A Deal Beyond Reach

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Daryoush Bavar

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The US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will visit the Middle East next week in another attempt to breathe life into the already moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Rice has already visited the region 17 times in the past two years.

Rice was last in the Middle East in June, when she met with Israeli and Palestinian officials and criticized the expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank, saying they undermined the peace process. In an earlier trip to the region in March 2008, Rice said, "Settlement activity should stop - expansion should stop."

The Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were formally re-launched after a seven-year hiatus at the US-sponsored Annapolis conference in November 2007. The goal was to sign a peace deal by the time US President George W. Bush leaves office in January 2009. The two sides had agreed to "make every effort to conclude an agreement before the end of 2008," Bush said at the Annapolis conference.

But the talks have made no visible progress since then, with the two sides remaining deeply divided on core issues like the status of Jerusalem Al-Quds, the return of Palestinian refugees, security, water and final borders.

With the Bush's administration in its twilight months, a real deal for the Middle East conflict remains beyond reach and elusive.

On July 28, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert told a parliamentary committee there was "no practical possibility" of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians by the end of the year on a peace deal.

In late July 2008, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said during a visit to Tunisia that the two sides had not agreed on any of the core issues that separate them.

In another development, Israeli newspapers published what they said was a 'new peace proposal' put forward by Olmert. The offer totally rejects the right of return of over five million Palestinian refugees. It states that Israel would over 7 percent of the West Bank, and in return will offer the Palestinian Authority some 5.5% of the West Bank in the Negev desert.

Ray Hanania, an award winning political reporter and columnist, says the plan "is significant not for what it offers, but for what it lacks." Hanania says, "Olmert's plan allows Israel to also keep nearly all of its West Bank settlements, resulting in the slicing up of the West Bank into several "islands," which is a polite term for buntastans."

The proposed was flatly rejected by the Palestinian Authority. Nabil Abu Rodeina, the Palestinian President Spokesman, said that the Israeli officer is rejected because it violates the Palestinian legitimacy.

The most interesting comment came from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat who told Press TV on August 21, "There's no official Israeli offer. There are Israeli leakages. Because, Israeli's negotiation behavior, a lot of times is, they spend 5% with us at the negotiation table and 95% of their negotiation behavior is through leakages, through balloon tests and through half-truths and as such what we read in Israeli papers last week, there were three leakages, one concerning territory, two concerning refugees and third concerning security."

Erekat said leakages, timelines, pressures, settlements, walls, incursions, arrests, they are all elements employed by Israel in its negotiations with the Palestinian Authority. "We will not allow any of these to play at the expense of the substance of our negotiations," he added.

With Ehud Olmert's government on the verge of being replaced, reports by Israeli newspapers on the proposal have raised suspicions about his intention.

Some observers say Israel is trying to play the blame game. "They want to say to the world, the western world especially, we offer the Palestinians 93% of the west bank, plus 100% of Gaza and 5% of Israeli proper, and we made the best offer for them, and they said no. So they want to set us up for the blame game," Erekat says.

The proposal shows that Israel is not serious in its talks with the Palestinian Authority over finding a solution to the long-running Middle East crisis. It seeks to put the blame on Palestinians for the negotiations' failure if they rejected Olmert's offer. Moreover, it does not offer any solution to the core issues which are crucial to Palestinian cause.


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