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Does Obama have a plan for peace — or a plan for a plan?

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Following weeks of meetings between U.S. special envoy George Mitchell, center, and leaders in the Middle East, President Obama reportedly is set to put forth new proposals for advancing Israeli-Arab talks. White House/Pete Souza

WASHINGTON – Are the parties in the Middle East ready for a U.S. peace plan? Or just for a plan for a peace plan?

Talk of a near-term U.S. peace plan was spurred last week when a State Department official said one would be in place “within weeks” — a projection confirmed within a day by Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

“I think it will be in a matter of weeks,” the spokesman, P.J. Crowley, said in an Aug. 3 briefing when he was asked when George Mitchell, President Obama’s envoy to the Middle East, would present a plan.

Barak echoed the same message a day later during a briefing to the Knesset’s Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee, according to a Reuters report.

“In the coming weeks,” Barak said, “their plan will be formulated and presented to the parties.”

Officials in the pro-Israel community and among foreign diplomats now say those projections were premature, that Obama administration officials were preparing the ground for the modalities of peace talks rather than a plan with specifics.

“What we know with our contacts with the administration is that they were satisfied with results of conversations Mitchell had in Israel,” a European diplomat told JTA. “There appears to be some confidence in the White House that there is an overall optimism that a breakthrough can be made — but there is no specific plan.”

According to the current scenario, Obama may be ready by the start of the U.N. General Assembly in mid-September to speak about deadlines and about where the talks will take place and who will participate.

Specifics, however, have been frustrated by a who-blinks-first dynamic that has overtaken U.S. diplomacy for the time being.

Arab states want Israel to commit to a settlement freeze before they announce concessions that would include allowing Israeli overflights and limited trade. Israel wants to see the concessions, and a stated recognition of Israel’s Jewish nature from the Palestinians and other Arabs, before it commits to a freeze. And the Palestinians have said that Israel must freeze settlements before they return to the table.

Hopes for progress were not helped by the long-delayed congress convened last week by Fatah, the mainstream Palestinian party that controls affairs in the west bank. The congress bogged down in debates over the tactics of “resistance” as opposed to peacemaking.

The belligerence at the conference, with resolutions demanding all of Jerusalem and accusing Israel of murdering Yasser Arafat, belied a readiness for peace and handed an opening to U.S. pro-Israel groups that have scrambled in recent weeks for the means to defend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement policies.

The Fatah congress had the effect of marginalizing Mahmoud Abbas, the Fatah leader and Palestinian Authority president, said American Jewish Committee executive director David Harris.

“Two months ago, President Abbas firmly rejected Prime Minister Netanyahu’s call in his Bar-Ilan University speech to resume direct Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, and now Abbas ups the ante with preposterous demands on Jerusalem and other final-status issues,” Harris said. “Why can’t Palestinian leaders openly recognize the fact that four consecutive Israeli prime ministers have offered a two-state solution?”

Another distraction for the Obama administration was his awarding of a Presidential Medal of Freedom to Mary Robinson, the former U.N. human rights commissioner who has been blamed in some circles for having failed to keep the U.N. conference on racism in Durban in 2001 from becoming an anti-Israel fest.

That news invited a flood of critiques from Jewish organizational officials who were glad for the break from having to explain the court-ordered eviction of Palestinian families from Jerusalem homes they had occupied for decades.

The centrist pro-Israel groups were not about to cede the upper ground. More than 70 U.S. senators this week signed a letter, strongly backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and opposed by some Jewish groups that favor increased U.S. pressure on Israel, urging Obama to focus on pressuring Arab nations to conciliate with Israel. A companion letter from the U.S. House of Representatives was sent to Saudi Arabia’s king.

The gaps between Israel and its neighbors in the Middle East and between some pro-Israel groups and the White House here do not mean Obama’s peacemakers will stand down. And Barak, the Israeli defense minister, warned his colleagues that they should be ready to play along when the White House steps up with a plan.

“Israel must take the lead in accepting the plan,” he was quoted as telling his Knesset colleagues.

That strategy would put Israel at an advantage, said an official with a pro-Israel group who consults with the Obama administration.

“That would be very positive for Israel-U.S. relations,” said the official, from one of the groups that favors increased U.S. pressure on Israel.

