December 12, 2011 Edition 36 Palestinian-Israeli Crossfire
The Palestinian and Israeli responses to the Quartet
Where do we go when these non-negotiations end?  - Yossi Alpher
The kernel of the issue is that neither side is really interested in negotiations right now.

Israel's extremism is the reason  - Ghassan Khatib
Israel is doing anything possible to avoid matters of substance.

The peace process has never been so irrelevant  - Amnon Lord
It doesn't sound reasonable for Israel to start "negotiating" around "the damn table" over 1.9 percent of land swaps.

More involvement is required  - Mkhaimar Abusada
It is no secret that the peace process has reached a dead end.

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Where do we go when these non-negotiations end?
 Yossi Alpher
The Quartet negotiators plan to meet yet again with Israeli and Palestinian officials this week. They have in hand a Palestinian reply to their request for the two sides' positions on territory and security. They do not have an Israeli reply; the Netanyahu government insists that its demands on these two issues be delivered only in the course of direct negotiations. The Palestinians, for their part, insist there will be no direct negotiations until Israel ceases settlement construction.

There are more conditions and counter-conditions, but the kernel of the issue is that neither side is really interested in negotiations right now. On January 26, 2012, when the three months allotted for this exercise by the Quartet expire, it will declare who is to blame. That declaration will constitute a very minor event in the annals of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations or, in this case, non-negotiations.

The Palestinian proposal is hardly earthshaking, but it certainly could constitute a basis for negotiations were the two sides to sit down again. It reportedly offers the 1967 lines with land swaps totaling 1.9 percent of the total, an international peacekeeping force on the Palestine-Israel border and in the Jordan Valley, a demilitarized West Bank and a Palestinian commitment not to enter into alliances hostile to Israel. That's about where we were when the Olmert-Abbas talks ceased in late 2008--the last time anyone negotiated seriously.

What is somewhat more significant about this round of non-negotiations orchestrated by the Quartet is the notion, seemingly accepted by both sides, that negotiations in the first stage concentrate on territory and security, leaving the pre-1967 "narrative" issues of refugee right of return and holy places for a later time. This corresponds with US President Barack Obama's proposal presented last May in a speech to the State Department. It is actually the only agreed innovation registered in this non-process over the past three years.

What happens after January 26? On the Israeli side, nothing: the Netanyahu government is not really interested in a viable two-state solution and is happy to cite the Arab revolutions as an excuse, if it needs one, to sit tight.

On the Palestinian side, the date is more significant. Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has frozen his United Nations initiative until the end of January in deference to the Quartet's initiative. It also appears he will delay until that time any final decision regarding reconciliation with Hamas, an agreed interim leadership and agreed elections.

This does not necessarily mean that Abbas will take a new and dramatic step in late January. He seems to be vacillating and undecided regarding all the options on his table, from another UN push via an agreement with Hamas, to disbanding the Palestinian Authority and resigning.

January 26, then, offers the Quartet, along with interested Arab states and the peace lobbies in both Israel and Palestine, yet another opportunity to reassess the entire process and explore the formulation of a new paradigm for advancing it. The Oslo process--meaning the agreed procedure whereby the two sides have to negotiate and agree on all the final status issues together (even if they do approach them in sequence, beginning with territory and security) and thereby end the conflict--has run its course. By their action and inaction, both sides have informally recognized this reality for three years now. Only the Quartet seems oblivious to it.

A post-Oslo peace process should focus on the single ray of hope we can divine in the current reality. Whether by design or not, Abbas has shown us the way. The Palestinian UN bid with its sole concentration on the issues of sovereignty and territory can and should be leveraged by the international community into a win-win proposition. It could award UN recognition for a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with negotiated land swaps and a capital in East Jerusalem, along with a reiteration of UN recognition from 1947 of Israel as a Jewish state with adequate provision for minority rights, recognition of Israel's capital in West Jerusalem, and comprehensive security provisions.

This approach gives priority and an international imprimatur to the more doable "1967 issues" of borders and security and leaves the more daunting pre-1967 narrative issues of refugees and holy places for a stage that follows the emergence of a Palestinian state. It recognizes that the Oslo paradigm is no longer workable. Unless and until the international community and the parties accept this new reality, we will continue to go through the motions of hapless Quartet exercises like the current one.-Published 12/12/2011 ©

Yossi Alpher is coeditor of the family of internet publications. He is former director of the Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Israel's extremism is the reason
 Ghassan Khatib
The hard-line and extreme political position of the Israeli government, born from its right-wing composition, is creating immense contradictions between what this Israeli government can "accept" (and stay together) and what the international community seeking to restart the political process between Palestinians and Israelis expects. Israel has been solving this contradiction through evasion, doing whatever it takes to avoid any negotiations or engagement on matters of substance, especially if they involve a third party.

