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Entries in East Jerusalem (6)


Middle East Inside Line: "Warm" Turkish-Israeli Relations; Latest on Israel-Palestine Talks

Ankara's "Friendly Face" to Israel: Weeks after reports alleging that Ankara had been threatened by the US with a cut-off of military transfers unless ties with West Jerusalem improved, senior Turkish officials currently visiting Washington announced their commitment to preserving warm relations with Israel.

The Latest from Israel-Palestine-Washington: Haaretz reports that the Palestinian Authority submitted a paper, prepared by Israeli jurists, saying that --- contrary to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's claim --- Israel has the authority to freeze construction on private land. The PA demanded that the Obama Administration press for an extension of the freeze to East Jerusalem fr.

However, Haaretz reports,  from sources "close to the Obama Administration", that Washington will be urge Palestinians to soften their stance on Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor's proposal offering the continuation of construction in large settlement blocs but not in isolated settlements. In response to this "concession", land from Area C, which is both governed and controlled by Israel, will be transferred to Area B which is controlled by Israelis but governed by Palestinians.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who has proposed the continuation of settlement constructions in parallel with the "natural growth rate", stated on Wednesday that the de facto freeze in East Jerusalem cannot continue after 26 September:
Presently there are 1,000 housing units on the table in Ramot, another 600 housing units in neighborhoods like Gilo, east Talpiot, Har Homa and Pisgat Ze’ev. What, does someone expect that we will continue to freeze 1,600 housing units that went through all the [bureaucratic] procedures?

Pressure on Netanyahu Inside Israel: Speaking at a conference on Tuesday, Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni accused Netanyahu of not being able to prevent the discrediting and delegitimising of Israel at the international level. She welcomed Netanyahu's decision to enter direct talks but warned him: "I hope the prime minister won't enter the talks as a favor to the Palestinians, or to the US, but rather that he will understand that this is in our best interest."

Ministers from the Labor Party are reportedly applying pressure on party chairman Ehud Barak to leave the coalition if Netanyahu turns toward the extreme right and clashes with Obama next month.


Israel-Palestine Analysis: What is Washington's Strategy on Settlements and Talks?

On Monday, reminded about the statement by Palestinian representatives that they would walk away if the settlement freeze was not extended in the West Bank, U.S. State Department Spokesman P. J. Crowley said:
Well, first of all, we look forward to the first meeting next week with Prime Minister Netanyahu, President Abbas, and Secretary Clinton here on September 2nd as well as the individual meetings and dinner that President Obama will host at the White House on September 1st. We look forward to getting into the direct negotiation and then we believe that once that negotiation starts, it’ll be incumbent upon both the Israelis and Palestinians to avoid steps that can complicate that negotiation.

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Palestine-Israel Analysis: Ramallah’s “One Month Trial” and Netanyahu’s “Security Card”

Then, asked whether Washington was worried that the Israelis had not committed to extend that moratorium, Crowley implicitly revealed the Obama Administration's expectations:

No. As we’ve been saying throughout this process, our focus has been to get the parties into direct negotiations and once in the direct negotiations, then these very issues will be tabled and resolved.

On Tuesday, Crowley was asked whether the US had reached an understanding with Israelis that there would be no announcement that the settlement freeze would continue but some construction, possibly in large settlement blocks, would continue. Crowley did not deny but reiterated Washington's classic statement: "Well, we look forward to the meetings next week."

In contrast, a senior administration official briefing reporters in Jerusalem said that the US position had not changed,and that Washington “doesn’t accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements”. The official also said there were no “clandestine” understandings with either side.

On Wednesday, two US officials --- Daniel Shapiro, a top National Security Council staffer handling Israel and neighbouring countries, and David Hale, deputy to special Mideast envoy George Mitchell --- are going to the region to talk separatelywith Palestinians and Israelis.

Washington's message is clear to both sides: No provocative actions until 2 September and the start of the directly. The second strategy is to urge the Israeli government for a partial, if not a full, settlement freeze in the West Bank. Still, the question remains: beyond the refugee and status of East Jerusalem issues, how is the US going to persuade Ramallah to accept a peace plan likely to be linked to Israel's "sensitive" security concerns, even if it is based on 1967-War borders(even not mentioning the refugee and the status of East Jerusalem problems)?

