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What it took to get Israelis and Palestinians to agree to talks

The Israeli-Palestinian direct peace talks planned to open next month in Washington have been framed, of necessity, with ambiguity about what guidelines, if any, will shape the negotiating process.

The Palestinian side agreed Friday to come to the talks based on a statement of principles that was issued by the Quartet, a group of nations that includes the U.S., Russia and the members of the European Union. That document calls on the parties “to resolve all final status issues,” such as Jerusalem and refugees. It also affirms the goal of “a just, lasting and comprehensive regional peace as envisaged in the Madrid terms of reference, Security Council resolutions and the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, however, has not affirmed these Quartet principles in agreeing to join the Washington talks. He is responding to the invitation issued by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, without endorsing any terms of reference. Indeed, Netanyahu is said to have explicitly rejected the language of the Quartet statement as a framing document.

It’s a classic piece of diplomacy: One side is responding to one letter of invitation; the other is responding to a subtly different request. It’s a finesse that has succeeded in getting both to the table, but it also highlights the huge differences that exist between the two sides -- and could scuttle the talks.

The Obama administration is also finessing the question of whether the moratorium on Israeli settlement-building, which is set to expire in late September, will be extended. Administration officials had hoped Netanyahu he would agree to an extension as a confidence-building measure before the talks started. But he hasn’t given any formal assurance. Now, American officials are evidently hoping that once talks are rolling, the Israeli prime minister won’t want to blow them up by resuming settlement activity -- and won’t want the political onus of being seen as having undermined the U.S.-led peace effort.

The Arab side has feared that Netanyahu would drag out negotiations without delivering major concessions. In a nod to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Friday’s announcement said there would be a one-year time limit on the talks.

After opening meetings in Washington on Sept. 1 and 2, U.S. officials plan to move the talks to a venue where the parties can bargain without intrusion. Camp David in Maryland and the Wye Plantation on the Eastern Shore have provided such hideaway meeting places in the past. This time U.S. officials have looked at a range of sites, from White Oak in Florida to retreats in the Middleburg area of Virginia. The final location hasn’t been set, but senior officials favor a spot that’s relatively close to Washington.

The opening of direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks will be a milestone for President Obama, who came to office with high hopes that he could achieve a breakthrough but quickly discovered the pitfalls of peacemaking. It’s the culmination of a process that included unusual outreach to the Arab world, including his speech in Cairo last year. It also follows the withdrawal of the last official U.S. combat troops from Iraq and Obama’s defense of the right of Muslims to build a mosque in the neighborhood of “ground zero” in lower Manhattan -- all steps aimed in part at engaging Arab and Muslim critics of the U.S.

From the first, the administration has been divided over the question of whether the talks should be framed by an opening statement of principles (as the Arabs wanted) or be open-ended (as the Israelis insisted). In the end, they appear to have had it both ways.

But if it was this hard to get people to agree to come to the table, that surely doesn’t bode well for the larger issues that need to be resolved.

By David Ignatius  | August 20, 2010; 1:38 PM ET
Categories:  Ignatius  | Tags:  David Ignatius  
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Comments

The chasm between the sides is to great. Pals will never accept a Jewish state.

In a briefing with the Egyptian media days ago (Aug. 11th) … Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas told reporters that no Jews will be allowed to live in a future Palestinian state."

"He also said that while he would agree to allow NATO forces to deploy in the future Palestinian state, he would NOT permit any Jewish soldiers to serve in the NATO units stationed on the territory of such a state."

"As he put it, "I will not agree that there will be Jews among NATO forces and I will not allow even one Israeli to live amongst us on the Palestinian soil." (Glick, JPost)

The notion that an inherently anti-Semitic Palestinian state, predicated on Jew hatred that strong, could possibly live at peace with Israel is simply ridiculous.

The talks are doomed to failure. Tragic.