He noted the recent furor over a leaked memo from Nadav Tamir, an Israeli diplomat in Boston, who alleged that Netanyahu’s refusal to accept a settlement freeze was damaging Israel’s ties with its most critical ally.

The flurry of controversies means the White House is likelier to proceed at a slower, more careful pace, said David Makovsky, a top analyst at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

“There’s no value in coming out with full guns if you’re going to fail,” said Makovsky, who has intensely lobbied the Obama and Netanyahu administrations in recent weeks to consider a “borders first” solution in which Israel and the Palestinians would mutually agree on borders that would allow Israel to keep some settlements in exchange for land swaps that would amount to 100 percent of the land Israel seized in the west bank during the 1967 Six Day War.

Establishing borders would hand both sides a “win,” Makovsky said: Netanyahu’s government would be the first to annex west bank settlements, and Abbas’ government would show that it won back land through negotiations, quelling claims by Hamas in Gaza that only violence works. It also would help defuse a major sticking point between Jerusalem and Washington, as Israel would not be asked to freeze settlement construction in territory slated for annexation.

Thorny issues such as Jerusalem and the status of refugees would still be on the table, but according to this theory, the momentum created by resolving borders would spur such talks forward.

“It’s like in football,” Makovsky said. “If you can’t go 100 yards, you go 70 yards.”

JTA

 
 

Do indirect peace talks have a shot?

JERUSALEM – Although Israeli and Palestinian leaders are pessimistic about the chances of a breakthrough in the U.S.-mediated proximity talks that begin this week, the Americans hope the process itself will generate a new peacemaking dynamic.

Whether or not the parties make headway, Israeli analysts anticipate a major U.S. peace push this fall.

Over the past few months, U.S. officials have made it clear that the Obama administration sees Israeli-Palestinian peace as a major U.S. interest. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the point in a Washington speech last month. Not only does the lack of peace threaten Israel’s future and hold back the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people, it “destabilizes the region and beyond,” she said.

That position has translated into tough messages to both sides from the Obama administration’s special envoy for Middle East peace, George Mitchell, who got the two sides to agree to launch the indirect talks and is now set to mediate between them.

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Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak talks with the Obama administration’s special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, at Ben-Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv before their April 25 flight to New York. Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry

Mitchell has made clear that he has no intention of merely shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah carrying messages, but that he intends to put forward American bridging proposals wherever they might be helpful. He also has indicated to both sides that if the talks falter, the Obama administration will not be slow to blame the party it holds responsible. Indeed, Palestinian officials say Mitchell told them that the United States would take significant diplomatic steps against any side it believed was holding back progress.

The Americans see the proximity talks as a four-month preparatory corridor leading to direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The strategy seems to be to get the process moving quickly and with as much intensity as possible until next September, when the Israeli moratorium on building in west bank settlements is due to expire.

Then, Israeli analysts say, President Obama will reconsider his options: If the talks are progressing well, Washington will try to persuade the Israelis to extend the building freeze and the Palestinians to agree to direct negotiations. But if the talks are foundering, Obama may consider putting an American peace plan on the table and calling an international peace conference to pressure the parties to move forward, according to a recent report by David Ignatius in the Washington Post, which quoted senior administration officials.

Israeli media also have reported that Obama told several key European leaders that if the talks stall, he will convene an international peace conference in the fall.

The Israeli aim is first and foremost not to lose the blame game.

The Netanyahu administration in Jerusalem sees in the proximity talks as a means of managing the conflict and keeping the international community at bay as long as it is seen to be giving peacemaking a chance. Israeli officials have little faith in the Palestinians’ negotiating intentions and suspect them of planning to use the talks to generate further U.S. pressure on Israel.

Thus, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has gone out of his way to convince the Americans of his good faith. Contrary to his previous position — that core issues like borders, Jerusalem, refugees, security and water could be discussed only in direct talks —Netanyahu has agreed to have everything on the table in the proximity phase.

More important, he pressed for a vote in his Likud Party last week deferring internal party elections for two years, defeating inveterate party hawks, and giving himself new wiggle room to maneuver in the peacemaking arena.