Palestine-Israel Analysis: Ramallah's "One Month Trial" and Netanyahu's "Security Card"

After half the members of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization failed to attend the discussion over direct talks with Israel, the Palestinian Ma'an News Agency reported that Hamas cancelled Saturday's reconciliation meeting with Fatah.

According to the London-based Arab language daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi, the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has re-labeled the talks as a two-stage process: a one-month trial period to see if Israel's Netanyahu Government will extend the freeze on West Bank settlements and then direct talks focusing on core issues.

Israel-Palestine: Forget the Hype, Talks Are Going Nowhere (Walt)

For that second stage of the talks, Abbas suggested that the Quartet --- in which Russia, European Union, and United Nations sit with the US --- can press Washington to get Israel to reveal its hand, behind closed doors, on the borders of a future Palestinian state. In a letter, Abbas urged the Quartet members to abide by resolutions of the UN pertaining to the Israeli-Arab conflict, the principles of the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference, the 2002 road map and the 2002-2007 Arab Peace Initiative.

Azzam al-Ahmed, a senior Fatah official who also serves as an adviser to Abbas, expressed dismay over Washington’s failure to invite representatives of all the Quartet members to the launch of direct talks in Washington early next month.

On the Israeli front, Prime Minister Netanyahu is preparing to use his best card, "security issues", as soon as the talks commence. Over the weekend, Netanyahu said he plans to focus on security arrangements before addressing final borders. (That means "drawing final borders across security arrangements". If Israeli forces are deployed in the Jordan Valley and most of the 500.000 Israeli settlers are kept as a buffer force for the Israeli state from missiles, then the lines have more or less been drawn.)

Netanyahu increased the pressure by depicting a "real partner on the Palestinian side, sincere and serious in negotiations, negotiations which will require both sides to take necessary measures, not only the Israeli side but also the Palestinian side”. Then it would be possible to “shortly reach a historic peace agreement between the two peoples.”

In response to Ramallah's "one-month trial" for the extension of a settlement freeze, Netanyahu will use his "security" card in order to get the maximum concessions at the beginning of negotiations. That is a wise strategy: if the concessions are not made, then West Jerusalem can blame Ramallah for not living up to its agreement to negotiate. However, that in turn also points to the difficulty of getting Israel to move beyond the initial phase of talks.

Who might be responsible for that position? What about a country whose administration once supported Palestinians pre-conditions --- including the settlement freeze and ending the occupation in East Jerusalem --- yet, with urgent phone calls to Ramallah, has insisted on no pre-conditions and definitely no reference to Israel's weapons programmes, including its nuclear capability? Any guess who that might be?

Israel-Palestine Analysis: Why Did Ramallah Agree to Direct Talks? (Yenidunya)

On Friday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will each meet with President Barack Obama on 1 September, with formal direct negotiations starting the following day. The Quartet (United Nations, United States, European Union and Russia) echoed Washington's invitation and said a deal could be reached within a year.

Netanyahu's office issued a statement, highlighting the significance of Israel's security institutions, "We are coming to the talks with a genuine desire to reach a peace agreement between the two peoples that will protect Israel's national security interests, foremost of which is security." Defense Minister Ehud Barak said both parties will be required to make "courageous decisions to reach an agreement."

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Netanyahu has got what he wanted with direct talks without preconditions, so his welcome is understandable. On the other hand, Ramallah had been showing resistance. But why the change in position? And why now?

As a non-state organisation, the Palestine Authority's capabilities and room for manoeuvre are relatively limited. It is neither sovereign nor territorially defined and its decision-making process is more fluid, given the lack of legitimate authority both in the eyes of Palestinians and Israelis. So Ramallah's resistance, in the face of Washington's sustained efforts, was curbed.

Ramallah also faced an imminent deadline, with the Israeli moratorium on settlement expansion in West Bank ending on 26 September. Any hope of an extension rested on an apparent breakthrough, otherwise the intense conservative discourse in Israel--- "Palestinians not missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity" --- would prevail. So the Palestine Authority now seeks to consolidate the demand for a moratorium, as well as an extension of the freeze to East Jerusalem, as part of the negotations. a rule of negotiations, a sine qua non necessity legitimized  in the eyes of international community.