Posted by: Petras123 | August 20, 2010 2:13 PM | Report abuse

I don't understand the "one year time limit."

After a year, the two sides will never talk again?

After a year, the United States will never have a role again?

After a year, ???

What is it with this guy, anyway? He attaches impossible deadlines (repeatedly, one after another) to legislation; deadline for troop withdrawals in the middle of a war, and now a deadline beyond which two parties who have battling one another for nearly 60 years can't talk?

It makes no sense./

Posted by: Curmudgeon10 | August 20, 2010 2:18 PM | Report abuse

Come on people isn't this America, where there is the freedom of religion and the freedom to purchase and own property, not to mention useit accordingly? What has happened to us to make us feel that some people are not and should not be afforded that right? Have we become just as the terrorists themselves, which say that we shouldn't be in the middle east cause we are infidels!!!


http://bit.ly/moslimproblem

Posted by: republicanblack | August 20, 2010 2:24 PM | Report abuse

creation of palestinian state in wb and gaza is a political fiction I never understood. What other country is the proverbial "cream filling" between the cookie in an oreo cookie? Makes no sense and would not provide strategic protection for Israel. better idea would be to transfer all gazans into a robust WB-based Palestinian country that includes territorial offsets in Eastern Jordan and some sliver of Israel to make up for "losing" gaza + capital in abu dis. Gives the Palestinians a country, with geographic contiguity for everyone and works in jordanians as 3d parties. win/win/win.

Posted by: terrapin31590us | August 20, 2010 3:21 PM | Report abuse

FOR SOME TIME NOW HARETZ HAS BEEN POINTING OUT IN ITS EDITORIALS AND OPINION PAGES THAT THIS RIGHT-WING REGIME OF NETHANYAU HAS NOT AGREED TO A TWO-STATE SOLUTION WITH FIXED BOUNDARIES....

Thus preconditions or principles are NOT part of the framework in which the talks take place. It's an open forum to allow Nethanyau to appear to be engaging in peaceful talks...while construction in occupied West Bank will inevitably continue. Thus further isolating Abbu Mazan from within the PLO...and Gaza.

Is that the strategy of this WH...to enforce two-state solution?

Posted by: hariknaidu | August 20, 2010 3:29 PM | Report abuse

It would be a miracle; only second to the Creation, if a settlement is achieved. Simply the Israelis have no reason to compromise. Such negotiations were usually initiated to achieve other ends than a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement, such as to silence this issue in order to wage war, like the war on Iraq. If the Israelis are not ready to accept the international community’s terms and conditions will they be ready to concede to Arabs’ demands?

Posted by: as33074 | August 20, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

It would be a miracle; only second to the Creation, if a settlement is achieved. Simply the Israelis have no reason to compromise. Such negotiations were usually initiated to achieve other ends than a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement, such as to silence this issue in order to wage war, like the war on Iraq. If the Israelis are not ready to accept the international community’s terms and conditions will they be ready to concede to Arabs’ demands?

Posted by: as33074 | August 20, 2010 3:48 PM | Report abuse

It would be a miracle; only second to the Creation, if a settlement is achieved. Simply the Israelis have no reason to compromise. Such negotiations were usually initiated to achieve other ends than a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement, such as to silence this issue in order to wage war, like the war on Iraq. If the Israelis are not ready to accept the international community’s terms and conditions will they be ready to concede to Arabs’ demands?

Posted by: as33074 | August 20, 2010 3:50 PM | Report abuse

It would be a miracle; only second to the Creation, if a settlement is achieved. Simply the Israelis have no reason to compromise. Such negotiations were usually initiated to achieve other ends than a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement, such as to silence this issue in order to wage war, like the war on Iraq. If the Israelis are not ready to accept the international community’s terms and conditions will they be ready to concede to Arabs’ demands?

