The knot is a big one, pulled tight, and progress in untangling it is, not surprisingly, slow.
But I want to begin today with a thought I expressed yesterday: that, in spite of the direction of Kerry’s announcement and subsequent news reports, it’s not a “done deal” with everything in place for negotiations to begin. I referred yesterday to Kerry’s wording, which had a subtly tentative feeling to it.
Today I’m finding more evidence of this. Khaled Abu Toameh, in today’s JPost (and I will come to look at this more extensively), quotes Abbas’ spokesman Nabil Abu Rudaineh, who said on Friday, “…progress has been achieved, paving the way for agreement on the principles that allow for the resumption of the negotiations.”
That, in and of itself, is a tentative statement. “progress has been achieved.” That’s means, “we’re getting there,” not “we’ve arrived.”
But there’s more. Abu Rudaineh also said, more explicitly, “certain details still require finding a solution for them.” (Emphasis added)
Then there’s the opinion of Danny Dayon, former head of the Council of Jewish Communities in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, also cited in the JPost :
Dayan “expressed doubts that any actual negotiations will take place, tweeting, ‘My impression is that there is no agreement to resume substantive talks. Only to face-save Kerry. Talks about the talks will continue in [Washington] D.C.‘” (Emphasis added)
Dayon may be on to something.
One knowledgeable not-for-attribution source I go to regularly said this today: “Kerry is an idiot We have to be honest about this. Everyone knows he’s an idiot. He wants to achieve the Nobel Prize by bringing peace, and he’s stupid enough to think it can happen. Nothing is happening.
“Why are they going to Washington? Because Kerry is tired of coming to the Middle East.”
And so we must proceed with utmost caution, assessing all possible ramifications, monitoring all statements, and preparing appropriate reactions — but without the “over-the-top” panic that it was easy to feel on first hearing of Kerry’s announcement.
One thing that continues to perturb me is the conflict in statements by different members of the Israeli government. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, for example, declared that:
“We arrive at the negotiations with clean hands…We insisted upon entering negotiations without preconditions, which included Palestinian demands for a declaration regarding 1967 lines, a freeze of construction and a release of prisoners.”
While Minister Yuval Steinitz told Israel Radio:
“There will be some release of prisoners,. I don’t want to give numbers but there will be heavyweight prisoners who have been in jail for dozens of years.” “Heavyweight” means with Jewish blood on their hands.
“It will not be simple, but we will make that gesture.”
So rationalize it as you will, calling the prisoner release a “gesture” rather than accession to a pre-condition — the two positions are not truly consistent.
But what really has had me crazy is trying to figure out what Kerry said or did that pushed Abbas to agree to come to the table (if, in the end, he did agree).
My take, suggested yesterday, is that Kerry gave reassurances to Abbas — whether in writing or not — that negotiations would be based on the ’67 line. Reassurances that were sufficient for Abbas to move ahead, but permitted Netanyahu and ministers of his government deniability, since they agreed to nothing. The question here, of course, is what happens when (and if) they really sit down to negotiate.
A savvy individual, who has his ear to the ground in the Knesset, suggested something slightly more modest that might have come from Kerry, such as, “You know very well that the US government position is for negotiations based on the ’67 line. I cannot deliver a commitment to this from Netanyahu but give you my word that we will do everything in our power to move negotiations in that direction once they start.”
A second source has confirmed this. And PLO and Fatah officials speaking to Khaled Abu Toameh said that Abbas told them the Kerry refused to provide in writing guarantees that Israel would accept PA demands. (This is important information!)
The Khaled Abu Toameh article actually complicates the issue.
For he reports that both PLO and Fatah officials said they knew nothing about what Kerry had offered Abbas to bring him back to the table and were critical of the PA willingness to go along. And he quotes Hassan Khraisheh, deputy speaker of the Palestinian Legislative Council, who said Abbas was committing “political suicide.”
Exactly. Abbas, without legitimacy and hated by his own people, is normally frightened to move without Fatah and PLO backing. And so now?
We have a clue as to what happened with the Abu Toameh article. Nabil Amr, a senior Fatah official, is quoted as saying, “The Palestinian leadership, which excels in hard-line talk…eventually succumbs to the fait accompli.”
My source above, who identified Kerry as “an idiot,” says he knew this was going to happen because two months ago Abbas had said, “We cannot disappoint Kerry and Obama.” Of course, threats by Kerry and Obama about cutting off US aid would have helped Abbas come to this conclusion.
And what of the greatly valued Arab honor that I spoke about yesterday? This, we can assume, was covered by the PA statements that Israel had agreed to the ’67 lines and all the rest.
Rather than bucking Kerry further, Abbas has decided on doing that “face-save” for Kerry in the short run. In the end, the “negotiations,” if they do occur, will come to little. Abbas will find a way to sabotage them.
I am reverting now to “savta” mode, as two of my granddaughters are due imminently. But I do want to return to examine Netanyahu’s statement yesterday in more detail. Whether anything comes of negotiations or not, his stated position bears close scrutiny.
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