US Middle East envoy George Mitchell on Wednesday concluded a short tour of the region by meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on how to move the once-again flatlining Israeli-Palestinian peace process forward.
Mitchell met with Israeli and Palestinian leaders earlier in the week. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was pleased that the US was finally determined to deal with core peace issues from the start, instead of wasting time on gestures like Jewish building freezes.
But the Palestinians remain intransigent. In their meeting in Ramallah on Tuesday, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas reiterated to Mitchell that for the Arabs, it’s all or nothing, that they are not willing to compromise for peace with Israel.
The Palestinians said Mitchell put forward some unofficial US offers regarding the peace process, but did not elaborate. Top Palestinian officials told reporters after the meeting that they are sticking to their demand that all Jewish construction in Judea, Samaria and the eastern half of Jerusalem must stop before they will even sit at the negotiating table with Israel.
The Palestinians also insist that the first topic of discussion be final borders, and that the only acceptable outcome is for Israel to fully withdraw to the pre-1967 armistice lines.
Israel wants borders to be discussed last, since making massive land concessions at the start would deprive Israel of all its cards and release the Palestinians of all incentives to compromise on other issues. In particular, the Palestinians are still refusing to recognize Israel as the national homeland of the Jews, and still wants to flood Israel with millions of so-called “Palestinian refugees.”
The Palestinians are currently approaching the US diplomacy with skepticism, which is putting further pressure on Washington to quickly come up with a formula that is acceptable to the Arabs. Many in Israel fear that will translate into enormous pressure on Jerusalem to accept unfavorable negotiating conditions.
If things do not go their way, the Palestinians are still working to secure European and UN recognition for a unilateral declaration of statehood in all of Judea and Samaria wth the eastern half of Jerusalem as their capital.