Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed to meet a delegation next week headed by Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to accept a letter in which the Palestinians spell out their conditions for resuscitating the comatose peace process.
Netanyahu is then expected to pen his own letter spelling out his expectations from such talks.
But don’t expect any breakthroughs.
The Palestinians have not budged from their longstanding demand that Israel first implement a settlement freeze and conduct talks that would create a Palestinian state based on Israel’s 1967 borders.
Netanyahu is expected to repeat in his letter that he is willing to meet anywhere for talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas provided there are no preconditions. He is reportedly planning to say that Israel is willing to discuss all of the core issues: borders, refugees, security, water, settlements and the future of Jerusalem. But he has also said that such talks must end in Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
Those positions have been intractable and there is no indication they will change next week. In fact, Abbas said in Cairo Monday that if Israel did not accept his demands, the Palestinian Authority would file a grievance with the United Nations. He insisted that these were not preconditions but “obligations which Israel must fulfill in accordance with international legitimacy.”
“When Israel accepts these two obligations, we will be ready to return to the negotiations,” he added.
The letter being hand delivered to Netanyahu has reportedly gone through many revisions. An initial draft is said to have contained an ultimatum and threats to dismantle the Palestinian Authority. It was reportedly toned down as a result of American diplomatic pressure, but it still comes close to saying the PA is closing shop.
“You have made the PA a non-authority,” Abbas said he wrote. “You have taken away from the PA all its commitments and what it was doing and supervising. Now we have been left with nothing.”
Among the reasons Israel gave for refusing to implement a West Bank building settlement freeze was that it had unilaterally implemented a 10-month freeze in 2010 that the Palestinians largely ignored. Only when it was about to expire in September 2010 did Abbas talk of returning to the bargaining table – but only on condition that the freeze be extended.
There were some talks in Amman last year under the auspices of Jordan’s King Abudullah, but they went nowhere.
In addition, Abbas has repeatedly insisted on forming a unity government with Hamas, an Islamic resistance movement that controls the Gaza Strip and is regarded as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and Europe. Hamas’ declared aim is the destruction of Israel, and Israeli leaders have told Abbas they will not deal with the PA if it succeeds in forming a unity government with Hamas.
In advance of next week’s meeting, there were Israeli media reports that Netanyahu wants to legalize three Jewish settlements in the West Bank. And although Jerusalem was not part of the 10-month settlement freeze, the announcement this week that Israel plans to expand the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa is certain the further aggravate the Palestinians.
But Israel is not the only one rubbing salt in the eyes of the other ahead of next week’s meeting. The Palestinians this week sent Hanan Ashwari, a member of the PLO executive committee, to Washington to personally present disgraced journalist Helen Thomas with an award in recognition of her “long career in the field of journalism, during which she defended the Palestinian position every step of the way.”
Ashwari told Thomas that the honor came directly from Abbas.
Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, said in a statement that he was “appalled by the award given by the PLO delegation in Washington,” and noted that Thomas “has been completely shunned by all decent Americans after making anti-Semitic remarks, along with teaching Palestinian children to hate the Jewish state and to glorify suicide bombers.”
As a reporter who over the years had occasion to work side-by-side with Thomas covering the White House, I once had an occasion to discuss the Middle East with her and she made no secret of her dislike of Israel. I knew of her Lebanese heritage and, not wishing to bring up a sore point with her, decided to never again broach the subject.
Her criticism had been of Israel’s policies, not of Jews. But when at a White House reception in 2010 Rabbi David Nesenoff asked on camera her opinion of Israel, she launched into a tirade about the Jews who live there, saying: “Tell them that they need to get out of Palestine and return home to Germany, Poland and America.”
He posted the video on You Tube, it went viral and Thomas quickly became a pariah and lost her job as the dean of the White House press corps. For the Palestinian president to now honor her is, in the words of Ambassador Oren, an “atrocious act [that] is an indication of the Palestinian Authority’s failure to meet the basic requisites of peace.”