Have you noticed how Washington has quietly stopped trying to "freeze settlement activities" – a Palestinian precondition for the resumption of peace negotiations – after the Obama administration found out the hard way that it has limited influence over Netanyahu's right-wing government in Israel? Of course, that doesn't mean the US is pulling out of the so-called peace process; Obama's man on the job, George Mitchell, is still in place and is still looking for a way to let down as gently as possible Palestinian President Abbas, who was on a particular high after Obama's election and subsequent speech in Cairo.
The search is underway, therefore, for a reference point that can satisfy Israelis and Palestinians alike from which the peace process can get back on track, with specified time limits within which details of general principles have to be agreed. Some Israeli sources have claimed the following:
- Washington proposed, and Netanyahu accepted, to set the time limit at 24 months.
- Clinton proposed, and Netanyahu accepted, a formula that says "the goal of negotiations is to end the conflict and reach a compromise between the Palestinian position which is asking for an independent state within the 1967 borders, with an acceptable land exchange, and between the Israeli position calling for a Jewish state with safe and recognized borders, which accounts for developments on the ground and security demands for Israel"
- Mitchell proposed, and Netanyahu accepted, that Jerusalem is to be one of the subjects of negotiations, without giving any promises before negotiations.
- Netanyahu is willing to announce Israel's endorsement of all previously signed agreements including Oslo, Wye Plantation, the road map, etc.
- Netanyahu is not ready to announce the endorsement of, or support the Arab peace initiative, but is willing to say that "the parties take into account international initiatives that contribute to the progress of the peace process, such as the Arab peace process".
The above points do not seem to meet the minimum demands of the Palestinian Authority and its negotiation team, especially that every single one of the five "presumed reference list" needs an "explanatory appendix" and years of negotiations to clear up any confusion, never min an actual agreement. Maybe this is why some in Israel, but not in Ramallah or any of the Arab capitals, say that Washington is preparing two written assurance documents: the first will be for the Palestinian Authority, aiming to overcome its fears, contain its concerns and save its face at the negotiation table. The document will include an American assurance that the area of the proposed Palestinian state is going to be equivalent to that of the West Bank and Gaza Strip combined before 1967. America will also move the issue of the state's borders to the top of the negotiation agenda, in order for the settlement issue to end.
The second document, which will be addressed to Israel, has America's pledge that the new Palestinian state will be unarmed and that Israel will get appropriate security arrangements and be able to preserve its identity as a Jewish state.
The letter of guarantees addressed to Palestinians, if Israeli sources are accurate, does not promise Palestinians anything in relation to the status of Jerusalem, refugees and their right of return, or sovereignty, but will give them land equivalent to the total area of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank; not the entire Gaza Strip and the West Bank, note, but an implementation of the Geneva Act, the Abbas-Olmert understandings and the Clinton document, more or less. In exchange, Israel would get its Jewish state with proper security arrangements – and here we don't exactly know what is meant by "proper", nor for whom it will be proper; could something that is proper for Israel be proper for Palestinians as well, or is whatever is beneficial for Israel going to maintain the living hell that is currently life for Palestinians?
America's assurances to the Israelis cancel out its assurances to the Palestinians and eat away at their rights one after the other. "Proper" Israeli security arrangements will make a mockery of the Palestinian state, its independence and its self-determination. The 1967 ceasefire line, which was originally adopted, will be cast aside in Jerusalem and by the settlements and security arrangements. In exchange for an area of land equivalent to that of Gaza Strip and the West Bank, more than six million Palestinian refugees will have to give up their right of return to the land from which they or their parents and grandparents were displaced.
We don't know how the Palestinian leadership is going to deal with these references and assurances and if it's going to regard them as enough to be able to restart negotiations, or as an "appropriate" framework for a final deal; the Israeli sources, however, say that the Americans are confident that President Abbas is going to accept. What we do know is that these references, and assurances, as given by Israeli sources, conflict with the Palestinian national project and do not meet the Palestinians' minimum requirements. If past experience is anything to go by, we are sure that Israel, starting with the negotiations and ending with implementation, will empty many of these promises and assurances of their worth, and turn them into a reformulation of the occupation, "legitimising" its unilateral actions and the facts it has created and imposed on the ground. Palestinians have been warned.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.