Posted by: as33074 | August 20, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

It would be a miracle; only second to the Creation, if a settlement is achieved. Simply the Israelis have no reason to compromise. Such negotiations were usually initiated to achieve other ends than a Palestinian-Israeli peace settlement, such as to silence this issue in order to wage war, like the war on Iraq. If the Israelis are not ready to accept the international community’s terms and conditions will they be ready to concede to Arabs’ demands?

Posted by: as33074 | August 20, 2010 3:52 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the Israelis and the Palestinians will negotiate directly with each other. But, considering the tribal democracy of Israel, and the weak and divided Palestinians, who are living under Israeli military occupation, negotiations for a two state solution are likely to fail! They have been negotiating for the two state solution for the past 20 years! Now, the Israeli illegal settlements swallowed about one third of the West Bank territories! Where are you going to have a Palestinian state? Unless the settlers get out of the West Bank, and that their houses in the WB were giving to the Palestinian refugees(as part of the refugees' resolution), the ONE secular and democratic state resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem is the only remaining viable solution and it should be on the table as one of the issues to be discussed by the two parties!

Posted by: editor4tonio | August 20, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

Yes, the Israelis and the Palestinians will negotiate directly with each other. But, considering the tribal democracy of Israel, and the weak and divided Palestinians, who are living under Israeli military occupation, negotiations for a two state solution are likely to fail! They have been negotiating for the two state solution for the past 20 years! Now, the Israeli illegal settlements swallowed about one third of the West Bank territories! Where are you going to have a Palestinian state? Unless the settlers get out of the West Bank, and that their houses in the WB were giving to the Palestinian refugees(as part of the refugees' resolution), the ONE secular and democratic state resolution to the Israeli/Palestinian problem is the only remaining viable solution and it should be on the table as one of the issues to be discussed by the two parties!

Posted by: editor4tonio | August 20, 2010 4:17 PM | Report abuse

Israel is being pressured by President Obama to accept the terms for peace which will be established by the US, the Quartet and the Arab League. The statement of Abbas that no Jew will be permitted to live in the Palestinian State should have ended all attempts for direct talks, since there is nothing to negotiate. Israel will be a tiny State surrounded on all sides by enemies, whose religion encourages the killing of all Jews.
Israel will be committing suicide to accept the two state solution proposed by Saudi Arabia. Israel will need to establish its Bottom Line:
Jerusalem will remain undivided and is the Capitol of Israel.
Judea & Samaria (West Bank) contain historical sites which are holy to the Jewish people. They will not permit the removal of all Jews from the West Bank, since they have seen what happened to Gaza after Jews were removed. Palestinians may have only civil control, but no Military Army.
No more Concessions by Israel. On these terms negotiations can begin.

Posted by: JSRPSY | August 20, 2010 4:33 PM | Report abuse

"But if it was this hard to get people to agree to come to the table..."

Nice fudging, Ignatius. Way to paper over the fact that it's easy to get the Palestinians to the table. All the reluctance comes from one side, the usual side - Israel.

The US media feels driven to maintain this fiction that Netanyahu would negotiate for peace if only certain security conditions could be met. Who are you kidding? Netanyahu's entire life's purpose is to avoid meaningful discussions with the Palestinians. No-one knows that better than the people who voted for him. In fact, that's why they voted for him.

This is a basic truth about Israel - one that you shy away from mentioning although you know it as well as I do.

There will be no serious negotiations as long as he is in office, and you know it. You do your readers a disservice when you gloss over this salient fact.

Posted by: Bud0 | August 20, 2010 4:48 PM | Report abuse

Bud0 makes a great point. Good post Bud0.

_____

Why two states, and not one, or three? Gaza and the West Bank are seperated. It makes no sense to have a country in the middle east that's not connected. Either mix it all up and figure out a way to get along, or split up it up into three parts (like it already is), and let Fatah have the West Bank, Hamas have the Gaza strip, and the Israelis can have Israel.

Jerusalem should be autonomous and shared by the world.

