No sooner does the NY Times Israel correspondent put finger to keyboard when he gets things wrong yet again. Last night, I wrote that Sheera Frenkel reported in the Times of London that Mahmoud Abbas attended an emergency meeting of the Arab League which threatened the end of the U.S. brokered proximity peace talks because of Israel’s ham-handed announcement of the construction of 1,600 new housing units in Ramat Shlomo, beyond the Green Line. Yet writing today, Bronner reports:
Saeb Erekat, said by telephone on Thursday that the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, had asked Mr. Biden for help in stopping the housing project but made no threat about pulling out.
Here is what Haaretz reports as the actual Palestinian position:
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said earlier Thursday that Palestinians would not begin indirect peace talks unless the Israeli government annuled the decision to build in East Jerusalem.
“We want to hear from [United States envoy George] Mitchell that Israel has canceled the decision to build housing units before we start the negotiations,” Erekat said.
His remarks follow comments by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who told Biden Wednesday that it was not enough for the Israeli decision to be condemned, it also had to be canceled.
So here you have Bronner claiming Saeb Erakat told him on Thursday that Abbas would not be pulling out and Haaretz reporting that Abbas told Biden on WEDNESDAY that he would pull out unless the decision was cancelled. Something’s gotta give and it looks like Bronner either misinterpreted what he heard (given his predilection to hearing and seeing things from the Israeli point of view) or simply misreported.
As I noted yesterday, a cosmetic compromise would involve the Israelis temporarily rescinding approval until a suitable interval after the talks were underway. This would allow the Palestinians to save face and the Israelis to do what they always intended to do. But of course, this IS merely cosmetic and does nothing to alleviate the underlying problem which is that any settlement building in East Jerusalem is simply impermissible if there is to ever be real peace.
It’s rather laughable that Bibi has made a show of hauling his Interior Minister in for a verbal tongue-lashing, all the while insisting that he, the prime minister, knew nothing about the impeding announcement. It’s like Capt. Renault in Casablanca telling Rick that he’ll bring in the “usual suspects” for questioning. It’s all a big show. Of course, Bibi knew of the units. Why wouldn’t he? Of course he did it to convey a message to Biden and Abbas that no Jew allows himself to get kicked around. On the contrary, the Israelis will be setting the agenda in the talks as in everything else. And you know what? He’s right. And he’ll continue to be right till someone has the guts to call him on it. No one does. Nothing changes. Until the next war which is inevitable.
For anyone who wishes to understand how little can be gained from negotiations given the current Israeli attitude, read this passage in which Bronner conveys Israel’s understanding of what these peace talks should achieve:
…The Israelis want them to serve as a procedural corridor leading to direct negotiations…
I don’t know about you, but when I read those italicized words my heart just skipped a beat with excitement and I saw peace just around the corner. What the hell does it mean anyway, “procedural corridor?” I understand that Israel wants direct talks with the Palestinians rather than proximity talks. That’s why they seek something called a procedural corridor. But the entire point is that direct talks have failed in the past with a more moderate Israeli government than this one. So the Palestinians see no reason to agree to direct talks when there is seemingly less to talk about than even there was before.
Bibi is prepared to put even less on the table than Olmert. So the Palestinians say: why talk? What is there to gain? From Bibi’s vantage, he is willing to engage in direct talks that lead to Palestinians accepting his diktat of a settlement. And if they refuse, he can always point to them as the reason and blame them. For the Palestinians, it’s a trap. And though Abbas is little more than a lackey, even he knows not to step into that one.
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- Palestinians pull out of talks after Israeli settlement announcement (newstatesman.com)