Herb Keinon
The Jerusalem Post
February 1, 2010 - 1:00am

If Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gives his nod, the “proximity” talks that US Mideast envoy George Mitchell will mediate will start with a basic question – how each side perceives a two-state solution – then move from there, Marc Otte, the European Union’s Mideast envoy, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

According to Otte, once each party defined its vision of a two-state solution and some common ground was found, the role of the mediator would be to convince each side that the vision was implementable, and that the other side was capable of fulfilling its end of the bargain.

These talks would also have a regional dimension, he said, since the various actors in the region “have a say in the matter as well.”

The regional actors, he said, would be asked to articulate what they were willing to give to move the process forward, a throwback to US President Barack Obama’s idea in the early days of his presidency that the Arab countries would ante up gestures to Israel as a way of building Israeli confidence, even as Israel made gestures to the Palestinians.

According to Otte, it would be a mistake to see the Saudi refusal last summer to positively answer Obama’s calls for gestures toward Israel as solely related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; he said that it also had something to do with hiccups in the US-Saudi relationship, particularly Saudi concern over US policy in Iraq, and the fear that a US troop withdrawal there would lead to chaos and increased Iranian influence that could threaten the Persian Gulf.

Beyond the proximity talks, Mitchell’s thrust was also currently on changing the situation on the ground, with the efforts focused on getting Israel to give the Palestinian Authority additional “physical, political, economic and social space” to develop so that Israel was not stuck – when the day came – with a dysfunctional state on its border, Otte said.

This included, he said, extending the West Bank areas where the Palestinians have full security and administrative responsibility.

Otte said that Israel should do what it could to create optimism among Palestinians, facilitate Palestinian economic growth, and help PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad implement his plan to build Palestinian governing institutions.

However, Otte said that alongside with this there would be the need for a political process.

“How long will a Palestinian policeman arrest a relative if he doesn’t see that it is leading anywhere?” he said.

Otte acknowledged that there was much concern about the spoiler role that Iran –through Hamas and Hizbullah – could play, and that no one was quite clear about how to neutralize that threat.

He said that a meeting of the Quartet – the US, EU, Russia and UN – was possible later in February, but was unlikely until Abbas responded to the ideas – including the proximity talks – that Mitchell brought with him two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, National Security Adviser Uzi Arad said at the opening session of the 10th Herzliya Conference that while here was a great deal of “potential” in the diplomatic process, it was “impossible to deny that the Palestinians are the ones who are being obstinate.”

Arad said that this “policy of refusal” was not just evident now, but was also responsible for Abbas’s rejection of then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s “generous offer” 18 months ago.

Speaking of Abbas, Arad said “once he is too strong, once too weak, once is waiting for elections, other times he’s moody, and at a different time he’s waiting for an Arab League conference. But the policy remains the same – refusal – and it is disappointing.”

Arad said that the US, which he termed Israel’s “indispensable” ally, was continuing with its effort to restart the talks, and that it was fair to hope that the talks would commence in the “short- or mid-term.”

Perhaps tellingly, Arad during his talk made reference – but did not endorse – a paper published recently by one of his predecessors at the National Security Council, Giora Eiland, on alternatives to a two-state solution. One of the ideas in that paper was for a “United States of Jordan,” with Jordan a federation of three states, the East Bank, West Bank and Gaza.

Regarding Iran, Arad said that the international community, led by the US, was on the verge of ratcheting up the pressure on Teheran.

He said the US was acting wisely and with prudence, and – citing a piece in Sunday’s Jerusalem Post – noted that his US counterpart, James Jones, had praised the serious, continual dialogue with Israel on this matter.


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