Palestinians Ready to Resume Peace Talks with Israel
Return to the table dependant on no West Bank annexation, source in PA Prime Minister’s Office says
Palestinians say they are ready to resume long-stalled direct peace talks with Israel and agree to “minor territorial concessions” under a counterproposal to the US plan.
A source in Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh’s office in Ramallah told The Media Line that the PA had submitted a response to the Trump peace proposal, on how to kick-start direct talks with the Israelis.
The Palestinians were “ready to resume direct bilateral negotiations where they stopped” in 2014, the aide in Ramallah, who has seen the Palestinian proposal, said. But that willingness is conditional.
“If Israel declares the annexation of any part of Palestinian territory, this will necessarily mean the annulling of all signed agreements,” the PA wrote in a four-page letter to the Middle East Quartet, which is composed of the United Nations, United States, Russia and European Union.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu had set July 1 as the date on which he would begin West Bank annexation under President Donald Trump’s peace proposal. On Monday, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said that any annexation must wait until the coronavirus crisis has been contained.
The Trump plan paves the way for Israel to annex up to 30% of the West Bank, including settlements the international community considers illegal. Under the terms of a coalition deal with Gantz’s Blue and White party, Netanyahu can initiate action on annexation through either the cabinet or the parliament.
In the cabinet, Gantz would have a veto, but a Knesset bill would require only a simple majority, so if Netanyahu has the votes, Gantz would be unable to stop it.
Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American political analyst based in Ramallah, told The Media Line that the pushback by Palestinians and the “very concrete” position they had taken helped them to garner regional and international backing.
“The PA threat to cancel agreements and its strong objection to the plan brought about voices in the European Union, Congress and the UN, which are saying this makes no sense whatsoever. We are seeing such voices even within the Jewish community abroad, specifically in the US,” Bahour said.
The PA proposal sent to the Quartet explains that “no one has as much interest as the Palestinians in reaching a peace agreement, and no one has as much to lose as the Palestinians in the absence of peace.
“We are ready to have our state with a limited number of weapons and a powerful police force to uphold law and order,” it continued, adding that it would accept for an international force such as NATO, mandated by the UN, to monitor compliance under any treaty reached.
The Palestinian counterproposal also calls for “minor, mutually agreed border changes based on the borders of June 4, 1967,” the day before the outbreak of the 1967 war in which Israeli forces occupied the West Bank.
We are ready to have our state with a limited number of weapons and a powerful police force to uphold law and order
Bahour argued that the Palestinians had “no choice but to reach out to the Quartet,” because they had taken a very clear decision that they would no longer “interface with the Americans alone.”
The Americans have “monopolized the Oslo peace process to bring us to this very dark time that we are at today,” he said.
The Palestinian Authority cut off communication with the White House in December 2017, when the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The decision enraged the Palestinians, who view east Jerusalem as the future capital of their future state.
PA presidential spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeinah told The Media Line that Washington was no longer the only mediator in the peace process. Palestinians accuse the US of being a “dishonest broker.”
“When Trump said no to Jerusalem, President [Mahmoud] Abbas said no to Trump and no to America. This is our national position. America alone at the table is not acceptable. We want the international community along with it,” Abu Rudeinah said.
Bahour said, “The Palestinian side will only interact with multinational bodies or international bodies, the Quartet being one of those. The Quartet also has heavy influence from the American side.”
Netanyahu is facing tremendous global pressure to back away from annexation. European and UN officials argue that annexing territory would violate international law and could harm Israel’s international support.
Also, any chances for diplomatic ties with Arab countries could be jeopardized if Israel moves forward on the issue.
Danny Ayalon, the founder of The Truth About Israel, a nonprofit organization that defends Israel in social media, and a former ambassador to Washington, told The Media Line, “I would say that the US administration is pretty much conflicted.
“On the one hand, you have those who believe that this plan should be postponed, waiting for a cooperation, collaboration, with the Palestinians, and of course, also getting some endorsement in the region and internationally,” he said.
“And there are those who say, well, we cannot wait for the Palestinians forever. Let’s do it now as planned. And this may induce the Palestinians to come back to the negotiation table,” Ayalon continued.
“At the end of the day, because there’s also the intricacies of the elections in November in the United States. I’m not sure that Trump will want to really deal with this [annexation].
“However, one thing he will not want to have is pressure from the evangelical voters, who are very much for the annexation. And in that respect, I think it’s important to hear that Secretary of State [Mike] Pompeo said that it is Israel’s decision. So this is how they deflect political pressure domestically, by saying it’s Israel’s decision,” Ayalon said.
“Right here, Mr. Netanyahu, I don’t think that he would like to go ahead without the consent of, Benny Gantz and Blue and White. So right now it’s still on hold, on a hold mode,” he said.
“The report that the Palestinians may offer a plan of their own to the Quartet is a refreshing one. I hope this is the case because if indeed they are ready to enter into negotiations, that would be, I think, very helpful to move it forward and not in a unilateral way.
“Europe is a more of a concern. Although Europe is also split where you have at least four or five countries in Europe, in Eastern and Central Europe, that are for the [Trump] plan. So we’ll have to wait and see, but what most concerns me is the position of the Democrats in the United States. And it is very important for Israel to keep the bipartisan support and to try to get Democratic support for annexation,” Ayalon said.
The report that the Palestinians may offer a plan of their own to the Quartet is a refreshing one. I hope this is the case because if indeed they are ready to enter into negotiations, that would be, I think, very helpful to move it forward and not in a unilateral way
Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates’ ambassador to Washington, took the unprecedented step of writing an op-ed piece that appeared in Hebrew in an Israeli newspaper on June 12, warning that annexation threatened normalization with Arab states.
“It’s Either Annexation or Normalization,” the headline declared.
“Annexation will definitely, and immediately, reverse all of the Israeli aspirations for improved security, economic and cultural ties with the Arab world and the United Arab Emirates,” the ambassador wrote.
Israeli annexation is just one part of the Trump Administration’s proposal, which also calls for the creation of a demilitarized Palestinian state largely encircled by Israel, with a capital outside Jerusalem – terms roundly rejected by the Palestinians.
As for what to expect from the Israeli side on July 1, Bahour said he did not expect much to happen right away.
“I think with all of that pushback that happened, I would assume that Binyamin Netanyahu’s bark is louder than his bite. And I think that they will, first and foremost, delay any actual active annexation and allow July 1 to pass,” he said.