The period from now until September is going to be crowded with ideas and proposals aimed at achieving two objectives…
by Ghassan Khatib
First, these will seek to head off the Palestinian plan to take the conflict to the United Nations for discussion and ask for recognition of the Palestinian state and membership at the world body. Second, these proposals will try to ensure a resumption of the bilateral negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.
This race of ideas began with an American attempt, proffered by US President Barack Obama in his speech at the State Department, where he tried to discourage Palestinians from going to the UN and encourage them to resume bilateral negotiations. For that purpose, he adopted one of the main Palestinian requirements for resuming negotiations, which is that talks should be based on achieving two states on the borders of 1967. To encourage Israel, he referred to it as the “Jewish state”.
Clearly, that effort wasn’t good enough to achieve its purpose. A month later, an official American spokesperson said (after two Palestinian envoys visited Washington) that the US administration was still waiting for Israel’s response to Obama’s initiative, which otherwise seemed to have been accepted by Palestinians.
The second attempt was made by the French government, which has been preparing in any case for an international donors conference in July. Paris had already agreed to a Palestinian request to make this conference “political” by confirming the success of Palestinians in building state institutions with the help of international donors. This readiness for statehood should, therefore, be complimented by political progress towards realizing the two-state solution, supporting the end of the occupation and establishing the Palestinian state in the borders of 1967.
But in order to combine these agreed-on objectives with its desire to avoid a showdown at the United Nations in September, the French government developed an initiative that would use the July international conference as a launching pad for renewing bilateral negotiations. Officials suggested language for terms of reference in a non-paper distributed to the parties entitled “Peace Process Parameters”.
Again, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed this initiative and said that he accepted in principle. The Israelis, however, said they needed time to consult with their American allies. Apparently, it was too embarrassing for them to outright reject the proposal, so they leaned on Washington to reject it on their behalf. The US Secretary of State flatly dismissed the initiative, which was already dead in the water due to Israel’s non-response.
European states and the European Union seem to be increasing their political involvement in the conflict. The main reason for this is that they are being squeezed between the need to support the Palestinian plan for recognizing a Palestinian state at the UN in September, which is compatible with their political positions, and strong US pressure against the UN statehood bid. As a result, Europe is working hard to avoid embarrassment in September by pushing for a resumption in bilateral talks that would preempt the statehood request.
On Monday, the European Union’s foreign affairs council will meet in Brussels for decisive talks after extensive diplomacy and visits to the region by EU officials. A second important meeting will be that of the Quartet. No date has yet been set, but a summit is expected to be held soon.
Palestinians are asking the Europeans to stick to their December 2009 declaration, reiterated in December 2010, and push for the adoption of this platform by the Quartet. In turn, the declaration can serve as a reference for an international conference that would relaunch the peace process. The EU statement is comprehensive enough in dealing with the various aspects of the conflict, including borders, settlements, Jerusalem and other aspects. At the same time, it is completely compatible with international legality and relevant resolutions of the UN Security Council and other terms of reference of the peace process. More importantly, it represents the consensus of the 27 European states on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. -Published 20/6/2011 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.