So much for Israel’s grand experiment of halting Jewish construction for 10 months leading to a renewal of direct and meaningful peace negotiations with the Palestinians. As of this week, even the US had to admit that the peace process in its current form isn’t going anywhere, and Washington promptly returned to pushing indirect talks.
US Middle East envoy George Mitchell arrived in Israel on Monday to press for a return to indirect talks that would aggressively address the core issues of the conflict first, so that the two sides could quickly sign an agreement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was pleased the US was finally waking up to the fact that the core issues must be addressed instead of wasting time on temporary gestures like a Jewish building freeze.
However, Netanyahu made clear at a Globes Business Forum just before Mitchell arrived that Israel insists the first core issues to be addressed must be recognition of Israel as the Jewish state, security, and the so-called “Palestinian refugees.”
The Palestinians want to start with discussing final borders, but Israel is wary of doing so since once the Palestinian leadership gets the borders it wants and Jerusalem has no more cards to play, it is unlikely to be flexible on the issues of most important to Israel.
But things likely won’t even reach that point, as the Palestinian Authority this week expressed its extreme displeasure with the direction the Americans are going, and insisted that it will not return to any form of peace talks until Jews stop building in Judea, Samaria and the eastern side of Jerusalem.
The Bethlemem-based Ma’an news agency reported that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and many of his top advisors determined on Sunday to reject US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s proposal for indirect talks unless they are preceded by a new Jewish building freeze.
The Palestinians have made a halt to Jewish building their new red line, and that position has been almost irrevocably bolstered by America’s pressure last month for Israel to implement a second freeze, pressure that Washington eventually dropped after realizing the Palestinian would not respond favorably.
All of this is actually playing into the Palestinians’ hands by providing them an excuse to fully reject the US-led peace process and seek recognition for a unilateral declaration of independence.
Top Palestinian officials have begun lobbying European governments to recognize a sovereign Palestinian state immediately. “Palestine” has already been officially recognized by Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay. If the European Union were to do the same, the Palestinians would have the votes they need in the UN to declare statehood.