Sunday, September 25, 2011

Quartet plan to restart talks hits blanket Palestinian rejection

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Proposal: resumption of direct talks without preconditions, significant progress within six months, and a deal by 2012 • Netanyahu: If they give, they'll get • Palestinians reject any proposal not based on return to 1967 lines, settlement freeze. 
Shlomo Cesana, Yoni Hersh, and Israel Hayom Staff
Quartet on Middle East peace greeting U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. 
 Photo credit: AP
The Middle East Quartet's proposed plan to renew negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians may never even get off the ground, as the Palestinian Authority leadership has already indicated it rejects any proposal that does not start with a settlement freeze and is not based on a return to the 1967 lines.

The Quartet, comprising the U.S., U.N., EU and Russia, on Friday set out a new initiative to bring the warring parties back to the negotiating table. Its timetable calls for an immediate return to negotiations with no preconditions, three months until security plans are given, significant progress within half a year, and a peace deal by 2012. Israel has so far endorsed the plan, while the Palestinian response has ranged from cool to hostile. The plan does not call for a settlement freeze, saying only that the parties should “refrain from provocative actions.”

The Quartet unveiled the blueprint after both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas spoke at the U.N. General Assembly on Friday. The Quartet's apparent urgency is tied to the U.S.'s desire to avoid having to veto the motion, something U.S. President Barack Obama has pledged to do but which he knows would cost him significant clout in the Arab world.

The Quartet's plan is generally in line with Israel's terms for negotiations: no preconditions, no clear mention of the 1967 borders as starting point and no demand to halt settlement construction in the West Bank.
“Within a month there will be a preparatory meeting between the parties to agree on an agenda and method of proceeding in the negotiation,” the first of six points said. “At that meeting there will be a commitment by both sides that the objective of any negotiation is to reach an agreement within a timeframe agreed to by the parties but not longer than the end of 2012.

“The Quartet expects the parties to come forward with comprehensive proposals within three months on territory and security, and to have made substantial progress within six months. To that end, the Quartet will convene an international conference in Moscow, in consultation with the parties, at the appropriate time.”
In an effort to please Russia, which has asked to take a more active role in the peace process, the conference will be held in Moscow.

Israel favors the Quartet's plan, with Netanyahu saying he sees it in a positive light. “If the Quartet calls for direct talks without preconditions, I think it's something to take note of,” he told Israel's Channel 10 news. In a separate interview with Channel 2 news, he said, “In my previous term I coined the term, 'If they'll give, they'll get,' and I stand by that today as well.”

Netanyahu is set to land in Israel on Monday and present the Quartet's outline before the Forum of Eight senior cabinet ministers.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman also welcomed the idea, telling Army Radio that “with all the reservations we have regarding the Quartet (proposal), we are ready to open immediate negotiations” with the Palestinians.

Before leaving the U.S., Netanyahu spoke with CNN's Wolf Blitzer about a potential settlement freeze. He said he had frozen settlement construction before and would not rule out doing it again. “I moved Israel's position to something that now is consensual, that we can have a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes the Jewish state. I have made that into the consensus here in Israel. And I don't think any Likud leader did that before,” Netanyahu told Blitzer.  (Note: That worked so well before, didn't it?!!!)

Lieberman, meanwhile, told Israel Radio that there would be “serious repercussions” if the U.N. approved the Palestinians’ request for statehood. In an interview Sunday morning Lieberman said, “If the Palestinians indeed pass a one-sided resolution, if not in the Security Council then in the General Assembly, that would bring us to an altogether new situation and this would have repercussions, tough repercussions.” He added, “Any unilateral step will without a doubt bring an Israeli reaction.”

The Palestinian response
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Saturday told reporters traveling with him from New York to Jordan that he would not comment on the Quartet’s statement before studying it, the Palestine news agency WAFA, reported Saturday. But he did say, “We will not deal with any initiative which does not contain a halt to settlement or the 1967 borders.” 

Abbas emphasized that the Palestinians’ preference is for negotiations based on the Arab League's peace initiative, which revolves around Israeli withdrawal to 1967 lines, including the Golan Heights, as well as a “just solution” for the Palestinian right of return. The Arab League's initiative was generally denounced by Israel when it was suggested in 2002. “The Arab initiative is the way to peace and we cannot abandon it,” Abbas said. He is scheduled to return to the West Bank on Sunday.

Abbas also spoke about the Palestinian Authority's current economic agreements with Israel. Abbas said the Paris economic protocol the Palestinians had signed with Israel as a follow-up on the Oslo process is not fair to the Palestinians and should be changed.

“We want to reopen the Paris economic agreement to amend it because it is not fair and imposes many restrictions on the Palestinian economy, which prevents it from growing,” he said.

“With the Paris Protocol, it is not possible to develop our economy and land,” WAFA reported him as saying. “Our goal is to gradually end reliance on foreign aid.” He also stressed the need to develop Palestinian industrial and agricultural production.

Lieberman, for his part, rejected out of hand any talk of opening up the Paris Protocols for debate.
Abbas said he planned to hold intensive talks with Hamas in the near future, not only to discuss reconciliation between Hamas and his Fatah faction, but also to hold in-depth discussions about the future of Palestine.

“We are moving forward in implementing the terms of the reconciliation (with Hamas),” he said, describing the idea that the next government would be a national unity government as a “misunderstanding.”
“The truth is we want to establish a transitional government of independent technocrats,” he said.
Other members in the Palestinian Authority were less accepting of the Quartet's plan. “It is an empty proposal that in essence doesn't say anything,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said. “This proposal does not include halting settlement construction or an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 lines and therefore there is no point in accepting it.”

Abbas' historic submission of the Palestinian request for statehood likely faces a long wait before it comes up for an actual vote. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon passed the request to the U.N. Security Council, but it still must face an evaluation by the U.N.'s legal adviser as well as deliberation within the council and new developments between Israel and the Palestinians.

Abbas, however, remains positive. “It will be a matter of a couple of weeks, not months,” he said on Saturday night.