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Khaled Amayreh: Pearls for coal

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    There is little chance of Israel and the PA bridging divisions ahead of the US-sponsored peace summit, reports Khaled Amayreh from occupied East Jerusalem
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 3, 2007
      There is little chance of Israel and the PA bridging divisions ahead
      of the US-sponsored peace summit, reports Khaled Amayreh from occupied
      East Jerusalem

      Pearls for coal
      Khaled Amayreh
      Al-Ahram Weekly

      Palestinian and Israeli negotiators began a series of secret meetings
      on Monday in an effort to draft a joint document for the upcoming
      US-sponsored peace conference, scheduled to take place in Annapolis,
      Maryland, in November. The two sides continue to be deeply divided on
      the major issues at the heart of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

      According to Palestinian officials close to the talks, the two
      negotiating teams are likely to spend more time on formulating and
      asserting their own respective opening positions than bridging the
      gaps between them. While the Palestinian Authority continues to seek a
      final-status settlement on the basis of UN resolutions 242 and 338 and
      within the framework of what is generally termed the "land-for-peace
      formula" Israel, which views the occupied territories as "disputed"
      rather than "occupied", is adamant in its rejection of the right of
      return and determined to retain major Jewish settlement blocks on
      occupied Arab land.

      Azmi Al-Shuebi, a former Palestinian cabinet minister, told Al-Ahram
      Weekly that "bridging proposals" were being considered to overcome
      differences pertaining to the extent and depth of the putative Israeli
      withdrawal from the West Bank.

      The main proposal in this regard foresees a "land swap" whereby Israel
      annexes 3-5 per cent of the total area of the West Bank, mainly in and
      around East Jerusalem and west of the Separation Wall, in return for
      which Israel cedes the would-be Palestinian state a comparable area of
      land in Israeli proper.

      It is a catch-22 situation. Israel is offering the Palestinians sandy
      terrain in the Negev desert along the Gaza borders in exchange for
      annexing large Jewish settlements, including Ma'ali Adomim, Pisgad
      Ze'ev, Ariel, Efrata and Gush Itzion, in and around East Jerusalem. As
      one Palestinian official put it, the proposal is like swapping a pearl
      for a piece of coal of the same size.

      The decision to begin drafting the joint Israeli-Palestinian document
      does not mean the series of recent high-profile meetings between Abbas
      and Olmert has been successful. According to observers both sides want
      to appease Washington and avoid any impression of impeding progress.
      Olmert told the Israeli cabinet this week that he and Abbas had not
      come to any conclusions during their meeting on 4 October, intended to
      formulate a mutually-accepted perception of what any final-status
      settlement should look like.

      "There were no agreements or understandings between me and Abu Mazen,"
      said Olmert, adding that they had done no more than "survey the
      problems and central issues that are the basis for negotiations that
      will lead to two states for two peoples".

      Olmert's remarks showed that despite his "positive" and "cordial"
      meetings with Abbas the two men are still dealing with formalities and
      procedural issues.

      It is probably safe to assume that if the current talks continue at
      such a snail's pace the two sides will go to Annapolis without an
      agreement, which will in turn doom the conference to failure.

      According to Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, the success or
      failure of the upcoming conference depends on the willingness of the
      Bush administration to get involved. Ashrawi told the Weekly there
      were two main factors militating against the conference: first, the
      Bush administration has yet to demonstrate any real willingness to
      pressure Israel and, second, the internal Palestinian situation is
      more hapless than ever. Ashrawi criticised the make-up of the
      Palestinian negotiating team as "the same old incompetent faces that
      remind us of the failures of the Oslo era".

      Meanwhile, Israel's stalling tactics this week prompted former
      Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei to warn that if a joint
      Israeli-Palestinian statement on the final-status issues is not
      formulated before the Annapolis conference the Palestinians may well
      not attend.

      The veteran Oslo-era Palestinian negotiator and former prime minister
      pointed out that the principles of a final solution were clear to both
      sides, and what is needed now is a decision.

      Olmert has been heaping praise on Abbas, insisting that "for the first
      time, there is a Palestinian leadership that wants to reach peace with
      Israel based on two states living side by side in security and where
      Israel will be a Jewish state." The Israeli premier has described
      Abbas as "consistent and systematic... against terrorism and ready for
      serious dialogue with Israel".

      Such praise, coming from a man known among Palestinians more for
      deceitfulness than rectitude, has been met with apprehension, fuelling
      rumours that Abbas will compromise over Jerusalem and the right of
      return, the two issues that, more than any other, define the
      Palestinian- Israeli conflict.

      Salman Abu Sitta, a prominent advocate of the Palestinian right to
      return to the homeland as anchored in UN Resolution 149, this week
      warned Abbas against "dealing lightly with the right of return".
      "We are aware of the pressure you are facing to abandon Palestinian
      constants," Abu Sitta wrote in an open letter addressed to Abbas this
      week. "But what has drawn our attention more than anything else are
      Israel's attempts to redefine the idea of the two-state solution.
      Israel now wants mutual recognition of a national homeland for the
      Jews and, on what is left of the land, Palestine, a national homeland
      for Palestinians."

      Palestinian apprehension about the dangers of a hasty deal being
      imposed that excludes the right of return prompted a number of
      Damascus-based Palestinian factions to call for meeting in the Syrian
      capital to reassert Palestinian national goals, including the right of
      return. The factions, which include Islamic and leftist groups, are
      expected to warn Abbas against succumbing to US pressure to sacrifice
      the right of return in exchange for an unviable Palestinian statelet
      in the West Bank.

      Israeli grabbing of Palestinian land has continued unabated as Olmert
      talks about peace with the Palestinians. On Monday, the Hebrew press
      reported that the Israeli army had decided to seize land east of
      Jerusalem with the aim of building thousands of additional settler units.

      The establishment of the new settlement, dubbed E-1, would block the
      remaining physical continuity between the southern West Bank (Hebron
      and Bethlehem) and the Ramallah region.



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