US in talks with Israel, PA to quell statehood bid at UN
The US administration has launched talks with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to avoid a situation where the Palestinians would ask the UN in September to recognize a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo said on Monday.
The Palestinians were nevertheless determined to go to the UN to seek statehood, he said.
“The Palestinian leadership won’t back down unless real and serious peace negotiations are launched on the basis of the 1967 borders,” Abed Rabbo said in an interview with the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper. He said that the PA was also prepared to strike a deal that would include a land, and not a population, swap with Israel.
An Israeli government official, asked whether the US was indeed engaged in talks with Israel and the PA to stem a Palestinian gambit at the UN, said only that there were “ongoing discussions with the Americans.”
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, is scheduled to go to London and Paris next week to lobby against their supporting recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN in September.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas was in Paris last week, but French President Nicolas Sarkozy was noncommittal on the matter. Abbas is going to Germany in the beginning of May.
Europe is turning into the major battleground over the issue, since – according to Israeli officials – the Palestinians know that for a resolution in the UN General Assembly to have any significance it will have to be backed not only by the Islamic and developing countries that regularly give it an automatic majority in the UN General Assembly, but also by the moral authority of the world’s democracies. Both the US, and most recently Germany, have expressed opposition to the move.
Abed Rabbo said in his interview that the PA wants the members of the Quartet – the US, UN, EU and Russia – to supervise the talks with Israel according to the previously agreed timetable that expires in September.
“Without this, we will go to the UN, and after winning recognition [for a state] we will demand that Israeli military and settler presence [in the West Bank] be considered an act of aggression on the sovereignty of a full member of the UN,” Abed Rabbo said.
He said the only two options facing the main powers, especially the US, were either a serious negotiating process that would lead to an independent state, or intervention by the General Assembly and later the Security Council to impose such a solution.
“We don’t have a third option,” the PLO official said.
After the UN recognition, the PA would intensify its efforts to get Israel “out of the lands of the independent Palestinian state,” he said.
Abed Rabbo acknowledged, however, that this could be achieved through a long-term political campaign.
Abbas, meanwhile, was quoted in a Newsweek interview published on Sunday as slamming US President Barack Obama for failing to keep pressure on Netanyahu to renew last year’s construction moratorium in the West Bank.
“It was Obama who suggested a full settlement freeze,” Abbas said. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it.”
Abbas also said that Obama pressured him during a 55-minute phone conversation in February to drop a resolution the Palestinians were bringing to the UN Security Council condemning the settlements.
“He said it’s better for you and for us and for our relations,” Abbas said of that conversation. Then Obama politely went over a “list of sanctions” Palestinians would endure if the vote went ahead, including a warning that Congress would not approve the $475 million in aid America gives the Palestinians, Abbas said.
The Palestinians brought the resolution to the Security Council nonetheless, and the US vetoed it.
Abbas was also quoted as saying Obama’s treatment of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was “impolite” and imprudent.
“From day one, when it started with Mubarak, I had a telephone call with Madame [US Secretary of State Hillary] Clinton,” Abbas said. “I told her, ‘Do you know what are the consequences? Either chaos, or Muslim Brotherhood or both’...Now they have both.”
Abbas also criticized the mediation efforts of Obama’s special Middle East envoy George Mitchell. “Every visit by Mitchell, we talked to him and gave him some ideas. At the end we discovered that he didn’t convey any of these ideas to the Israelis. What does it mean?”
Senior Israeli officials have over the last year echoed a similar criticism of Mitchell, saying that there were times when the US was telling the Israelis one thing, and telling the Palestinians something else entirely.
The best example of this was last spring, before the visit here of Vice President Joe Biden, when the US was keen on Biden announcing the launch of indirect “proximity” talks between the sides.
According to senior Israeli sources, the message to Israel was that the proximity talks would consist of three or four meetings, as a way into direct negotiations. It was to be a entry into the direct talks. To the Palestinians, the sources said, the US was saying that the indirect talks would last four months, and deal with the substantive issues of Jerusalem, refugees and settlements, something to which Israel was adamantly opposed.
Mitchell, who was intensively active in the diplomatic process in 2009 and 2010, has not been to the region in months, a development seen by some as a sign of waning influence. Two of his key aides, however, David Hale and Frederick Hoff, continue to work and travel extensively in the region.