In the proximity talks, Netanyahu wants to discuss security and water issues first. He has ordered his staff to work on an eight-point brief on security prepared by the previous Israeli government under Ehud Olmert. Before Israel makes any commitments on permanent borders, Netanyahu wants to clarify the precise details of Palestinian demilitarization, Israeli rights in Palestinian air space, the functioning of border crossing points, and the deployment of Israeli forces along the Palestinians’ eastern border with Jordan to prevent arms smuggling.

At one point Netanyahu considered offering the Palestinians an interim mini-state with temporary borders, according to Israeli media, who reported that President Shimon Peres and Defense Minster Ehud Barak, both apparently with Netanayu’s approval, tried to persuade Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to accept an interim state on about 60 percent of the west bank.

This would have removed any lingering doubts about Israel’s commitment to the two-state solution without entailing a major Israeli withdrawal from the west bank.

But Abbas, fearful that the temporary measure could become permanent, quickly shot down the idea. A spokesman for Netanyahu told JTA that the interim plan “was out there” and that Abbas had rejected it.

Instead, Netanyahu may be ready to hand over more west bank land to Palestinian political and security control in a goodwill gesture designed to show Israel’s ultimate readiness to roll back its occupation of the west bank.

Like Israel, the Palestinians’ primary goal is not to lose the blame game.

Abbas is convinced that a deal with Netanyahu’s hawkish government is not possible. Leading Palestinians for months have been saying that talks with the Netanyahu government would be futile.

In a speech to his Fatah Party in late April, Abbas called on Obama to “impose” a solution that would lead to an independent Palestinian state.

“Mr. President,” he said, “since you believe in this, it is your duty to take steps toward a solution and to impose a solution.”

Israeli intelligence has been warning that Abbas’ aim is to get the international community, led by the United States, to impose a settlement on Israel. The Palestinian leader also wants Washington in his corner should he decide to go to the United Nations for a binding resolution recognizing a Palestinian state and delineating its borders.

Given the current lack of trust between Israel and the Palestinians, American thinking along similar lines is starting to take shape.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, a former U.S. national security adviser, is proposing that Obama put a new set of peace parameters on the table and urge the parties to negotiate a final peace deal within the U.S.-initiated framework. Should either side refuse, Brzezinski says the United States should get U.N. endorsement of the plan, putting unbearable international pressure on the recalcitrant party.

Brzezinski reportedly outlined this position to Obama in a meeting of former national security advisers convened in late March by Gen. James Jones, the current incumbent.

This is precisely the type of scenario Israeli analysts are predicting for September, especially if the proximity talks fail to make progress: binding American peace parameters serving as new terms of reference for an international peace conference and subsequent Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking.

According to senior Israeli officials, the conference would be held under the auspices of the international Quartet — the grouping of the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia — with the aim of forging a wide international consensus for the creation of a Palestinian state.

JTA

 
 

Will talks be about appearance or substance?

WASHINGTON – It’s a peace conference where nothing is off the table — or on it, for that matter.

The Obama administration’s invitation to Palestinian and Israeli leaders to launch direct talks on Sept. 2 attempts to reconcile Israeli demands for no preconditions with Palestinian demands that the talks address all the core issues: final borders, the fate of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.

News Analysis

The administration does this by calling on the sides to “resolve final-status issues” without saying when and how these issues should come up, if at all.

The vagueness of the invitation issued last Friday underscored the distance between the two sides, as well as the immediate political and regional pressures that have lit a fire under U.S. efforts to restart the peace process. Whether or not the peace talks will be able to move from vague outlines to concrete resolutions remains to be seen. For now, merely having direct talks is an achievement, particularly for the United States and Israel.

For the United States, having the talks gives Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a reason to continue a partial settlement moratorium, thereby sustaining Arab support for U.S. policies. This support is seen as important as Washington attempts to juggle emerging crises in the region, including Iraq’s vexed attempts to set up a government and Iran’s accelerating nuclear ambitions. President Obama also wants a process under way before November, when his Democratic Party is likely to face a tough battle at the ballot boxes during midterm congressional elections.

For Netanyahu, the talks are a way to demonstrate that his government is interested in pursuing peace with the Palestinians.

Among the Palestinian leadership, however, there are deep concerns that Washington and Jerusalem are more interested in the appearance of talks than in getting down to the nitty-gritty of the final-status issues. Israel has resisted Palestinian demands to discuss final-status issues and opposes any deadline for a resolution.

