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Dr Musa A Keilani: Half-truths, half lies policy
January 10, 2012
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Exclusive to The Gulf Today

His Majesty King Abdullah II has taken the initiative to break the stalemate in the quest for peace in Palestine as reaffirmed by last week’s meeting in Amman of Israeli and Palestinian negotiators under the auspices of the international Quartet of mediators.

The meeting was transparent in that all parties involved had made it clear that it was not a negotiating session but an encounter that would clear the way for further meetings.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Naser Judeh publicly announced that there would be more meetings and it is not always necessary that the media be informed of them or what transpired during the talks. Well, that is the only way to handle it.

All the core issues were discussed during Tuesday’s meeting, Judeh said, and the Palestinians presented their documented positions on border and security issues as the Quartet had requested late last year and the Israelis promised to present their observations during the next meeting. It is difficult to see the positions of the two sides finding common ground, but the effort has to be undertaken. And it has to be noted that it was the first time that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to receive Palestinian documents concerning the final borders of a future Palestinian state.

After their three-hour meeting in Amman, Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Israeli envoy Yitzhak Molcho agreed to meet again next week in the Jordanian capital. The Palestinian positions were outlined in two separate documents, and Molcho said he would present an Israeli document to the Palestinians that would too deal with borders and security arrangements during the next meeting.

In September, the Quartet set a four-month target for the two sides to present proposals on the key issues of future borders and security arrangements. While the Palestinians say the timeline expires on Jan.26, Israel contends that the timeframe begins when negotiations start. The US says that the Jan.26 deadline is not as much of an issue as long as the parties continued negotiations.

Because of the low expectations attached to the Amman meeting, the first known direct Israeli-Palestinian contact since September 2010, all parties involved described it as positive.

The two sides have many thorny issues before them, not the least of them borders, the future of occupied Jerusalem and the fate of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. The positions of both sides on these issues are also known at this point in time. Israel rejects the Palestinian call for negotiations based on the 1967 lines with room for territorial exchange.

It rules out the return of Arab East Jerusalem, saying that the holy city is the Jewish state’s “eternal and indivisible capital.” It is not even willing to discuss the fate of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war and says that countries which host them now should also absorb them and that is not an Israeli problem at all.

Given those positions, frustration and despair characterise the view of all those who wish to see the two-state solution, with the Jewish state co-existing along with a Palestinian state in a state of peace.

Having lived with the Palestinian problem since the creation of Israel in 1948, Jordan is perfectly aware of the hurdles to peace. And the fact that the kingdom has taken the lead in the effort to lift the logjam in negotiations indicates that the Jordanian leadership has definitely seen an opening. We do not know what that is, and it is better we do not, since the very nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that speculation based on half-truths and half lies precedes bilateral negotiations and often aborts the process. Therefore it was a wise move to have had Judeh made it clear that everything will be on a need-to-know basis.

Washington, which tried and failed to bring the two sides together, has voiced appreciation of the Jordanian effort. “We are very grateful to Jordan and particularly to Foreign Minister Judeh for bringing the parties together not only to meet with the Quartet envoys as they have been doing, but also to meet each other in a face-to-face meeting,” US State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

There are indeed positive indicators that the Amman meeting was the first of many that could help build mutual trust and confidence between the Israelis and Palestinians that is so vital to making any negotiations successful. The key is now in refraining from making inflammatory comments that could be exploited by anti-peace forces on both sides.
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The author, a former Jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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