Ultimately though, I doubt there will be any "hope" or "change" coming out of these talks. It's doomed to fail, because Netanyahu is all about window dressing, he want's peace about as bad Megan Fox wants toenail fungus.

Posted by: burlydave | August 20, 2010 6:31 PM | Report abuse


One year?

If the talks are serious there are only two alternatives.

1. Israel returns to pre-1967 borders as required by international law and other provisions of the Geneva Convention are implemented.

or

2. Israel grants citizenship to the Palestinians.

If the “talks” deviate from these core issues, forget it.

Failure to adhere to basic international law means the “talks” will be a charade.


Posted by: JackDixon | August 20, 2010 7:31 PM | Report abuse

Well, of course it seems impossible. Hasn't it seemed impossible from the beginning?
So, why does that stop us? These meetings prove that it is not stopping us.
The United States has attempted through one administration after another to bring about some kind of solution to the situation between Israel and the Palestinians.
It is very much in our own self interest that some kind of resolution or peace be at least TALKED about.
No responsible President of the United States is just going to let the whole thing drift into some kind of sectarian, eternal, violence.
These meetings are a good thing. If they fail, well, they fail. If they succeed, the people in the areas concerned will only have better, safer, lives.
And, IF they succeed, the whole world can feel safer.

Posted by: cms1 | August 20, 2010 7:52 PM | Report abuse

A classic piece of diplomacy"? More like a classic piece of duplicity. Which U.S. are we talking about? The U.S. that issues an invitation "without preconditions" or the U.S. as part of the so-called quartet that lays out the agenda and the framework of the direct talks?
These direct talks will fail within 30 days when Israel resumes its settlement expansion.

Posted by: vegasvino | August 20, 2010 9:58 PM | Report abuse

as one that has spent 18 months in israel on a security project , and another 16 yrs. overseas in general , im most interested in policy that could make the mid east a peace haven rather than a jewish satalite of america ! in my oppinion, no trust can be depended upon a zionist/jew ! the exodise of ww2 jews direct to america was the beggining of america's total funding/support creating israel, american jews have established a defacto government in america that virtually controls everything ! under the noses of paid politicians !the american populace has no idea of the enemy within !

Posted by: sideboom | August 20, 2010 11:01 PM | Report abuse

Hi David,

Isnt it Sad

To realize that "BeingYapping NuttingYahoo" needs to be treated with kid glove since his ego is so delicate that it might harm the "peace"

They cant even agree on the invitation for the conference what sensible person will "Assume" peace will be achieved?

Posted by: Roism007 | August 20, 2010 11:25 PM | Report abuse

The two "finessed" letters of invitation will ensure that nothing substantial will come out from, if at all ever discussed in, the direct negotiations.
Another sure recipe for failures!
However with other "finessed" USA stands and attitudes, likely to be openly voiced during the negotiations, it will be another step in the, seemingly non ending backward demarche of the USA re the whole issue.
Coming after the USA's meek and obsequious climb downs of its earlier demarche(s), as with its proposal for a complete FREEZE of all Israeli settlements construction and expansion activities, it is sure indication that the negotiations will be held between a Joint Israeli /American delegation and the Palestinian delegation in which the USA will be allowed to barge in only with Israeli permission and sufferance.
In a perverted way that is a positive development in that it will dispel once and for ever the illusions held by some Arab officialdom.
In the unlikely event that something will come out from such negotiations the important thing is whether it will be accepted by the majority of Palestinians both residents in their homeland and emigre .
For that, Palestinian majority acceptance and support, is the ultimate guarantor of its success and permanence!

Posted by: omaribsn | August 21, 2010 6:40 AM | Report abuse

The importance of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is vastly exaggerated by everyone. If there were no Israel, all our problems in the Middle East and the Muslim world would be about the same. The main function of this dispute is as a scapegoat for the failures of the Arab and Muslim worlds.