During Washington's efforts to restart the peace process led by US envoy George Mitchell, because Israel refused the US request that it halt the expansion of settlements in order to allow negotiations to move forward, Mitchell suggested indirect negotiations. These were called "proximity talks", wherein the parties were invited to submit proposals on security and borders.

Palestinians submitted their full proposals and positions on those topics, but Israel somehow got away with refraining from presenting anything. When direct talks were resumed in September 2010, four official high-level meetings were held. At these, Israeli officials also sat and listened, never presenting any positions or proposals or engagement in the ideas in any way.

This seems to be what is happening now. The Quartet is trying to prepare the ground for resuming negotiations, and because Israel refused to stop expanding settlements (part of Israel's obligations under the Quartet-sponsored roadmap), Quartet representatives requested that the two asides present their positions on borders and security. Again, Palestinians presented positions based on their goal of ending Israel's occupation and allowing for a two-state solution on the borders of 1967, with limited land swaps. Israel is refusing so far to present any position.

This repeated failure to bring Israel to substantive negotiations or meaningful engagement leads one to the conclusion that the actual obstacle to resuming meaningful peace talks of the kind that could move the parties to the peace they aspire to is the continued drift towards hard-line politics and extremism in Israeli society that is reflected in the Knesset and government.

A simple study of the changing composition of successive Israeli parliaments and governments after the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin explains the current failure of negotiations that had previously born fruit, as well as the failure of both the US and the Quartet to convince Israel to engage. This is fundamentally about the widening gap between the positions that might be produced by such coalitions and the minimal expectations of the international community, which is of course bound by international legality.

That's why right now the efforts of the friends of Israel, including the United States and Europe, should focus on influencing Israel bilaterally, including by introducing elements of accountability into their relationships. The fact that Israel has been allowed to enjoy having its cake and eating it too--in other words, disregarding the expectations of its friends while continuing to enjoy the benefits of those friendships--has allowed these negative hard-line trends to continue.-Published 12/12/2011 ©

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

The peace process has never been so irrelevant
 Amnon Lord
The news last week that the Quartet is suggesting indirect negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians over the territorial issue caught me by surprise. I believe most Israelis were not aware of any development at all on the Palestinian front, let alone that the Palestinians had responded favorably and that Israel rejected the proposal outright. You could not find much ado about it even in a pro-Palestinian paper like Haaretz.

The reason is sadly simple: Israelis have nearly forgotten about the existence of the Palestinians as an entity. The Palestinians may be at the center of conferences in many important and glorious places in the world at this very moment, but Israelis just don't know anything about it.

If you travel to the depths of the West Bank, around Nablus or Ariel, you'll observe a routine of civilian and economic life moving along busy roads. From Hizmeh checkpoint all the way to the heartland of the Palestinian villages surrounding Nablus, you can hardly notice an Israeli soldier. Only in Tapuach junction are there a few border guards. By my estimate, at least two-thirds of the traffic volume is Palestinian.

You could define this as a semi-transparent occupation. The friction is concentrated in a few sour spots or at a couple of terminals. But otherwise, both sides seem to make the best of co-existence inside a strange bubble that hovers in the midst of regional turmoil and international economic distress where stability and growth are a rarity.

There is a feeling in Israel that the peace process has never been as irrelevant as it is now. And strangely, there is a near consensus in Israel about this perception. Only the experts might remark that, while nobody expects a peace settlement as a result of possible contacts between the two parties, negotiations themselves are necessary in order to create a favorable atmosphere in the region surrounding Israel and the Palestinian territories--in Jordan, for example.

The main reason for the feeling that the Palestinian front is a non-issue right now stems from the fact that it has become a sideshow. It is not at all clear how regional changes might affect possible realignments within the Palestinian camp. Some suggest that the huge Islamic takeover of Egypt is tipping the balance in favor of Hamas between the Palestinian Authority in Gaza--what Israelis call Hamastan--and the PA in the West Bank. Hamas is after all a Palestinian offshoot of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood.

One eternal Israeli dilemma remains: should Israel negotiate with a leadership that may not be able to follow through on an agreement? But beyond this, the consensus spreads wide from the political right to the center and even into left-wing territory that Netanyahu's government is justly demanding direct negotiations and the Palestinians are to be blamed for not coming to the table with Israel. This controversy was demonstrated dramatically a week and a half ago at the Saban Forum in Washington when US Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta exclaimed, "Just get to the damn table." It was Dan Meridor, the most dovish minister in the Israeli government on the Palestinian issue, who stood up and told Panetta, "On that one, you are simply wrong." Israel has made unprecedented concessions in order to get the Palestinians to "the damn table" but they refuse.