The discrepancies between the two sides were evident in the delicate way U.S. officials tried to treat the issue of preconditions to the talks.

“Only the parties can determine terms of reference and basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters,” George Mitchell, the top U.S. envoy to the region, said in the news conference announcing the invitations. “As you know, both we and the Quartet have previously said that the negotiations should be without preconditions.” The Quartet is the grouping that guides the Middle East peace process: the United States, Russia, the European Union, and the United Nations.

Yet in launching the news conference, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seemed to say that both of the elements Israel is resisting indeed would be on the table: Final-status issues and a deadline.

“On behalf of the United States government, I’ve invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas to meet on Sept. 2 in Washington, D.C. to re-launch direct negotiations to resolve all final-status issues, which we believe can be completed within one year,” Clinton said.

Was that a deadline, a reporter asked Mitchell? Not quite, he said, adding. “We believe it can be done within a year and that is our objective.”

Then there is the matter of U.S. involvement. Mitchell insisted that the talks would be bilateral, ostensibly diminishing the U.S. role. He said the United States was ready to offer “bridging proposals” — the formulations that negotiating sides request from a moderator when talks hit a snag. But the way he put it suggested that the United States might offer such proposals even if the sides do not request them.

“This is a direct bilateral negotiation with the active and sustained support of the United States,” he said. “And we will make bridging proposals at such time as we deem necessary and appropriate.” The determined, active voice he used was not unintentional: Mitchell later repeated the phrase.

The Palestinians have been pressing for a more active U.S. role, saying that it would help balance Israel’s stronger hand as an established state with a powerful military. Israel would rather deal directly with the Palestinians, preferring not to countenance an active U.S. role that conceivably could exacerbate already delicate Israeli relations with the United States.

Not surprisingly, then, the statement from Netanyahu’s office welcoming the renewed talks — which came immediately after the announcement — did not mention final-status issues, deadlines, or U.S. intervention.

“The prime minister has been calling for direct negotiations for the past year and a half,” the statement said. “He was pleased with the American clarification that the talks would be without preconditions.”

The Palestinian Authority’s response to the announcement of the talks was less than enthusiastic. It took till the end of last Friday for them to welcome the invitation to talks, and Palestinian leaders later warned that if Israel’s 10-month settlement freeze is allowed to expire in late September, the talks are off.

Netanyahu’s statement did not say what he intends to do about the freeze. Israeli officials reportedly have told their U.S. counterparts that Netanyahu would not be able to sustain the moratorium on settlement-building without the cover of peace talks. Similarly, the Arab League, which this summer provided much needed cover to Mahmoud Abbas in approving the peace talks, needs the negotiations as cover to maintain its support of the United States.

Both Mitchell and the Quartet made it clear that they expected the settlement moratorium to be extended.

“Our position on settlements is well-known and remains unchanged,” Mitchell said. “We’ve always made clear that the parties should promote an environment that is conducive to negotiations.”

JTA

 
 

U.S. backs biweekly Mideast summits

WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is backing a proposal by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meet every two weeks during peace talks.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu has stated privately and publicly that he hopes to meet with President Abbas every two weeks,” George Mitchell, the senior administration official brokering talks, said in a briefing Tuesday, two days before the formal start of direct talks. “We think that is a sensible approach.”

Abbas has not yet said whether he will commit to such intensive talks. Netanyahu and Abbas were scheduled to meet on Thursday for their first direct meeting brokered by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, which is set to last three hours.

The sides have yet to set the parameters for talks; U.S. officials were in intensive efforts Tuesday to peg them down by Thursday.

“We want to see not just a successful process going forward but an understanding that we will be going forward,” P.J. Crowley, the State Department spokesman, said in a separate briefing.

Mitchell said the United States planned to be “actively involved” in the process but would not be present at every meeting.

“The United States will play an active and sustained role in the process,” he said. “That does not mean that the United States must be physically represented in every single meeting.”

U.S. officials said they would insist that Netanyahu address settlements during the meetings and consider extending the 10-month partial moratorium he imposed on settlement expansion that lapses Sept. 26.

Abbas has said he will walk out if Netanyahu does not sustain the moratorium. Netanyahu is under pressure from hard-liners in his cabinet to restart building.

