President Barack Obama has decided to shelve any serious effort to generate Israel-Palestinian negotiations for at least two years, debkafile's exclusive sources report from Washington. "It's a second term issue," he is quoted as telling his advisers. Only in November 2012 will he know if he is returned for another term as president and then too is unlikely to get back to the Israeli-Palestinian issue for several more months – "depending largely how the Arab Revolt" goes, according to a senior administration official.
Conscious of this delay, Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas convened the PLO Executive Committee in Ramallah Sunday, June 26, with a request to endorse his application to the UN General Assembly in September for recognition of a Palestinian state. After the endorsement was in his pocket, he announced he would turn to the UN only if talks with Israel were not revived before September.
Abbas is fully aware of the Obama administration's objections to his unilateral application to the UN and its commitment to veto any UN Security Council motion approving Palestinian membership of the world body. The Palestinians also know they risk losing their $600 million aid package from America if their UN initiative goes forward.
In line with the extended timetable, the White House sent two senior officials, Special Adviser Dennis Ross and Special Middle East Envoy David Hale to Jerusalem and Ramallah earlier this month to set up a ceremonial launch of Israel-Palestinian negotiations on a date before September and keep them going at a very low key thereafter. This was decided after both Abbas and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu quietly agreed to get back to the negotiating table.
Netanyahu is keeping this development under his hat, not sharing the information even with his closest advisers. In fact, our sources report, the prime minister has taken over in person all of Israel's contacts with the White House in Washington, sidelining even his most trusted aide Yitzhak Molcho, who was spoken for Netanyahu in these contacts until now. The senior members of his bureau are being kept at arm's length from the prime minister's high-wire diplomatic moves, including his newly appointed National Security Adviser Brig. (Res.) Yaacov Ami-Dror. Exchanges with Washington and the Palestinians are now handled exclusively by Netanyahu and in secrecy.
Our sources also disclose that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has been co-opted to this discreet venture as a senior player.
The role Obama has awarded him, officials in Washington, Jerusalem and Ankara report to debkafile's sources, is to stand in for him in the next couple of years and keep the ball rolling between Netanyahu and Abbas until a serious peacekeeping bid is restarted. To carry out this function, the Turkish prime minister has initiated steps for mending relations with Israel and putting an end to the rancor caused by the deaths of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists whose vessel Israeli commandos raided on its way to break the Gaza blockade.
Turkey's withdrawal from a repeat of that expedition scheduled for this month was one of those steps.
All three parties are trying to put the close military, strategic and intelligence bonds Israel and Turkey enjoyed for decades back on the old footing.