By Press TV
By Mohiyeddin Sajedi
Finally, after prolonged negotiations in the Israeli cabinet, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that he would accept the Middle East Quartet’s proposal for the resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians based on a specified framework.
The proposal of the Quartet (the United Nations, the European Union, Russia, and the United States) came precisely one hour after acting Palestinian Authority Chief Mahmoud Abbas presented the application for full membership of a Palestinian state at session of the United Nations General Assembly.
According to the proposal, the bilateral negotiations should end by the close of the next year. The Quartet has set no preconditions for the negotiations and defines Palestine’s borders according to US President Barack Obama’s latest speech on the Middle East. In the speech, Obama declared that the Palestinian state would encompass the 1967 borders, but in response to immediate protests by the Israeli regime, he sought to amend it and ultimately reinterpreted his words in such a manner that satisfied Israel. He appended the issue of an exchange of land to his previous remarks, according to which the Israeli settlements in the West Bank would remain Israeli territory and in exchange some land would be handed over to the Palestinians.
The Israeli settlements in the West Bank have been planned and constructed in such a manner that destroys the contiguity and integrity of the region and turns the West Bank into some island cantons, separated by highways connecting the settlements. Currently, the residents of the West Bank have to pass through these roads and checkpoints, flash their identity cards, disclose the purpose of their journey to Israeli soldiers, and obtain their permission to cross, like traveling from one country to another.
Another flaw in the proposal of the Quartet is that it makes no mention of halting the expansion of the settlements. But all the members of the Quartet have separately announced that the expansion of Israel’s settlements in the West Bank is a major hindrance on the road to peace in this long conflict.
A few days ago, Israel announced that it intends to build 1,100 new residential units in the West Bank. The settlement issue was the major factor that caused the impasse in the talks between Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. The US president and secretary of state made a moratorium on settlement construction the main condition for the resumption of negotiations, and Abbas also embraced the US stance. However, it wasn’t long before the US abandoned Abbas and dispatched George Mitchell to the Middle East to start the negotiations without any preconditions.
Meanwhile, to convince the Palestinians to take part in the negotiations, the Quartet made no mention about Israel being a Jewish entity and the necessity of recognizing it at the end of the negotiations. It seems that the Quartet is prepared to use “constructive ambiguity” tactics, an ambiguity which has constantly accompanied UN Security Council Resolution 242. The withdrawal of Israel from “all” the territories occupied in 1967 or just the “occupied territories” has caused an ambiguity that Israel and the United States are using in their efforts to bring the crisis under control. If you asked a US or EU member of the Quartet what will happen to the construction of Jewish settlements, they would probably reply that this issue is mentioned in the “road map” that the Quartet has been assigned to implement.
The Palestinian Authority has not adopted an official stance on the Quartet plan yet, but Palestinian officials have said separately that negotiations would be meaningless without a halt to the construction of Jewish settlements. Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said if Netanyahu actually agreed to the Quartet plan, he would have to stop expanding the settlements and accept the 1967 borders.
Israel, on the other hand, has its own objections to the plan, which Netanyahu said would be presented during negotiations. For example, he rejected a three-month moratorium on the discussion of border and security issues and opposed postponing discussions on the Palestinian refugees and recognition of a Jewish Israeli entity to later stages of the negotiations.
It seems that Israel has been advised by the United States to accept the Quartet’s plan because through entering negotiations, it can torpedo Palestine’s UN membership initiative and relieve Washington of the trouble of vetoing it at the Security Council.
Israel’s decision to build 1,100 housing units in Gilo town, which is located south of al-Quds (Jerusalem), enraged Palestinians and was condemned by the world. For example, according to Haaretz, German Chancellor Angela Merkel lambasted Netanyahu and said she would never again believe anything he said. Merkel added, “I cannot understand how only a few days after the Quartet’s announcement there is news of the approval of 1,100 new housing units.” She was livid because she had originally asked Mahmoud Abbas to join negotiations in return for a three-month halt to the construction of new housing units on behalf of Netanyahu.
In an interview with Egypt’s al-Hayat television network, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asked the Palestinians and the Israelis to avoid provocative acts.
However, neither the German chancellor’s objection nor the US secretary of state’s request can stop the construction of housing units or jumpstart the negotiations. And some analysts are describing Netanyahu’s acceptance of the Quartet plan as his latest trick. It seems that he has only agreed to the plan to resolve the temporary problems that arose as a result of an alternative plan, namely the initiative seeking UN membership for Palestine. Thus, Netanyahu’s main goal is to ensure that Israel retains control over the West Bank in order to prevent the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.