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Dr Musa A Keilani: A fresh push to an old issue
July 03, 2013
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

Ahead of his visit last week to the Middle East, US Secretary of State John Kerry, who has drawn up a package deal of political options to lure Israel and the Palestinians back into direct negotiations, said that it was the last chance for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.

Kerry held talks with His Majesty King Abdullah II in Amman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in an attempt to discuss a renewal of the diplomatic process between Israel and the Palestinians.

It is clear that whatever package Kerry is carrying, it is targeting Abbas to drop his demands linked to the resumption of peace negotiations. But Abbas finds it difficult to do so because of his problems with his own constituency.

According to intelligence information quoted in the Israeli media, Abbas has no real intention of “promoting talks. He’s willing to sit down with Netanyahu, but doesn’t intend to go forward with the talks.

“He wants to talk, and then reintroduce Palestinian demands,” the source added. “They want to pursue the unilateral track with the UN, with no intention of making any hard or concrete decisions.”

Netanyahu has reiterated his stand regarding what he describes as the danger that a bi-national state poses, a statement that led the political echelon to wonder whether the prime minister is about to stir up a political crisis in his party, as he shifts to a more centralist stand.

An Israeli minister has said that Netanyahu is also making tactical moves. “He understands that he has an opportunity to position himself in the centre. It would not be harmful, and with what is happening in the Likud, this is also a good opportunity to show Americans that he is serious about his intentions in the policy. It is not connected to the Likud, it’s about Netanyahu — he is looking for an agenda and he doesn’t have a problem to shift to the centre.”

However, according to Israeli media reports, within the Likud, there are those who say that at this point, there is no reason to bring about internal conflict within the party, since “there are no real decisions on the agenda. Everything at the moment is talk. Everyone takes advantage of this period to produce an agenda. Netanyahu has nothing to lose in going against the party’s right, because there are no real decisions on the agenda.”

Kerry has revealed few details of his strategy to bring the sides together. But he has said he wants to show progress before September, when the UN General Assembly, which has already granted de facto recognition to a Palestinian state, resumes its debate over the Middle East.

Netanyahu says that he is concerned that the Palestinians, in the absence of peace talks, could use the UN session as a springboard for more statehood moves that will embarrass and circumvent Israel.

Kerry has secured a key concession from Arab states as part of their decade-old plan to offer Israel comprehensive recognition in exchange for a pullback from territory seized in the 1967 war. The Arab proposal now allows for the possibility of territorial swaps across the 1967 lines between the Israelis and the Palestinians, in line with US President Barack Obama’s vision for how a negotiated, two-state solution can move forward.

Abbas has told advisers that he is under intense international pressure to return to talks with Israel even though his demand for a Jewish settlement freeze in the West Bank has not been achieved. Giving in could spark an uproar at home and further weaken support for Abbas.

Kerry has voiced US opposition to settlement construction and called on Israel to stop building wherever possible. At the same time, he has told the Palestinians it would be impossible to stop all settlement construction.

Apparently, Kerry wants to avoid building expectations over a process that has broken down many times before.

The broader issues, however, are essentially still the same: the borders of a future Palestine, the fate of Palestinian prisoners and refugees, Israeli “security” and Jerusalem’s status.

While Netanyahu continues to press for talks to begin anew, he has yet to present any vision of how the borders of Israel and a future Palestine would be drawn. Two past Israeli leaders have accepted the pre-1967 demarcation as a starting point for negotiations, but Netanyahu has not reaffirmed the commitment.

He has ruled out recognition of the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their ancestral homes and any compromise over Israel’s claim to all of Jerusalem as its “eternal and indivisible capital.” His demands attached to the “security” of Israel mean a superficial Palestinian entity in the West Bank.

No one has an idea how Netanyahu intends to tackle the status of the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip. For that matter, nobody is aware how Abbas visualises a solution that includes the status of the Palestinian enclave, which is ruled by Hamas, the rival of his Fatah group.

There is no doubt that everyone in this region wants to see resumed negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians leading to a just and fair settlement of the 65-year-old conflict. But the Israeli position deprives the process of certain elements regarding justice and fairness without which all solutions are predestined to be revoked by the next generation.
The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the
chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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