Michael Jansen
The Jordan Times
October 7, 2010 - 12:00am

Since September 2, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have held three sessions of talks. But according to Western diplomats interviewed by the Israeli liberal daily Haaretz, the negotiations are “going nowhere”.

They are going nowhere because Netanyahu refuses to discuss the future border between a Palestinian state and Israel, first on the agenda of the five final status issues, the others being Jerusalem, Jewish settlements, Palestinian refugees and natural resources. The only substantive issue Netanyahu is prepared to talk about is security, which is not a final status issue as defined in the Oslo accords, although it was paired, presumably at Israel's insistence, with borders by US envoy George Mitchell.

Quoting an unnamed Western diplomat, Haaretz said Netanyahu "refuses to present fundamental positions or discuss the borders of the Palestinian state". This is precisely what he did during the indirect talks mediated by Mitchell, which preceded the “direct talks" launched on September 2 with great fanfare in Washington. During the indirect phase of the negotiations, Abbas presented written Palestinian positions on all final status issues. But, this writer was told by Palestinian government spokesman Ghassa? Khatib, Netanyahu did not reciprocate.

Abbas and Mitchell expected him to be more forthcoming, following the resumption of direct talks, suspended when Israel attacked Gaza in December 2008. However, so far, Netanyahu has not budged. Haaretz quoted Abbas as telling foreign diplomats on the sidelines of the opening session of the UN General Assembly: “I heard nothing from Netanyahu but niceties.”

Abbas' statement contradicted Mitchell's positive spin on the meetings, now suspended due to Israel's resumption of unfettered settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

According to Haaretz, the first two meetings in Washington and Sharm El Sheikh dealt with the agenda and the partial Israeli construction curb. The third meeting in Jerusalem focused on defining the "core issues". This was a step backwards because these issues had been defined in negotiations with previous Israeli governments.

Clearly, Netanyahu seeks to start over rather than build on arrangements on which the sides had reached agreement. This means Netanyahu seeks to go backward rather than forward.

Meanwhile, Israel will carry on with colonisation, with the aim of dictating the terms of an eventual territorial deal.

In spite of his negativism, Netanyahu has reportedly said he is prepared to reach a framework agreement over the next year. But he insists the deal produced would be implemented over 20 years. This is hardly music to Palestinian ears; for decades they have been waiting for the Israeli occupation to end.

Netanyahu's attempt to begin anew and his refusal to put forward positions on core issues are being taken by Palestinians as proof that he is not ready to trade land for peace - the basis of the negotiations - and permit the emergence of a Palestinian state - the internationally agreed objective of the talks.

The temporary suspension of direct negotiations due to Israel's refusal to extend its freeze-that-isn't-a-freeze on West Bank settlement construction has given time to the Palestinians, and the rest of the Arabs, to reconsider their position.

Can Abbas really return to talks with Netanyahu? This would be highly unpopular with the Palestinians, 66 per cent of whom do not favour a return to talks, according to the latest opinion poll.

Netanyahu's government is doing everything in its power to discourage the Palestinian side: stepping up building in greater Jerusalem, demolishing Palestinian houses and driving Palestinians out of houses in East Jerusalem, which the Palestinians want for as the capital of their state.

According to the US, the Palestinian Authority has largely fulfilled its obligations under the 2003 roadmap, but Israel has not honoured most of its commitments - particularly the pledge to halt all colony construction.

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian American business consultant based in Ramallah, observed: "It's a dangerous time" for the Palestinians. He said the Oslo accord was "a temporary arrangement" while the US, Abbas and Netanyahu are now going for a "permanent" agreement that will be both "bad" and "unsustainable".

The Palestinians will "gain recognition" for their state but this will not be "valuable" unless this state has well defined borders and "full sovereignty". He said: "They will give the attributes [of statehood], the trappings but no sovereignty."

In his opinion, the sides "cannot negotiate final status" until "the occupation is ended". This can be achieved 85 per cent "without risk to Israel's security".

Predicting that the talks will fail, he expressed hope that this will compel "the UN to call the situation in the Palestinian territories for what it is: apartheid. The occupation is not temporary and is on both sides of the [Green] Line". This means that "Israel can no longer sustain itself as a Jewish [majority] state".

Indeed, writing in Haaretz, Arnon Soffer points out that "the percentage of Jews in the Israeli population is constantly declining, in spite of the influx of about one million immigrants over the past two decades".

For 2010, he found that the percentage of Jews in Israel "proper" is 75.5 per cent, while the proportion was 79.2 per cent in 1988 and 81.7 per cent in 1988. He predicted the percentage of Jews would decline to 73.5 per cent in 2015. The fall could drop to 70.6 per cent by 2025, but could increase to 72 per cent in 2030 - for reasons he did not explain.

These figures do not include the 2.6 million Palestinians in the West Bank and the 1.5 million in Gaza. If only the West Bank is included, he estimates that Jews, who currently constitute 59 per cent of the population of the "Land of Israel" (geographic Palestine), over the "next decade or two? will have declined to 42 per cent".


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