In his briefing, Mitchell held out the possibility that Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip and sees Abbas’ government as illegitimate, might yet join the talks.

“We do not expect Hamas to play a role in this immediate process, but as Secretary of State Clinton and I have said publicly many times in the Middle East and the United States, we welcome the full participation by Hamas and all relevant parties once they comply with the basic requirements of democracy and nonviolence that are a prerequisite,” he said.

Mitchell, who successfully steered Northern Ireland talks in the 1990s, noted that talks were under way for 15 months before Sinn Fein, the Irish Republican Army’s political arm, reversed policy and agreed to similar terms.

A Hamas leader, however, insisted that violence was the only path forward for the Palestinians.

“As a Palestinian leader, I tell my people that the Palestinian state and Palestinian rights will not be accomplished through this peace process,” Khaled Meshaal, who is based in Damascus, told a Huffington Post blogger in an interview. “But it will be accomplished by force, and it will be accomplished by resistance.”

Meshaal confirmed that his officials have been in indirect talks with American officials.

“We know very well that some non-U.S. officials we meet with report to the administration,” he said. “We are interested in meeting with the Americans and the West, but we do not beg for these meetings and we are not in a hurry.”

JTA

 
 

Leaked maps show gaps in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations

WASHINGTON – This time there are maps — not that they necessarily will help.

After the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000, the Israeli and Palestinian sides bickered about who had offered what, and the competing historical narratives were adopted by either side and around the world.

This time, the proposed territorial concessions that former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian negotiators discussed are visible in living color — in a set of leaked Palestinian Authority documents published by Al Jazeera (http://www.jta.org/?URL=http%3A%2F%2Fenglish.aljazeera.net%2Fpalestinepapers%2F2011%2F01%2F2011122114239940577.html).

The maps are significant because they show how close the two sides are on some issues — for example, which would control certain Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem. But they also show that the gaps on other issues remain far from resolution, particularly regarding Jewish settlements deep inside the west bank.

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The Washington Institute for Near East Policy published a proposed map for dividing the west bank, above, just before Al Jazeera published leaked map details from Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2008 and 2009. Washington Institute

Back in 2000, Dennis Ross, now the lead negotiator on the issue, talked President Clinton into not committing anything to paper because he said the controversy that would ensue from maps and percentage sheets outweighed the value of getting things down in writing. He especially distrusted the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Instead of squelching controversy, however, the absence of written proposals and maps stoked it.

Now the leaked maps will help keep the Palestinian and Israeli positions straight.

The map detailing Olmert’s alleged offer to the Palestinian side shows Israel giving 5.5 percent of territory in Israel proper in exchange for 6.8 percent of the west bank. The swaps that Ahmed Qureia, a former PA prime minister and a top negotiator, reportedly proposed in January 2008 to then-Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni were a 1:1 ratio and amounted to trading to Israel less than 2 percent of the west bank.

The Palestinian Authority accounts of meetings with Israeli and American interlocutors reveal many areas of agreement, most of which have been known widely for years. The Palestinians want recognition of the rights of Palestinian refugees and their descendants from Israel’s 1948 War of Independence, but they also acknowledge that the refugees ultimately will remain where they are living now.

“If the Arabs will be part of the solution, there will be no problem in this issue,” Qureia told Livni in 2008. “We have to engage countries that host the refugees.”

Such compromises appear contingent on the relationship between Palestinian and Israeli leaders. Ties between the Palestinian Authority and the Olmert government in 2008 were better than they are now between the Palestinian Authority and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. In 2008, direct negotiations were a matter of course, not an aspiration.

How mutual suspicion affects talks is made evident in the leaked report of an October 2009 meeting between George Mitchell, the top U.S. envoy to the region, and Saeb Erekat, the lead PA negotiator. Erekat says that if Netanyahu insists on rejecting refugee rights at the outset, the “Palestinian leadership can only respond by insisting on full exercise of right of return.”

The same dynamic, in which friendlier talks lead to more expansive proposals, applies to territory. In May 2008, in another meeting with Livni, Qureia apparently outlined a deal that would allow Israel to retain a chunk of Gush Etzion, the bloc of Jewish settlements south of Jerusalem, near Bethlehem, as well as nearly all of the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. In the October 2009 meeting with Mitchell, Erekat says construction in some of those neighborhoods is inhibiting talks.

