day, said that the negotiations themselves would start with no preconditions.
They are due to be held in various places to be worked out, including in the region.
Netanyahu has said on a number of occasions that he would be willing to meet anywhere, including in Ramallah. This raised expectations of the likelihood that at some point the talks would alternate between Jerusalem and Ramallah, Israeli officials said.
“These negotiations should take place without preconditions and be characterized by good faith and a commitment to their success,” Clinton said.
Israel has insisted that there not be conditions to the talks; this has held up the Palestinians’ participation as the latter have made demands ranging from a total settlement freeze, by which they also mean building over the Green Line in Jerusalem, to the talks starting from where they broke off under prime minister Ehud Olmert, to Israel’s agreeing to using the pre- 1967 borders as the basis of negotiations.
Though none of these demands were met, by Clinton’s characterization, the Palestinians did get the short time-frame they have long sought.
Though Netanyahu has said that talks could conclude quickly, Israel has resisted any deadlines on the process. The Palestinians, however, don’t want to see an open-ended interim situation and have long pressed for a brief negotiating period.
Israeli officials pointed out that it was Netanyahu who, during his trip to the US last month, said that it would be possible to reach an agreement within a year.
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who spoke to reporters following Clinton’s announcement, declined – when pressed – to describe the one-year timeline as a deadline.
Asked whether it was a deadline, Mitchell responded, “We believe it can be done within a year, and that is our objective.”
He also said that the terms of reference would be sorted out by the participating parties, despite Palestinian desires that there be firm terms of reference before the talks start.
“Only the parties can determine the terms of reference and basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters,” Mitchell said, indicating that it applied to the sequencing of final status issues as well. “All permanent status issues will be on the table. It will be for the parties themselves to decide the manner by which they should be addressed.”
Mitchell did, however, say that the US would be ready to provide bridging proposals if necessary.
“We will be active and sustained partners,” he said. “As necessary and appropriate, we will offer bridging proposals. But I repeat: This is a direct bilateral negotiation between the parties with our assistance and with the assistance of our friends and allies.”
The Mideast Quartet of the US, UN, EU and Russia, however, issued a statement on Friday that included some of the framework sought by the Palestinians.
In endorsing direct talks, the Quartet expressed support for “the pursuit of a just, lasting and comprehensive regional peace as envisaged in the Madrid terms of reference, Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.”
Those documents are filled with configurations that Israel has objected to. While Jerusalem embraced Clinton’s announcement, it has remained silent on the Quartet statement, with which it has reservations.
Instead, the response of the Prime Minister’s Office only mentioned the US invitation for direct talks.
“The prime minister has been calling for direct negotiations for the past year and a half,” said a statement released by the Prime Minister’s Office on Friday afternoon.
“He expressed satisfaction with the American clarification that the talks would be without preconditions, and added that Israel wants the talks to be serious and comprehensive.”
While the Israeli negotiation team has not yet been announced, it is expected to be led by Yitzhak Molcho, who has been Netanyahu’s point-man on the Palestinian issue since Netanyahu took over as prime minister last year.
Netanyahu, however, has said in private meetings that he intends to personally conduct the negotiations with Abbas, and that he believed it was necessary for him and Abbas to agree on the principles regarding the core issues, and then pass those issues on to the negotiating teams to work out the details.
The negotiations are expected to be held far from the media, with the likelihood that there will also be secret channels.
The official responded to skepticism that the coalition, in its current configuration that includes Israel Beiteinu and Habayit Hayehudi, could sign an agreement with the Palestinians by saying that with this coalition, Netanyahu announced his acceptance of a two-state solution during his Bar-Ilan speech in June 2009: the government announced its 10-month settlement construction moratorium last November; and the IDF removed more roadblocks and barriers in the West Bank than it had under any previous government.