Jonathan Lis
May 4, 2010 - 12:00am

Military Intelligence research division chief Brigadier General Yossi Baidatz on Tuesday presented a bleak forecast for the opening of a negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

"[PA President Mahmoud] Abbas' goal is to expose Israel's true face and show that we do not want peace," Baidatz told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, adding that "Abbas is interested in an agreement with Israel, but his leeway on the core issues is limited."

"We do not detect any real attempt on Abbas' part to show flexibility on the core issues, and he will start the talk with the same positions he presented to the previous [Israeli] government," he continued, concluding that "Abbas is laying the groundwork for the failure of the talks."

Proximity talks between Israel and the PA will start no later than mid-May, according to officials involved in efforts to renew the peace process.

Abbas has received an official invitation to the talks from U.S. President Barack Obama. In the message to Abbas, Obama acknowledged that he was unable to extract a commitment from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to freeze construction in East Jerusalem, but the American president expressed confidence that Israel would refrain from "significant" actions in the eastern part of the city during negotiations.

By "significant," Obama appears to mean projects like the 1,600 housing units in the Ramat Shlomo neighborhood of East Jerusalem that were announced during Vice President Joe Biden's visit last month.

In his message to Abbas, Obama wrote that proximity talks with Israel would encompass all the conflict's core issues including Jerusalem, as was agreed in the Annapolis Joint Declaration in November 2007.

Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said that the Palestinians requested such a meeting and were told by Obama's envoy that the U.S. leader would see Abbas in the near future.

European officials who have met in recent days with senior officials at the White House and State Department in late April got the impression that the Obama administration did not expect that the proximity talks would produce any agreement.

The efforts to push the peace process forward are meant to allow the United States to claim some success in its Mideast policy as the region marks one year since Obama's historic address in Cairo.

Officials in Washington say that the talks with the Palestinians will force Netanyahu to reveal his positions beyond those outlined in his speech at Bar-Ilan University last June.

The Americans say that if Netanyahu takes an uncompromising stance in the negotiations, like the one he displays in public, the Labor Party might quit the coalition and pave the way for a new government.

Netanyahu's statement that he is willing to recognize a Palestinian state with provisional borders has only strengthened suspicions among PA leaders that the Israeli PM wants an interim agreement, not a final-status deal.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017