During his visit to Berlin and London this week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ mood was identical to the weather in Western Europe. Grey, bleak and depressing. The Germans and the British received Abbas with nearly all the pomp and circumstance due a head of state but even the shower of respect they rained down on him did not succeed in encouraging him.
In each of his meetings Abbas repeated the same monologue, as documented by a European diplomat who was present at several of those meetings and was briefed on the others: “The Israelis are not giving me anything,” said Abbas. “On the contrary: They are just plotting against me. Look at what they’ve done with my VIP pass, which has now been limited to only two months for security reasons.”
The continuation was just as depressing. “In the talks that have been held until now in Jordan, the Israelis have not presented anything new,” he said. “The 21-point document Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu boasts about is empty of content. It is a shopping list of headlines with no substance. It’s like codes that have to be deciphered. It is simply worthless and unserious.”
To anyone who will listen, Abbas says he is prepared to continue in the track of the talks in Jordan even after January 26, and he in fact wants this very much, but for this to happen the government of Israel also has to do its bit. “I want to get something from Netanyahu, even something small,” he stressed.
Guarantees and prisoners
What is that small thing? According to European diplomats it is a combination of a number of things, the main one being a promise from Netanyahu to bring to the table by March, for the first time, his positions on the issue of the borders of the Palestinian state. Netanyahu has promised he will do this but Abbas doesn’t believe him and wants to receive guarantees of this from the United States, the European Union and the Jordanians.
Abbas also spoke to German Chancellor Angela Merkel and to British Prime Minister David Cameron about the issue of the settlements. “Netanyahu wants to talk about borders and security three months form now, so at least during that period he should agree to freeze construction. Even without announcing this publicly,” said the Palestinian president. However, he would also admit there is no chance this will happen, especially not at this time.
So what else does he want? Release of prisoners. Specifically, 139 of them who have been imprisoned in Israel since the period before the Oslo agreements. Moreover, Palestinian negotiating team head Saeb Erekat , who met with the prime minister’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho in Amman on Saturday evening, went so far as to demand the release of 23 Hamas parliament members who are in detention in Israel and the release as well as Marwan Bargouthi and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine secretary general Ahmed Saadat, who ordered the assassination of minister Rehavam Ze’evi. It is clear to the Palestinians that they will not get all of this but they will agree to compromise on half the list.
Merkel and Cameron: Netanyahu is responsible
Abbas' strength is in his weakness. He knows that for the United States and the European countries the biggest nightmare is that one day he will go to Jordan and never return, leaving the Palestinian Authority without anyone in charge. In Israel, incidentally, there are quite a number of people who are fervently hoping for that moment. For some unclear reason they think that if Abbas is out of the picture, the situation will improve.
Therefore, Abbas can check off one small achievement from his visit to Germany and Britain. Merkel and Cameron are deeming Netanyahu and not him responsible for finding a solution. On Saturday evening the two European leaders spoke on the phone and at the end of the conversation published an exceptional statement—which won hardly any coverage in Israel – and in it a message for Netanyahu: The government of Israel must evince more willingness to conduct negotiations with the Palestinians, they said, and must take specific steps to prevent the failure of the talks.
In the days remaining until January 26, a great deal of international scurrying is expected in an attempt to find a possible way out that will enable continuation of the talks. Tomorrow EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will visit Ramallah and Jerusalem, quartet envoy Tony Blair is trying to formulate a joint statement of the international community declaring the continuation of the talks on the assumption that Abbas will not be able to refuse, the Jordanians are applying lots of pressure and only the Americans don’t exist. The United States is looking on, paralyzed and with no idea of what to do. At the White House they are hoping that by the time the presidential elections roll around in November, Abbas and Bibi will not be a problem. So they’re hoping.
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