Mahmoud Abbas - AP - April 25, 2012
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Feb. 9, 2012. Photo by AP
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Reuters
Alan Dershowitz being escorted away after declaring that he planned to challenge Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad about his views on the Holocaust and Israel in Geneva. April 19, 2009. Photo by Reuters

Harvard jurist and well-known Israel advocate Professor Alan Dershowitz has secured Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ agreement to a settlement freeze formula that he hopes will break the diplomatic stalemate and lead to a resumption of peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

According to Dershowitz and other participants in a Monday night meeting with Abbas in New York, the Palestinian president also promised to make “a positive statement” about the connection between Israel and the Jewish people during his Thursday address to the United Nations General Assembly.

Sources at the meeting also revealed that Abbas has assured U.S. President Obama’s Administration that he would not press for a General Assembly vote on the Palestinian request for non-state recognition before the upcoming November 6 presidential elections.

They also said that Abbas had asked Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to stop referring to “wiping Israel off the map” and to replace that incendiary formulation with a call to “put Palestine on the map” instead.

Emerging from the meeting, Dershowitz told Haaretz last night that he came away from his discussion with Abbas convinced that “if Abbas and Bibi Netanyahu sit down and have serious talks, they will find their positions much closer than is widely believed.” Former U.S. Congressman Robert Wexler, who is president of the S. Daniel Center for Middle East Peace and who also took part in the New York meeting, agreed with Dershowitz and said that participants in the meeting came away with the impression that “the actual differences on core issues are not that great, they are not insurmountable.”

In the meeting, Dershowitz secured Abbas’ confirmation in writing to a sequential resumption of talks that may come to be known as the “Dershowitz Formula”, first published by the famed Harvard jurist in a June 3, 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal. The formula states that “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should now offer a conditional freeze: Israel will stop all settlement building in the West Bank as soon as the Palestinian Authority sits down at the bargaining table, and the freeze will continue as long as the talks continue in good faith.”

Dershowitz, who said that he views himself as someone who can serve as “an honest broker” between Israel and the Palestinians, told Haaretz that he hopes the new formula will be able to break the stalemate that has prevented the resumption of peace talks, by allowing Israel to view Abbas as having come to peace talks without preconditions while enabling Abbas to proceed with the talks with a settlement freeze in place. Though he would not confirm it, Dershowitz is likely to present his new formula to Netanyahu during the prime minister’s upcoming visit to New York.

According to press reports, several Jewish leaders who had been invited to the meeting, including Malcolm Hoenlein of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations, cancelled their participation at the request of the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Nonetheless, about 10 Jewish leaders attended the meeting, held at the Hyatt Hotel in Manhattan, including Wexler and Dershowitz.

According to some participants, Abbas appeared despondent during parts of the meeting. He raised the issue of the Palestinian Authority’s financial difficulties, saying that perhaps the time has come to revoke the Oslo Accords, and for him to retire with his family in Ramallah.

Wexler told Haaretz that Abbas “was asked some tough questions” during the meeting. He said that Abbas showed the participants articles in both English and Arabic in which he had explicitly recognized Israel’s right to exist. Abbas also said that by adopting the Arab Peace Initiative’s formulation for a “just and agreed” solution to the refugee problem, he and most West Bank Palestinians had implicitly accepted the fact that only a fraction of the Palestinian refugees would be allowed to return to Israel proper, and only if the Israeli government agreed to it.

Abbas told the participants that he had instructed Palestinian ambassadors abroad to participate in ceremonies marking the Holocaust. “I know there was a Jewish Holocaust,” he said.

Wexler said that Abbas had reiterated his agreement to a non-militarized Palestinian state, a security regime based on the 2008 blueprint offered by U.S. General James Jones and the presence of a “third party force” that would implement security procedures. According to Wexler, Abbas said that Israel and Palestine had “shared security interests,” including the prevention of infiltration through the borders.

Wexler said that Abbas told them that he hopes to work with the U.S. Administration in the coming few months to try and see whether one last effort could be made to resume peace talks. “It sounds as if this might be his last hurrah,” said one participant in the meeting, who asked to remain anonymous.