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“And then poof”: Futility in the Abbas-Netanyahu Negotiations 2013-4

This is a cross-post by Mugwump

This round of negotiations began with parties agreeing that they would not talk to the press. After 9 months I have collected over 150 pages of news reports quoting anonymous sources (“Western”, Israeli, Palestinian and American) about the talks. This post is not meant to be an authoritative account of the talks but will seek to use the best evidence available to evaluate the claims of these officials meshed in with my own thoughts about the final status issues. I should emphasise that the majority of what follows is based on Palestinian sources. It will be years before the actors write biographies and even longer before the Israeli archives are opened allowing for a better, truer understanding. Even if readers disagree with my conclusions and prescriptions, this post should reflect the best descriptive evidence available.

Start of Negotiations

Quite amusingly, the basis for negotiation at the start was disputed by the two sides. A ‘Palestinian source’ told the Associated Press that the Palestinians had received a letter from Kerry ‘guaranteeing that the basis of the negotiations would be Israel’s 1967 lines.’ But another Palestinian source, Abaas Zakki of the PLO Executive Committee said no such assurances were given. Funnily enough, given the coverage of Israeli officials making inappropriate remarks against John Kerry, Zakki accused Kerry of having an “extraordinary ability to deceive not only others, but first and foremost himself.” Meanwhile, Israeli sources were bragging that the talks were not to be held on the basis of the 1967 lines – including Netanyahu:

I pulled the Palestinians down from the tree of preconditions; I didn’t agree to a further freeze of building in the territories; I refused to release 120 prisoners before the talks began; and the 1967 borders aren’t mentioned.

A “Western official” confirmed that the 1967 lines were not mentioned as the basis for negotiation to the New York Times. What seems likely, however, is that the U.S wrote a letter and that is what they would consider the basis of the talks. According to a report in Haaretz, this was accepted by the Palestinians for two reasons: Netanyahu’s movement on the release of Palestinian prisoners held in Israel and secondly

Kerry’s threat that Abbas would be blamed for the failure to renew the talks, leading to cuts in the U.S. funding of the PA, seemed to convince Abbas to agree to renew talks without reaching agreement on all topics.

Does the failure for Israeli officials to accept the 67 lines as a basis for negotiation show how intransigent they are? The 1967 lines should be the basis for negotiations and, as is commonly said, ‘everyone agrees’ that with modifications, it will be the future border. But I’m not sure this speaks to Israeli intransigence for two reasons. Firstly, prior to this round of negotiations, Netanyahu’s position was known to the Palestinians. His position has been derided as rejectionist but the sources for such a claim are outdated: he not only accepts the ’67 lines, but is close to previous Israeli offers. In 2010, Palestinian news outlet Firas Press reported that Netanyahu had communicated that he was willing to withdraw from 90% of the West Bank. In fact, the majority of discussions that Ehud Barak undertook during that time was devoted to finding ideal security arrangements.

Do read the rest of Mugwump’s post here