Whether Meridor is right or wrong, most Israelis agree with him. It seems that even Labor party leader Shelly Yechimovich is on the same wave length with the government on the necessity for direct negotiations.

But all this is hardly Israel's main concern. The primary worry of both Israelis and many Palestinians is how to keep the West Bank from falling under the political and military influence of forces that take their cue from Turkey, Egypt or Iran. At the same time it is of the utmost importance to secure Jordan. The radical changes in our hemisphere are very negative. It doesn't sound reasonable for Israel to start "negotiating" around "the damn table" over 1.9 percent of land swaps in the West Bank. It seems odd that Israel has to act as a nanny for two Arab entities like the West Bank PA and the kingdom of Jordan while getting bullied and blamed for not "negotiating" with one of them.

See you after Iran: this is the Israeli answer to the Palestinians and the Quartet. See you after next year's elections in the United States and possibly in Israel, too. See you after Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas leaves office.-Published 12/12/2011 ©

Amnon Lord is a senior editor with Makor Rishon daily newspaper.

More involvement is required
 Mkhaimar Abusada
The stalemate in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process has prompted the Quartet (made up of the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia) to ask both sides to present their positions on borders and security. There have been no direct peace negotiations between the Palestinian and Israelis since the Israeli war on Gaza in December 2008 and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's entry into office in March 2009, except for three weeks in September 2010 when direct negotiations collapsed at the end of a ten-month settlement freeze announced by Netanyahu a year earlier.

The Quartet has invested a lot of effort in bringing both sides to the negotiating table, but the Palestinian leadership has refused to negotiate directly without a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the terms of reference for the negotiations as outlined by the Quartet roadmap. This has been rejected by Israel and threatens the stability of its current government coalition.

The refusal of Netanyahu's government to respect its obligations specified in the roadmap has left the Palestinian leadership with no other option but to wage a diplomatic and legal battle at the United Nations. Eighteen years have passed since the signing of the Oslo agreement in September 1993, with no hope to an end to the Israeli occupation and, instead, acceleration in the Israeli settlement enterprise on the land Palestinians hope to have as their own independent and sovereign state alongside the state of Israel.

The Quartet--mainly the United States--was unmoved by the Palestinian diplomatic bid for statehood submitted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in September 2011 as Abbas sought creative ways to bridge the gaps between the two sides. Both the Palestinians and Israelis were asked to submit their proposals on borders and security within three months. The Quartet move was designed to break the stalemate in the peace process and gradually move the parties to direct negotiations.

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has acknowledged that Palestinians have submitted their proposals on borders and security. He told Agence France Presse that Palestinians presented a document on November 14 proposing the lines that existed before the 1967 War as the basis for a deal, with land swaps of around 1.9 percent of the total land. This Palestinian position on borders reiterates their position during the Annapolis peace negotiations between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas in 2007 and 2008.

During the Annapolis peace talks, both Olmert and Abbas exchanged ideas on final borders and the gap then was not huge. Olmert submitted a proposal to Abbas for land swaps of approximately seven percent, and Palestinians were ready to accept swaps of only three percent of the total land, which essentially constitutes the large settlement blocs close to the green line separating the West Bank from Israel. But the war on Gaza and the arrival of Netanyahu disrupted those negotiations. Netanyahu refused to restart the peace negotiations on the basis of these understandings and, to complicate matters, he set a new condition that Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state before the resumption of peace talks.

On security, Erekat stated that Palestinians would accept the presence of a third party on the borders with Israel in exchange for a total Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. This position was outlined earlier in an interview with Palestinian leader Abbas who said that Palestinians would accept the presence of NATO forces on the borders with Israel. The bottom line for Palestinians is that no Israeli presence be allowed in the future Palestinian state. Israel, for its part, rejects any Palestinian presence in the Jordan Valley.

On the other hand, Israel is entirely refusing to submit its proposals on borders and security. Israeli sources have dismissed the Palestinian proposals, saying they include nothing new, and reiterated the Israeli position that direct talks and not negotiations mediated by the Quartet are the only way to achieve peace. This demand has been rejected by the Palestinians.

It is no secret that the peace process has reached a dead end, and with these current positions, there is no prospect of positive peace talks in the near future. The United States will be busy with its presidential elections, the European Union is preoccupied with its financial and economic crises, and the Arab regimes are anxious over the future of their countries and thrones.

The current situation is unsustainable and a third party must intervene to restart Palestinian-Israeli peace talks on the basis of the two-state solution envisioned by the Quartet roadmap. But this requires a more active role by the Quartet to seek implementation of the two sides' commitments to the roadmap.-Published 12/12/2011 ©

Mkhaimar Abusada is a professor of political science at Al-Azhar University in Gaza.