67 Borders Central in Mideast Talks Restart Effort
By Nicole Gaouette and Bill Varner –
The meeting today in Washington by the â€œQuartetâ€ — the U.S., the European Union, the United Nations and Russia — has taken on added urgency as Palestinians plan to ask the UN to recognize their state in a September vote. Israel and the U.S. oppose the move, which would raise political and legal questions.
Before going into the talks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a warning to Palestinians about their UN ambitions and repeated her assertion that talks were the only way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse.
â€œWhat we strongly advocate is a return to negotiations,â€ Clinton said. â€œA resolution, a statement, an assertion is not an agreement. The path to two states lying side by side in peace lies in negotiation.â€
The French foreign ministry said the Quartet meeting represents â€œone of the last chances to lay the necessary groundwork to resume negotiations and avoid a diplomatic confrontation in September,â€ according to a statement released Friday.
â€œThey want to restart negotiations on the basis of Obamaâ€™s speech and the 1967 borders and use that as a way to convince the Palestinians not to go to the UN in September,â€ said Marwan Muasher, a former foreign minister of Jordan and vice president at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington. â€œThe chances of that are very slim,â€ he said in a telephone interview.
Clinton was to host the Quartet at the State Department, meeting with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, E.U. High Representative Catherine Ashton and Quartet representative Tony Blair over a working dinner.
The Obama administration restarted talks between the parties in September with the goal of reaching agreement on core issues a year later — a deadline now just weeks away. The talks quickly stalled.
In a May speech, Obama called for an agreement that would establish a Palestinian state â€œbased on the 1967 linesâ€ that existed before Israel captured the West Bank and Jerusalem in the Six-Day War with Arab nations.
The president said Israelâ€™s security should be ensured before other core issues, such as the fate of Jerusalem, are settled. And he proposed that Israel retain major settlement blocs in return for granting offsetting land to Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said immediately after the speech that the 1967 borders would be â€œindefensibleâ€ and leave major Jewish population centers behind Palestinian lines.
In the months since, U.S. envoys have repeatedly urged both sides to consider the presidentâ€™s proposal, said State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland.
The U.S. feels that â€œgoing to the United Nations is not helpful, it will not achieve the goal of a lasting peace of two states living side by sideâ€ and it â€œcould be detrimental to our goal to get the parties back together,â€ Nuland said at a July 8 briefing.
Palestinians decided to seek recognition at the UN because they have given up on negotiating a peace agreement with Israel, senior negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh said June 16.
As the vote has come closer, Palestinians have begun to reconsider the effectiveness of their UN plan, said Hussein Ibish, a senior fellow at the American Task Force on Palestine, a Washington-based group that advocates for a peaceful solution to the Mideast conflict.
â€œItâ€™s become in so many ways a less attractive proposition than it was a few months ago,â€ Ibish said in a telephone interview. Palestinian leaders â€œfeel that politically they have to act,â€ he said, as negotiations have gotten them nowhere and the Palestinian public watches protest movements lead to political change across the Arab world.
Muasher was among several analysts who said that the September vote might trigger Palestinians to take to their streets â€œif it becomes clear this is just a vote on paper and doesnâ€™t result in a Palestinian state on the ground.â€
â€œTime is running out for the parties involved, the Quartet, Israel, the PLO, to find a way out of any kind of damaging confrontation at the UN in September. That is not in anyoneâ€™s interest,â€ Ibish said.
Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian Authorityâ€™s ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview that he hoped something â€œmeaningful comes out the Quartet meeting, in the form of parameters that would include the ideas in the speech of President Barack Obama.â€
Robert Danin, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, said both Israelis and Palestinians have an interest in returning to talks. Danin, a former head of office for Quartet representative Blair, has also worked on Israeli- Palestinian issues for both the State Department and the White House. â€œNetanyahu sees an Israel that is increasingly isolated and a pariah,â€ Danin said. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas â€œhas an administration in the U.S. that seems more well-disposed to Palestinian positions and concerns than theyâ€™ve seen in the past, and he recognizes that without a negotiating process, heâ€™s not going to gain anything.â€
Another former U.S. diplomat with long experience in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations said restarting the talks wasnâ€™t likely. â€œThe gaps are too big. The suspicions are too great. The motivations of everyone are too questioned by the other,â€ said Aaron David Miller, a public policy fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington.