Low Expectations of Israeli/Palestinian/American Summit

Feb 19, 2007 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

February 19, 2007
Number 02/07 #10

Today’s Update consists of three pieces previewing the Israeli-Palestinian Summit meeting scheduled to take place tonight under the auspices of visiting US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

It opens with Herb Keinon of the Jerusalem Post pointing out that conditions have changed dramatically since the Summit was originally planned in January, and thus what is going to be discussed will be radically different. He says that the Summit was intended originally to strengthen PA President Abbas as his Fatah group confronted Hamas, but it will now focus on feeling him out about the planned Palestinian Unity government agreed to in Mecca. For more analysis of the background to the Summit, CLICK HERE.

Next, Israeli-American columnist Zeev Chafets discusses at length why Israelis have, perhaps unfairly, termed this the “delusional summit.” He looks at the bigger picture items related to the overall positions of the two sides and explains why serious peace progress is not in the offing at the moment, and Rice, who has been clear-eyed about this so far, should remain so. For this take on the overall Israeli-Palestinian strategic standoff, CLICK HERE.

Finally, veteran Middle East mediator Ambassador Dennis Ross takes this analysis a step further, and suggests what can be achieved by diplomacy if progress toward peace is impossible. He believes it may be possible to reach what he calls a “comprehensive ceasefire”, whereby the Palestinian national unity government takes on genuine responsibility for stopping terror and arms smuggling and there would be specific penalties for violations of the agreement. Ross argues that this could ultimately allow for a future negotiated Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. For this full analysis of the realm of the possible at the Summit from a very experienced source, CLICK HERE.

Analysis: The summit: Overcome by events


Jerusalem Post, Feb. 19, 2007                                 

The idea for Monday’s trilateral meeting was hatched during US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s last visit to Israel in mid-January, and was a direct outgrowth of Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s idea from December to provide the Palestinians with a “political horizon.”

The idea was simple: To make a clear distinction between Fatah and Hamas, between the moderates and the extremists, between the Mahmoud Abbases and the Khaled Mashaals. The idea was to show the Palestinians all they could gain by distancing themselves from the extremists, and hugging the moderates.

But that was then, a full five weeks ago. In the interim the lines between the extremists and the moderates were blurred in Mecca. At Mecca, Abbas showed a willingness to form a partnership with Hamas. Abbas went to Mecca trying to Fatahize Hamas, but ended up becoming more Hamasized himself.

So, in one fell swoop, the trilateral meeting’s raison d’etre melted away. Immediately after Mecca there was serious discussion in Jerusalem about whether to call the whole thing off altogether. There were those who argued that if Abbas chose a condominium with Hamas, he should pay the consequences, and until the new government adopted the three principles, Israel should cease dealing with him.

The prime minister, however, has up to this point opted for a different approach – one that brings back memories of last February, the period between when Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections in January, and the new government was formed in March.

At that time, as now, the world decided to take a wait and see approach, the logic being that it was preferable not to act in a rash or drastic manner, in the hope that common sense would prevail and the Palestinians would not establish a Hamas government that few in the world would deal with.

This “Western” common sense, however, did not prevail, and the Palestinians opted for a government that the world decided to boycott.

A year later we have returned full circle to exactly the same spot.

Again the Palestinians did something that both Israel and the US and Europeans did not want them to do – formed a unity government that, as of now, does not cross the bar that the international community established: recognize Israel, forswear terrorism and accept previous agreements.

Now, as was the case last year during the interim period, there are attempts to “talk sense” to Abbas so that a Palestinian government is not formed that the world will not recognize. Few, however, are holding out much hope, which means that preparations need to be made for the day after.

There are fundamentally three choices facing Israel if a Palestinian government is set up that does not accept the three conditions.

The first is to treat the new government as it did the last, meaning boycott it and deal only with Abbas, who will remain the chairman with the same powers now that he had then.

The second choice is to pick and choose which ministers inside the new government to talk to, boycotting the Hamas-affiliated ministers, but talking with the Fatah ones, an idea that has gained some traction in Washington.

And the third choice is to say that this is a government that Israel simply cannot deal with, and that since Abbas not only gave it his seal of approval but also helped midwife it, then he is no longer a political partner.

The option Israel will choose depends to a large extent on the answers that Abbas gives Monday to the following questions: What is he trying to do to get the new government to accept the three conditions, what power does he have to implement anything in the PA, and how does he plan to separate – or distinguish himself – from Hamas?



New York Post, February 14, 2007

 SECRETARY of State Condoleezza Rice is scheduled to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Jerusalem next Monday.

Israelis aren’t waiting for the event to describe it. It is already being called, in Hebrew slang, hapisgah ha’haziyah – the delusional summit.

This may be an unfair judgment. Rice wants to talk with the parties because that’s what diplomats do, but it is doubtful that she expects results. The gaps are too wide and the animosities are too deep, not just between Israel and the Arabs but among the Palestinians themselves.

The fact that a Palestinian cease-fire was brokered in Mecca last week has some eternal optimists convinced that Hamas and Fatah are really capable of unity. In truth, all it means is that when fighting does break out again, the sides can accuse one another of making vows in bad faith at Islam’s holiest shrine.

There is a pretty fair chance that this fighting will start before Rice even has a chance to get on the plane. The Hamas-Fatah clashes in Gaza over the past few months may have begun as partisan or ideological rivalry, but they have degenerated, as Middle Eastern disputes inevitably do, into clan warfare – a form of armed self-destructiveness familiar to Rice from Iraq.

If the two Palestinian sides can keep the peace until next Monday, President Abbas will meet with Rice not as the leader of the unified Palestinian people, but as Hamas’ junior partner and mouthpiece. And nothing he can say will move the peace process an inch.

That’s because the Mecca deal did nothing to change Hamas’ cardinal principles: Israel has no right to exist, and it is a sacred duty to wage war against the Jews. Abbas, by bringing the Fatah faction into a Hamas-led government, won’t be free to go beyond these baseline positions. If he does, the “unity” government will be over, and his life will be in danger.

Some State Department experts argue that the very fact that Hamas is willing to include Fatah in a government implies that somehow Hamas is willing to recognize agreements reached by Yasir Arafat with Israel. This is nonsense.

Arafat himself didn’t honor his agreements with Israel. Instead, in 2000, he turned down the Clinton-brokered U.S.-Israeli offer of an independent Palestinian state and launched an intifada. After almost seven years of terrorism and missile attacks, the Israeli public no longer believes even official Palestinian promises, let alone tortuous, implied interpretations of PLO winks and nods.

The Palestinians have, as they have always had, three bottom-line interim demands (before, that is, the destruction of the state of Israel). They want complete Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 border, control over East Jerusalem and acceptance of a “right of return” for refugees from the 1948 War of Independence.

These conditions would require Israel to evacuate hundreds of thousands of civilians from their homes, give up a major portion of its capital and create an Arab majority by taking in millions of refugees and their descendants. In other words, they want Israel to drop dead.

The chances of any Israeli government agreeing to this is exactly zero.

Still, these are the real Palestinian terms. The last time an American government pretended otherwise, Yasir Arafat walked out of Camp David, leaving Bill Clinton with his dream in his hand.

For six years the Bush administration has admirably resisted the patronizing and comforting urge to pretend that the basic Palestinian demands are mere rhetoric. Secretary Rice has contributed to this clear-eyed U.S. assessment of the Arab world and its political dynamic. Hopefully, when she sits down with Olmert and Abbas, she will continue to resist the temporary pleasures of delusional diplomacy.

Zev Chafets is author of “A Match Made in Heaven” (HarperCollins).

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The Art of the Possible Peace

By Dennis Ross

Washington Post, February 15, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will travel to the Middle East this weekend and hold a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Her stated purpose is to discuss permanent-status issues with an eye toward producing an agreement on a political horizon for ending the conflict. For many, such a political horizon has been long overdue; with it, they argue, both Israelis and Palestinians will know how the conflict ends and find it easier to confront those who oppose peace.