There will be no peace until the Arabs finally give up the goal of destroying Israel. Important elements have not done so and they are egged on by non-Arab Iran.

Posted by: Desertstraw | August 21, 2010 6:55 AM | Report abuse

Should the USA, and the Obama Administration, believe that, as Ignatius put it:
"From the first, the administration has been divided over the question of whether the talks should be framed by an opening statement of principles (as the Arabs wanted) or be open-ended (as the Israelis insisted). In the end, they appear to have had it both ways. "

Should the Obama Administration believe that it has with THE "they appear to have had it both ways. " achieved a diplomatic, or any other kind, of breakthroughs, with its "finessed" invitations it will soon be disenchanted .
Except, surely, with the Israeli and Jewish lobby, possibly and partially, with the Europeans BUT most assuredly with neither the Arab nor Moslem worlds.

Contrary to what was reiterated by USA media at the time the Cairo speech failed to change Arab and Moslem perceptions re the USA.
At best the reaction was “let us see what action will follow".
Now that it is only too evident that the USA is unable to maintain and respect its own words, as in the declarations of the Quartet which was co drafted by the USA ,by failing to include it in the invitation both the Arab and Moslem worlds know perfectly well that the Cairo speech, of President Obama, was a futile and naive PR exercise that utterly failed to achieve anything!
.

Posted by: omaribsn | August 21, 2010 7:14 AM | Report abuse

One can hope for peace in our time, but perhaps the time to work is now. Don't give Hamass and Hezaboloh time to was strong. Time could really be running out for peace.

Cut a deal with Iran and save the day.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | August 21, 2010 7:14 AM | Report abuse

Should the USA, and the Obama Administration, believe that, as Ignatius put it:
"From the first, the administration has been divided over the question of whether the talks should be framed by an opening statement of principles (as the Arabs wanted) or be open-ended (as the Israelis insisted). In the end, they appear to have had it both ways. "

Should the Obama Administration believe that it has with THE "they appear to have had it both ways. " achieved a diplomatic, or any other kind, of breakthroughs, with its "finessed" invitations it will soon be disenchanted .
Except, surely, with the Israeli and Jewish lobby, possibly and partially, with the Europeans BUT most assuredly with neither the Arab nor Moslem worlds.

Contrary to what was reiterated by USA media at the time the Cairo speech failed to change Arab and Moslem perceptions re the USA.
At best the reaction was “let us see what action will follow".
Now that it is only too evident that the USA is unable to maintain and respect its own words, as in the declarations of the Quartet which was co drafted by the USA ,by failing to include it in the invitation both the Arab and Moslem worlds know perfectly well that the Cairo speech, of President Obama, was a futile and naive PR exercise that utterly failed to achieve anything!
.

Posted by: omaribsn | August 21, 2010 7:16 AM | Report abuse

"wax strong" was my phrase - not "was strong."

They do need direction and temper.

Posted by: GaryEMasters | August 21, 2010 7:23 AM | Report abuse

It's also possible that -

*US invitation was issued to Israeli PM based on draft letter cleared by him personally with aview to avoid conflict in his right-wing coaliation;

*Quartet's Invitation speaks more about framework + principles (ie. UN Resolution)
which implies that tacit agreement is possible. [Otherwise EU would not have agreed to the get together on 2 Sept.]

So, may be, just may be, Hillary/Obama have a surprise in store for ALL sceptics on two-state solution.

Posted by: hariknaidu | August 21, 2010 9:01 AM | Report abuse

@Petras123: No, it's the Jews who will never accept a Palestinian state. That's why they keep stealing Palestinian land. Netanyahoo said so in a viral video. See http://www.youtube.com/watch feature=iv&annotation_id=annotation_697671&v=Cl60X_jOsR0.

Israel complaining about no process in peace is like Hitler complaining that the Jews weren't marching themselves into his gas ovens.

Posted by: Garak | August 21, 2010 9:09 AM | Report abuse

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