Israelis, Palestinians argue over which issues come up first
While outwardly looking positive, negotiators are in fact in disagreement over when to bring up core issues such as borders and security, with the Palestinians wanting to talk borders first, and Israelis demanding all topics be discussed at the same time.
Yoni Hirsch, Shlomo Cesana, Daniel Siryoti and Israel Hayom Staff
Tzipi Livni, John Kerry and Saeb Erekat after meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama at the White House on Tuesday
Photo credit: AP
Erekat, Kerry and Livni after joint press conference in Washington on Tuesday
Photo credit: AFP
While outwardly looking positive and accommodating, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are in fact in disagreement over when to bring up core issues such as borders and security, with the Palestinians wanting to talk about borders first, and the Israelis demanding that all topics be discussed at the same time, a senior Palestinian official said Wednesday.
Speaking on the Voice of Palestine radio, senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo said the Palestinians want to talk about borders first, whereas the Israelis want to talk about all the issues at the same time. He added that the demand to talk about all the issues at the same time could be seen as an attempt to thwart a deal.
Abed Rabbo added that the Palestinian Authority had informed the Americans that Israeli settlement construction would doom the peace talks.
Israeli officials in Washington said on Tuesday that the venue for talks from now on will alternate between Jerusalem and Ramallah. A date for the next meeting has yet to be set, but once underway, the negotiations are expected to be intensive and deal with core issues. General outlines will be formulated on each issue, after which professional teams from both sides will go into the details. Palestinian sources said talks would focus first on technical issues. The borders of the future Palestinian state and security arrangements that Israel is demanding won't be discussed during the initial stage, these sources said.
Speaking on Israel Radio on Wednesday, Finance Minister Yair Lapid, who has been briefed on the talks, said Israel's position is that the talks are about the two state solution, with land swaps. "We are talking about two states and the settlement blocs. Ariel, Gush Etzion, Maaleh Adumim are part of Israel and the Palestinians are going to have to come to terms with that," Lapid said.
In addition to their talks with each other on Monday, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators also met at the White House with U.S. President Barack Obama. Other participants in the meeting included Vice President Joe Biden, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and U.S. Middle East peace envoy Martin Indyk.
"The president used this opportunity to convey his appreciation to both sides for the leadership and courage they have shown in coming to the table, and to directly express his personal support for final-status talks," White House spokesman Jay Carney said.
A source in Washington said Obama "showed great familiarity with the substance of the expected talks, and said this is a critical opportunity. It was clear that the renewal of the process was carried out due to the commitment of the president."
Israel Radio on Wednesday reported that there were rumblings within the PLO about the suitability of Indyk for the role of mediator. In an article on Gulfnews.com on Wednesday, the newspaper said that "Indyk's rise in American power circles is owed to his affiliation to Zionist organization [sic] and affection to Israel."
Israeli-Palestinian peace talks may only have restarted a day earlier, but U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had no qualms about setting high expectations on Tuesday.
"Our objective will be to achieve a final status agreement over the course of the next nine months," Kerry said at a press conference in Washington, flanked by Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.
"The parties have agreed here today that all of the final status issues, all of the core issues, and all other issues are all on the table for negotiation," Kerry said. "And they are on the table with one simple goal: a view to ending the conflict, ending the claims."
Kerry said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas "have both demonstrated courageous leadership to bring us here, and I commend them for the tough choices that they made in terms of the politics at home."
"We're here today because the Israeli people and the Palestinian people both have leaders willing to heed the call of history, leaders who will stand strong in the face of criticism and are right now for what they know is in their people's best interests," Kerry said. "Their commitment to make tough choices, frankly, should give all of us hope that these negotiations actually have a chance to accomplish something."
Kerry stressed that the peace process needed to occur by way of a reasonable compromise, ultimately setting a two-state solution as the talks' goal.
