Challenges Among Politicians Are Macrocosm of Grassroots Challenges for OV to make progress…

Nov 17, 2007 Published under Middle East, Mideast Negotiations, OneVoice Movement


The following article provides a sobering assessment of the challenges faced at the political level by the Palestinian and Israeli negotiations teams.  It is also instructive for OneVoice, as a microcosm of what is going on among the politicians.  OneVoice aims to represent the will of the people for an end to the conflict and to an extent lead the way, but as it is currently structured (unlike other very laudable efforts like Ayalon-Nusseibeh) it aims to stay with the current pulse of the people and not lead too far ahead of them. 

If the leaders get stuck, though, or even regress in positions, OneVoice will have a challenge amplifying the voice of moderates amidst decreased agreement among the Heads of State, unless it opts to lead a notch more than just represent.  Leading ahead of politicians can help break taboos on BOTH sides, but runs the danger of losing legitimacy from mainstream populations. 

For now our focus is to continue encouraging elected representatives to recognize the imperative of immediate and uninterrupted negotiations till the conclusion of an agreement.

U.S. and Israel Play Down Hopes for Peace Talks


Published: November 12, 2007

JERUSALEM, Nov. 10 — The American-sponsored Middle East peace conference expected by the end of the month looks to be thin on content, mostly serving as a stage to begin formal negotiations on a peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas.

Israeli and American officials have been so busy dampening expectations that they are not even calling the event a conference anymore, instead referring to it merely as a “meeting.”

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are having trouble agreeing on even a short declaration about the shape of a final peace. Their leaders, Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, have a rough understanding on where they are heading, officials of both sides say, but they are afraid to write it down or say so publicly, given the political cost of any concessions.

Before the meeting, tentatively scheduled for Nov. 25-27 in Annapolis, Md., Israeli coalition members are warning Mr. Olmert not to go too far or get too specific. And Palestinian negotiators are squabbling among themselves, getting little firm direction from Mr. Abbas.

“Because we can’t agree on the substance of a joint paper, we prefer to say we’re just beginning to negotiate,” said a senior Israeli official close to Mr. Olmert.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice may return to Israel before the conference to push for a more substantive agreement.

If any document coming out of the conference remains vague, Annapolis will also be used to mark another effort to carry out the first stage of the moribund 2003 “road map” for peace. That first stage calls for simultaneous efforts by the Palestinians to build state institutions and fight terrorism, while Israel halts the growth in West Bank settlements, considered illegal by much of the world, and removes settler outposts that are illegal under Israeli law.

Ahmed Qurei, the chief Palestinian negotiator, said: “What we need for a successful meeting in Annapolis is to implement the first phase of the road map. We have suspicions of each other over seven years, so need to build trust.”

But little of that work, too, can be done before Annapolis. From Mr. Olmert’s point of view, changing security on the ground, including another release of prisoners, is “more difficult than negotiating a declaration of principles, and politically more destabilizing,” the senior official said.

Meanwhile, both sides are still struggling with compromises on the core issues of final borders, the status of Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem. While negotiators have agreed to leave the issue of Jerusalem alone for now, they have fundamental disagreements on how to couch the other issues.

The Palestinians, for instance, want to be as specific as possible about the borders of their future state. But they want to be as vague as possible about Palestinian refugees from the 1948-49 war, afraid to suggest that the “right of return” of these refugees and their descendants may not have much content.

Israel, for its part, wants to be as vague as possible about borders and land swaps, because it is occupied land to trade that is Israel’s main bargaining chip. On the other hand, Mr. Olmert wants to be as specific as possible about the refugee issue. He and his deputy, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, vow that no Palestinian refugee will return to what is now Israel, and that the new Palestine will be the homeland for Palestinians.

So Mr. Olmert is reluctant even to countenance the possibility of humanitarian exceptions, as the Clinton administration did at Camp David. He is also insistent that the Palestinians recognize Israel “as a Jewish state,” another way of trying to shut the door on refugees.

The long buildup to Annapolis, together with Ms. Rice’s many trips to the region, have given birth to a new verb in Israeli government circles: “lecondel,” meaning, to come and go for meetings that produce few results. The word is based on Ms. Rice’s first name.

Still, a weak Mr. Olmert, beset by a failed war against Hezbollah in Lebanon and numerous criminal investigations, is committed to try, needing a peace agenda to help justify his term in office. He understands, senior Israeli officials say, that moderate partners like Mr. Abbas and Salam Fayyad, the Palestinian prime minister, who believe in nonviolence and two states, may not come again.

Even if a deal is reached, and many are skeptical, it will not be carried out for a number of years. Israel wants to be sure that if it withdraws from the West Bank, there is a reliable Palestinian security force to stop aggression and terrorism — to ensure that a Hamas-run Gaza that fires rockets at Israel is not replicated in the West Bank.

As Tony Blair, the representative of the so-called quartet — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations — pushing for a Middle East peace, said: “The true Israeli anxiety is focused not only on the territory of the Palestinian state, but on the nature of that state. The true Israeli position is not to agree to a state for the Palestinians unless they are sure of how that state will function, how it will be governed, how viable it will be, and not simply in its territorial contiguity, but in its stability as a long-term partner for peace.”

The risks of failure, all agree, are extremely high, both for Mr. Abbas and the concept of a negotiated two-state solution. Many Israelis and Palestinians — and not just Hamas — say they think that Annapolis is ill-timed and bound to disappoint.

Even senior Israeli and Palestinian officials are worried. “If we can reach a final agreement, then I’m willing to risk the government and go to new elections,” the Israeli official close to Mr. Olmert said. “But to risk the government for something unclear seems unwise. To go to Annapolis and lose a government is not a good idea.”

The problem, he said, is how both Mr. Olmert and Mr. Abbas “can come up with a paper and both of them stay alive politically.”

As for Mr. Abbas and Fatah, the risks are existential, a senior Palestinian aide said. He pointed not just to the Hamas takeover of Gaza, but to the warnings of senior Hamas leaders like Mahmoud Zahar that Mr. Abbas was a collaborator with Israel and that the West Bank could be next. Mr. Zahar said Friday, “We say to the West Bank, ‘Take a lesson from what happened in Gaza.’”

“Israel says the party in Ramallah serves Israel,” Mr. Zahar continued, referring to Fatah, “and if Israel quits the West Bank, Hamas will take it over. And we say this is true.”

Digg This
Reddit This
Stumble Now!
Buzz This
Vote on DZone
Share on Facebook
Bookmark this on Delicious
Kick It on
Shout it
Share on LinkedIn
Bookmark this on Technorati
Post on Twitter
Google Buzz (aka. Google Reader)

related posts

post a new comment