Many, including Rice, see Saudi, Israeli, Egyptian and Jordanian leaders as sharing a perception of Iran as a threat. With such common fears, the thinking goes, the leaders should be willing to accept the necessary hard compromises and end the Palestinian conflict (or show how it can be ended) so Iran can no longer exploit the conflict to build its following and put the region’s moderates on the defensive.

The assessment of the common threat perception is correct. But basing policy only on this misses an important regional reality. Priorities differ on how best to respond to the Iranian threat. For the Saudis, weaning Hamas away from Iran and producing intra-Palestinian peace is more important than trying to forge peace between Palestinians and Israelis. For the Israelis, however, an intra-Palestinian peace that entails accommodating Hamas (and that does not require Hamas to change its hostile posture toward Israel) is hardly a basis for reaching out to Palestinians in a way that would satisfy the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians.

And one sure way to threaten intra-Palestinian peace is to push now for a political horizon that inevitably will mean Palestinian compromises on core issues such as refugees. Will Hamas accommodate giving up the Palestinian right of return? A political horizon that purports to outline the endgame will require such a concession, and Hamas is not going to accept it or a process likely to produce it.

Of course, the compromises won’t be one-sided. But is Israel likely to contemplate excruciating concessions on Jerusalem or territory with a Palestinian government led in part by those who refuse to acknowledge its existence or renounce terrorism? My point is that the political options available for peacemaking between Israelis and Palestinians have been reduced. And Rice’s efforts have to be guided by what is possible, not by what is most desirable.

In Middle Eastern terms, what is logical and possible is intra-Palestinian peace and Palestinian-Israeli calm. That would argue for a comprehensive cease-fire to be negotiated between Abbas and Olmert. A deal would require all Palestinian attacks against Israelis to stop and all smuggling of weapons into Gaza or the West Bank to end. In return, the Israelis would stop all incursions, targeted killings and arrests. As Palestinians demonstrate that they are fulfilling their responsibilities, checkpoints would be lifted and crossing points opened, making economic revitalization possible.

This agreement would differ from previous cease-fires in that it would be negotiated with clear understandings of what constitutes a violation and penalties for violations. Israel might be willing to accept such a deal because Hamas would have to enforce the cease-fire — not merely observe it. Hamas’s readiness to enforce it would mean for the first time that Hamas was acting to prevent “resistance,” which would signal that its fundamental credo might be changed.

Hamas might be willing to accept such a cease-fire for two reasons: First, it needs a respite. Second, in an atmosphere where life is improving and conflict with Israel is deferred, Hamas is likely to believe its superior organization will allow it to supplant Fatah and dominate Palestinian society.

For his part, Abbas has long favored a comprehensive cease-fire, and he, too, might believe that Hamas would be transformed by having to fulfill responsibilities.

In any case, a comprehensive cease-fire could change the atmosphere between Israelis and Palestinians and lead to a negotiation designed to pursue the vision that Olmert originally campaigned on — an extensive Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Only this withdrawal would not be unilateral and would depend on Palestinian performance on security obligations.

A comprehensive cease-fire won’t be hammered out without intensive U.S. brokering. Even Rice’s more ambitious desire for a political horizon need not be surrendered. But to accomplish it, she must get the Saudis, Egyptians and Jordanians to publicly embrace basic trade-offs on the core issues, even if Arab leaders must get out in front of Abbas and Olmert on stating their acceptance of the compromises. Both leaders are politically weak; Abbas needs Arab political cover if he is to accept historic concessions on refugees and security, while Olmert must show that the Arab world has adopted unprecedented compromises if he is to justify crossing historic thresholds on Jerusalem and borders. Absent that, Rice will need to change her horizon for what is possible in the Middle East.

The writer was director for policy planning in the State Department under President George H.W. Bush and special Middle East coordinator under President Bill Clinton. He is counselor of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

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