Thursday, December 27, 2007

Deja Vu: Repeating the Mistakes that Doomed Oslo

The following article appeared in Haaretz.

There's nothing special about the article. Unfortunately, there's nothing special about the specious demands of Abbas and the obsequious response by Israel.

Once again, Abbas whined about Israelis living in their own capital city. While, thankfully, the Israeli prime minister didn't abandon housing plans in Jerusalem, he certainly seems as if he's going to avoid building needed housing in other areas at the same time building by Palestinian Arabs in the disputed territories proceeds without restriction.

Olmert also seems to be edging towards releasing even more terrorists, even while Kassams continue to rain down on Sderot and while Gilad Shalit, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev are being held hostage. That is not to imply it would be okay if they weren't being held hostage; only that it makes even less sense because of their situation.

We heard several statements from the Israeli prime minister promising to negotiate with good will and to not take any actions to impeded negotiations, but it is the Palestinian Arabs which need to demonstrate those intentions.

They could begin by freeing Israeli hostages, by dismantling the terrorist infrastructure they built up over the last fourteen years, by ending the demonization of Israel in their media and by teaching their children that peace is good and murdering Jews isn't.

They could begin by giving some evidence they would adhere to future agreements, something they have never done with past agreements. They could begin by demonstrating they had were able to govern the disputed territories, both within Judea and Samaria, where they nominally govern but have little control beyond Ramallah, and in the Gaza Strip, where they were kicked out in the Hamas coup.

If they took those steps, there might even be some hope negotiations might succeed.

PM to Abbas: Israel won't undermine final status talks

By Barak Ravid, Haaretz Correspondent

Israel will not undermine negotiations toward a final-status agreement, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert promised Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during their meeting in Jerusalem on Thursday.

"Israel will take no steps that would undermine the ability to reach a final-status agreement or that would delay the negotiations," Olmert told Abbas during their first meeting since the Annapolis conference a month ago.

The prime minister made the statement in response to Palestinian complaints about the announced tender for the construction of 307 new homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Homa. However, he did not promise that the tender would be halted.

According to one government source, "the sides resolved the differences that had been weighing on the talks and agreed to proceed with negotiations on the core issues." That is the term used to describe the thorniest disputes between Israel and the Palestinians, namely Jerusalem, refugees and borders.

"Both sides wanted to resolve the crisis and recognized that there is no point in stalling the entire process over such an issue," explained another senior government source.

According to that source, Olmert and Abbas agreed that the matter of construction in the territories, as well as in Jerusalem, will be discussed during the negotiations on the core issues.

The two also agreed to resume their biweekly meetings, and to have their negotiating teams meet again next week. At that meeting, the teams will seek to reach an agreement on a framework for talks on the core issues.

The Palestinians also raised the issue of a prisoner release, and Olmert told Abbas that Israel intended to "loosen" its definition of "blood on their hands," the euphemism used in Israel to describe Palestinians who were involved in murdering Israelis.

"We are considering the release of veteran prisoners who we are sure will not go back to terrorism, but there is still no decision on this matter," the senior government source said.

At the start of the meeting, Abbas expressed the Palestinians' opposition to further construction at Har Homa and protested the issuance of the tender. In response, Olmert said that "Israel will not construct new settlements, will not confiscate land and will evacuate the illegal outposts."

"Israel wishes to conduct the negotiations with goodwill," the prime minister added.

Two earlier meetings of the negotiating teams, headed respectively by Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and former Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia, had gone nowhere, as the talks stalled over the issue of settlement construction.

On Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned both Olmert and Abbas and asked them to use their meeting to resolve the impasse. "It is important to me that you progress," Rice told the two leaders, adding that they must not allow the differences between them to widen.

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