"We need to actually change the way we think about compromise in order to get to success," Kerry said. "Compromise doesn't only mean giving up something or giving something away; reasonable principled compromise in the name of peace means that everybody stands to gain. Each side has a stake in the other's success, and everyone can benefit from the dividends of peace. ... A viable two-state solution is the only way this conflict can end, and there is not much time to achieve it, and there is no other alternative."
Kerry announced that the next meeting between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators would take place "within the next two weeks in either Israel or the Palestinian territories."
Kerry also said that the Israelis and Palestinians had agreed to keep the content of the negotiations confidential.
"I will be the only one, by agreement, authorized to comment publicly on the talks, in consultation, obviously, with the parties," Kerry said. "That means that no one should consider any reports, articles, or other -- or even rumors -- reliable, unless they come directly from me, and I guarantee you they won't."
After Kerry spoke, Erekat stepped to the podium.
"Palestinians have suffered enough, and no one benefits more from the success of this endeavor more than Palestinians," Erekat said. "I am delighted that all final status issues are on the table and will be resolved without any exceptions, and it's time for the Palestinian people to have an independent, sovereign state of their own."
Livni, Israel's top negotiator, followed Erekat. She thanked Kerry for his efforts to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
"You proved today that failure is not an option," Livni said, addressing Kerry. "And this is the man, Secretary Kerry, who showed everyone that nothing can stop true believers."
"We came here today from a troubled and changing region," Livni said. "We are hopeful, but we cannot be naive. We cannot afford it in our region. We owe it to our people to do everything ... for their security and for the hope of peace for future generations."
Livni said the objective of the talks was to look forward productively, instead of dwelling on the past.
"We all know that it's not going to be easy," Livni said. "It's going to be hard, with ups and downs. But I can assure you that... in these negotiations, it's not our intention to argue about the past, but to create solutions and make decisions for the future."
Turning to Erekat, she said, "You know, Saeb, we all spent some time in the negotiations room. We didn't reach [a] dead end in the past, but we didn't complete our mission. And this is something that we need to do now in these negotiations... a new opportunity is being created for us, for all of us, and we cannot afford to waste it."
"I believe that history is not made by cynics," Livni said. "It is made by realists who are not afraid to dream. And let us be these people."
Officials in the Prime Minister's Office on Tuesday expressed satisfaction over the fact that negotiations were renewed without mention of the 1967 borders or the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. They said it was clear that the Palestinians would have to make painful compromises. A senior Israeli diplomatic official in Jerusalem attributed great significance to Kerry's statement that the goal of the negotiations was "ending the conflict, ending the claims." In recent years, Israel has demanded on several occasions that a final-status agreement include an end to all Palestinian claims.
On Tuesday night, after the press conference, Livni said Israel entered the negotiations with "open eyes." She said Israel must both preserve its security interests and act for the sake of future generations.
The talks got underway on Monday night when Kerry hosted an iftar dinner attended by the negotiating teams. The State Department declined to reveal what was discussed during the dinner, saying only that the talks were "constructive and productive." After the dinner, Livni said the atmosphere had been "good."
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the nine-month window for talks agreed upon by the sides "is not a deadline."
"We're going to make every effort to reach an agreement within that time frame, but again, if we're making progress and we're continuing to make progress, this is not a deadline, it's not a stop-end, it's just an agreement to continue to work through that time period," Psaki said.
During a trip to Latvia on Tuesday, President Shimon Peres welcomed the renewal of peace talks with the Palestinians.
"We have always aspired for peace and democracy," Peres said. "We hope for the best."
The Middle East Quartet also praised the resumption of talks, saying it hoped the "renewed negotiations will be substantive and continuous and set a clear path towards a two-state solution, the end of conflict, and lasting peace and security for both Israelis and Palestinians."
Meanwhile, Netanyahu plans to attend the U.N. General Assembly meeting at the end of September. As part of the renewal of peace talks, the Palestinians have pledged to not unilaterally seek U.N. statehood recognition.