Palestinians: Kerry Taking Israel's Side, No Longer Neutral Mediator

Senior officials in Ramallah accuse State Secretary of compensating Jerusalem for U.S. position on Iran.

Senior Palestinian sources are blaming the Obama administration for favoring the Israeli positions in the peace talks, claiming that this is compensation to Israel for the U.S. position in the Iran negotiations and blaming Washington’s stance for causing a crisis in the process here.

According to a senior Palestinian official, during U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s last two visits to the region and in his meetings with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and the negotiating team, there were significant disagreements and a difficult atmosphere prevailed in the discussions.

The source said that in addition to the security plan suggested by the Americans, which promised an Israeli presence in the Jordan Valley for 10 years, the issue of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, as demanded by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, was also raised.

On Monday the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper, quoting senior Palestinian sources, reported that the United States had agreed to Israel’s demand regarding Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and that the Americans were pressuring the Palestinians to accept this position and include it in the framework agreement that Kerry plans to present in the next few weeks.

Abbas’ associates are not denying the report, although they are making an effort to moderate the tone. “The Americans see this as a legitimate proposal, but the Palestinian response was clear – that we cannot agree to suggestions that constitute a gross violation of Palestinian national principles,” said one source close to Abbas. “Imagine if the United States would demand that it be recognized as a state of white Christians. What would the response be in the United States and in the rest of the world?”

In addition, the Palestinians resent the new preoccupation with keeping Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley, and claim that Israel is presenting that issue as separate from the core issues defined in the Oslo Accords, which include borders, refugees, settlements, security arrangements and water sources.

‘Israel weighing 
down talks’

The Palestinians argue that throughout all the negotiations conducted with Israel in the 20 years since Oslo was signed, the Jordan Valley was discussed in the context of security arrangements. But in the talks that began some four months ago, Israel started addressing this separately from the security issue. “Israel is doing all it can to lengthen the negotiations by bringing more and more clauses to the table, to cause a delay and to make the talks so cumbersome and complicated that they won’t produce any practical results,” a source said.

This dovetails with the prevailing opinion among the Palestinians in recent weeks, and particularly after Kerry’s most recent visit, that Kerry no longer qualifies as a neutral mediator. Sources described the meeting with him last Friday in Ramallah as being a very difficult one, a meeting that left the Palestinian side uncertain as to the future of the talks, despite Abbas’ declaration that he would stick with the negotiating process for the allocated nine months.

Haaretz has learned that the Palestinian negotiators and advocacy teams are already preparing for the “day after” - to lobby the international community for support after the talks fail to bring any tangible results other than the freeing of older prisoners. Earlier this week it was reported that Abbas had requested an urgent convening of the Arab League foreign ministers and that such a meeting was to take place within the next few weeks.

The lack of progress in the talks with Israel once again raises the issue of reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas. Palestinian sources say both parties are already feeling the public pressure on the one hand, but on the other hand both are enmeshed in deep political crises – Fatah because the talks with Israel aren’t progressing and Hamas due to the breakdown of relations with Egypt and Saudi Arabia.

According to Palestinian reports, Abbas and Hamas political bureau director Khaled Meshal, who is in Qatar, spoke by phone over the weekend, with Abbas associates describing the conversation as warm. During the conversation, Abbas promised Meshal that any agreement with Israel would be submitted to a referendum in both Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinian sources said the two had spoken to discuss the humanitarian situation in Gaza after the storm.

The Maan news agency reported that Hamas has removed its objections to establishing a unity government that would lay the groundwork for general elections for the PA presidency and its legislative council. It also reported that Abbas would hold consultations on the matter after the Arab League meeting.