In the end, despite the months required for the effort, Washington was able to use this leverage to get Mahmoud Abbas and his team to the table, given the limited assurances that the non-state could hope to extract. We have no idea whether President Obama threatened sanctions against the PA and/or showed a carrot, such as a pledge that he would bring forth his own map, based on pre-1967 borders, if Netanyahu did not produce one before the winter. However, what we know is that Washington successfully made Ramallah sit down. (On Saturday, the London-based al-Hayat newspaper claimed that the Obama Administration gave assurance to Abbas.)

The decision to go to Washington is strategically the least damaging option for Ramallah. Following the conditional approval of the Arab League for the talks and the international pressure, Ramallah will not be tarred --- at least in the short term --- as the party who always misses opportunities. The Palestinian Authority will try to play the card of getting assurances over Israeli settlements for the continuation of direct talks after 26 September. Less than 24 hours of the approval, the chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said:
It can be done in less than a year. The most important thing now is to see to it that the Israeli government refrains from settlement activities, incursions, fait accompli policies.

Given no clear timeframe, specific terms of reference, and a monitoring mechanism, Ramallah is already insisting on taking the Quartet inside the negotiation room.  The PA will try to further the Quartet's March statement, saying that talks should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, with an end to the occupation that began in 1967 and an independent, democratic, and viable Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours. The statement also called for a freeze to settlements in the West Bank and an end to the annexation of East Jerusalem.

On Friday, 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. So far, Israelis have not responded to this statement and it is not known if and when the Obama Administration will include the Quartet in direct talks.

At the end of the day, however, given the limits of Ramallah's bargaining power, the catalyst for any advance in the talks will be the decisiveness of the Netanyahu Administration: how serious is it about reaching a deal regardless of public pressure over "non-negotiable security needs"?

US-Israel-Palestine Analysis: Arabs Talk Nuclear-Free Region, but Israel Returns US "Quartet Card"

Arabs' 'Nuclear-Free Region' Insistence: Only three months ago, a nuclear-free Middle East was a stated aim of the United Nations Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) conference. It was backed by the US Government. Then President Obama made it clear that his Administration would not question Israel's nuclear programme when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hosted in the White House.

However, it seems that the Arab nations have not given up chasing Israel's nuclear arsenal. A letter of 8 August, signed by Arab League chief Amr Moussa, asks for support of a resolution that Arab nations will submit to the September assembly of the International Atomic Energy Agency:
Singling out a state assumes that there are a number of states in the same position and only one state was singled out. The fact is that all the states in the region have acceded to the NPT except Israel.

Given the Arab League's "yellow light" for direct talks between Palestinians and Israelis, one wonders if some Arab nations are trying to boost credibility in the region with a sign of pressure on the US and Europe.

Meanwhile, Washington has little interests in talking nukes in West Jerusalem. Having failed to mediate direct talks, let alone a resolution, of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it now appears --- with the political pressure of November's mid-term elections already being felt --- that it may put the Quartet (United States, Russia, European Union, and United Nations) up front until the end of the year.

State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley said last Wednesday that the Quartet was likely to issue a statement of support for the talks in the coming day. Then the Quartet was expected to make an announcement regarding the resumption of direct talks on Monday, with US sources saying that the Quartet would call for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the pre-1967 borders.

This may be a different version of the March statement of the Quartet, in which it was asserted that talks should lead to a settlement, negotiated between the parties within 24 months, ending the occupation that began in 1967 and resulting in an independent, democratic and viable Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace and security with Israel and its other neighbours. The Quartet urged Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle West Bank outposts erected since March 2001, and it underlined that the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem.

A  senior American official put on some pressure over the weekend by stating that the Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will announce the start of direct peace negotiations with Israel in only "a matter of days".

However, the dilemma remains that calls for a future Palestinian state based on pre-1967 War do not necessarily touch Israel's expansion of settlements both in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And West Jerusalem is not blind to the disticntion: in the latest Cabinet meeting, all ministers except Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor rejected continuing the freeze in the West Bank. It was reported on Sunday that Netanyahu approved construction of 23 new classrooms in various West Bank settlements.

So another US card --- look to the Quartet, at least until mid-November --- played, another card apparently set aside, if not trumped, by Israel.