The threat by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to walk away from direct negotiations with Israel - following Israel’s refusal to extend its ten-month moratorium on some residential building construction in the West Bank - has brought forth an almost universal plea for Israel to reconsider its position.
However, PA negotiator Nabil Shaath has now indicated that even if Israel were to renew the limited moratorium it would not be acceptable to the PA, telling Arab News: “There is no alternative to one formula ending this crisis: the full stopping of the settlement building, even for a specific time.”
One has learned to take such PA pronouncements with a grain of salt. Hyperbole and rhetoric are part and parcel of PA negotiating tactics. When push comes to shove they usually give in to pressure.
President Abbas dithered for more than nine months of the initial ten-month moratorium period before deigning to enter into direct negotiations with Israel. He demanded then what Shaath is now recycling - a total building freeze. It proved, and will continue to prove, to be a disastrous error of judgment by the PA. Abbas can only blame himself for the dilemma he currently faces as to whether to resume negotiations or not in view of the expiry of the moratorium period on September 26.
Assuming however that some compromise is eventually agreed on for a further moratorium - questions must be asked and answers given as to the basis on which such negotiations are to be resumed.
Israel’s position is clear but the PA’s position is steeped in uncertainty.
The parameters under which Israel has been negotiating are:
- the Bush Roadmap - subject to Israel’s 14 expressed written reservations to it;
- United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338; and
- the letter from President George Bush to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dated April 14, 2004.
Roadmap references to the Saudi Peace Plan - adopted subsequently as the Arab Initiative - were expressly rejected by Israel as playing any part in the negotiating process, the Reservations stating: “The removal of references other than 242 and 338 (1397, the Saudi Initiative and the Arab Initiative adopted in Beirut). A settlement based upon the road map will be an autonomous settlement that derives its validity therefrom. The only possible reference should be to Resolutions 242 and 338, and then only as an outline for the conduct of future negotiations on a permanent settlement.”
Israel was also adamant in its Reservations that: “… declared references must be made to Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state and to the waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel.”
Abbas’s reaction to Israel’s reservations was starkly revealed in an article by Akiva Eldar on May 28, 2003 when he wrote in the Ha'aretz newspaper:
When Abu Mazen talks about the road map it's important for him to emphasize that the 14 Israeli reservations have nothing to do with him. "They don't interest me," he says. As far as he's concerned, the only document that matters is the road map that was finalized in December 2002 and handed over to the parties at the end of April this year. Nothing more, nothing less.
We do not accept each side picking and choosing only those specific elements that are convenient for them in the road map.
The map was prepared last December and we accepted it, despite our own comments and reservations. We wanted to give this initiative a chance, but it's impossible to continue inventing comments and reservations after it was submitted.
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