The most striking theme that recurs in the documents is how far apart the parties are when it comes to balancing Israel’s reluctance to relocate settlers with Palestinian demands for territorial contiguity in the west bank.

“In the end the whole matter isn’t merely the value of exchange but the reality of those Israelis and where they live,” Livni says in an exchange from the Jan. 27, 2008 meeting between Livni and Qureia in Jerusalem.

Qureia responds, referring to Maaleh Adumim and Givet Zeev, large west bank Jewish settlements that serve as bedroom communities for Jerusalem, “I can’t accept Maaaleh Adumim settlement as a reality because it divides the west bank, and the same goes for Givat Zeev settlement.”

If anything, the documents shatter the illusion that there is a bottom-line consensus about certain settlements being annexed to Israel in a final-status agreement. Many groups refer to these as the “everybody knows” settlements, such as Maaleh Adumim and Efrat, both near Jerusalem.

In fact, the gap is broader than expected, and helps explain why PA President Mahmoud Abbas turned down Olmert’s offer in mid-2008. Olmert refused to give Abbas the map, so Abbas scribbled it down on a paper, and it became known as a “napkin map,” which is what Al Jazeera published this week.

Another “everybody knows” myth shattered by the leaks is the notion that the Palestinians would accept as swaps Negev desert lands adjacent to the Gaza Strip. In the leaked documents, the Palestinians scoff at such swaps and want land equally as arable as the lands they would cede.

The Olmert map, in its attempt to maximize the amount of settlers Israel would retain, resembles a proposal advanced last week by David Makovksy, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a leading pro-Israel think tank in Washington. Makovsky, who is close to Ross, says he has presented the map to officials in the Israeli, Palestinian, and U.S. governments.

“The goal of ‘Imagining the Border’ is to present a menu of options for resolving the territorial component of the conflict, meeting Palestinian demands of minimal land swaps with a 1:1 ratio while allowing Israel to annex areas containing the majority of west bank settlers,” Makovsky says.

Makovsky manages to narrow the gap between Olmert’s 6.8 percent and Qureia’s 1.9 percent to 3.7 percent, but he retains the “fingers” Olmert’s map thrust into the west bank to capture large Israeli settlements. The Palestinians insist those are unacceptable.

Sticking points seem never-ending. The Palestinians regard Latrun, an area southwest of Jerusalem secured by Israel in one of the Independence War’s bloodiest battles, as “no man’s land” because of its designation as such on some maps. They regard its retention by Israel as a concession. Israel and the international community view it as Israeli territory.

Such nitpicking has a toll.

According to the documents, Livni starts the May 4, 2008 meeting at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem dryly: “Based on what I have heard in the trilateral meeting with Condoleeza Rice, I believe that your offer will not be exciting,” she tells Qureia, referring to the then-U.S. secretary of state.

The Palestinians are unrelenting in pleading with the Americans, in meeting after meeting, to press the Israelis to freeze settlement growth.

“Everyone is saying look at what they get from violence, etc.,” Qureia tells Rice in a July 16, 2008 meeting in Washington. “Please. We need your help on settlements” and on the removal of roadblocks and other Palestinians demands.

Settlements continue to dog the talks today.

The Palestinian posture now is not to return to direct talks until Israel reinstates a freeze on Jewish building in the west bank. Palestinian allies are circulating a resolution in the U.N. Security Council that blasts Israel for settlement-building and urges a return to talks. The Obama administration is opposed to the resolution but has not said whether or not it will veto it.

Occasionally, however, the leaked documents show a surprising concession emerges from talks that the sides thought were secret.

Livni, apparently warning the Palestinians not to make an issue of Israel’s Law of Return, tells Qureia and Erekat in January 2008 that “Israel was established to become a national home for Jews from all over the world. The Jew gets the citizenship as soon as he steps in Israel, and therefore don’t say anything about the nature of Israel, as I don’t wish to interfere in the nature of your state.”

That seems to undercut a policy that she introduced and that now haunts talks: That Palestinians need to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

In the same exchange, Erekat also tosses aside the Palestinian doctrine that all Jewish settlers need to leave the west bank.

“We don’t mind to have settlers live as Palestinian citizens who have all rights under the Palestinian law,” he says.

JTA Wire Service

 
 
 
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