While Netanyahu calls for peace talks, Arab rulers pursue US-backed ploy to validate Hamas
Hardly a day has passed in recent weeks without Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu appealing to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to join him in peace negotiations. Sunday, July 12, this appeal was particularly inappropriate, issued as it was at a ceremony marking the 105th anniversary of the death of Binyamin Zeev Herzl, who envisioned the Jewish state which is anathema to the Palestinians.
A few hours later, Abu Mazen’s spokesmen, Saeb Erakat and Abu Rodeina, predictably spurned the invitation. Before negotiations, they said, Israel must accept the Palestinian refugees “right of return” and halt all settlement activity without exception.
Abbas will do what he can to push Netanyahu up against the wall vis-a-vis the Obama administration and the European Union by shutting the door on negotiations and forcing Israel to make the running. The Palestinian government in Ramallah is playing these games although the chairman and prime minister rule without legitimacy under the Palestinian constitution and against the will of the Hamas majority in their parliament. However their machinations are working fine because Washington, which does not object to engaging Tehran despite its brutal crackdown on domestic dissent, is not pressuring the Palestinians in any way.
debkafile‘s Washington sources disclose that the Obama administration is not waiting for Netanyahu or Abu Mazen to come together. It has laid odds on the Saudi-Egyptian bid to heal the inter-Arab quarrel with the Syrian president Bashar Assad after which they will join forces to broker reconciliation between Abbas’ Fatah and its rival Hamas in the Gaza Strip. They will try and persuade the rival Palestinian factions, which have refused to share power, to rule their separate territories under the authority of a supreme Palestinian Council.
This device, the Saudis, Egyptians and the Americans believe, will circumvent the two main hurdles blocking progress in Middle East peacemaking: The split between the Fatah governments ruling the West Bank and the Hamas regime controlling the Gaza Strip, and the participation of the extremist Hamas in peace talks.
A Palestinian supreme council will let Hamas off the hook of recognizing Israel as stipulated by the Middle East Quartet, while its own legitimacy is accepted. Netanyahu will be expected to conduct talks with a legitimate Palestinian government in which Hamas is not physically present at the negotiating table but yet holds veto power over its conduct and outcome.
For now, the entire peace process is in abeyance until Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Syria, wind up their scheme, which means that Netanyahu’s willingness to enter into talks with Mahmoud Abbas immediately is irrelevant.
The success of that scheme will be apparent if and when Saudi King Abdullah pays a landmark visit to Damascus to mark the end of the long breach between him and Assad.
The European Union external affairs executive Javier Solana knows exactly what is going on in the Middle East, but in his last months in office, he is trying to make his mark before retiring.
Without asking EU leaders, Solana Monday, July 13, proposed setting a deadline for Israel-Palestinian peace talks after which the UN Security Council would unilaterally proclaim and recognize the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Our sources report that the European diplomat hopes by this ruse to degrade direct Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations as the determining factor of a final status accord. And if prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu laid down terms, he would find himself on a collision course not only with Washington and Brussels but also with the United Nations. And last but not least, Solana would like to throw a spanner in the works of the US-Egyptian-Saudi-Syrian master plan in which European was not granted any role.
Netanyahu knows that, as matters stand now, his invitation to the Palestinians to start peace talks at once is just a voice in the wilderness which no one is going to heed. If like US president Barack Obama he is waiting for the Saudi and Syrian rulers to patch up their quarrel and pursue their Palestinian plan, the prime minister should say so openly and state where he stands. Israel needs to define its position clearly on this crucial step.