Israel examines new route to agreement with Palestinians

08:47, October 10, 2009      

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There is no way for Israel can reach a permanent peace agreement with the Palestinians in the next few years, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel Radio on Thursday.

The minister appears convinced that a temporary accord will be far easier to achieve and will demand years without hostility to prove both sides are capable of living in harmony before heading towards any final-status agreement.

His comments came immediately after the publication in the Hebrew press of a leaked unofficial Foreign Ministry report that called on Israel to push for a temporary accord. The document suggested that such an aim would show progress in ending the conflict and would likely satisfy the international community for the time being.

  "TEMPORARY AGREEMENT WORKS IN CYPRUS"

Lieberman's comments were made on Wednesday evening he met in Jerusalem with U.S. special envoy George Mitchell. Later on Friday, Mitchell held talks with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu before meeting with Palestinian leaders.

Lieberman suggested that long-lasting, temporary agreements work in other parts of the world, including Cyprus, the Falkland Islands and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Lieberman failed to mention that Mitchell's greatest success on the international scene was in helping bring about a permanent peace deal in Northern Ireland.

For Palestinians and dovish Israelis, the idea of a temporary deal is anything but a starter.

"No blessings, only curses have ever come out of temporary agreements. A temporary agreement is the equivalent of no agreement," Yossi Sarid, a former head of Israel's leftist Meretz party, told Xinhua on Friday.

Ironically, on this point, many on the political right in Israel would agree. There is an entire movement amongst Israeli hawks dedicated to denigrating the 1993 Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian National Authority and set the rules for a five-year, temporary agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.

There were many at the time on the political left in Israel arguing that a permanent arrangement would achieve more, while rightists said they did not want to see an agreement at all.

  "MERIT TO PROPOSAL, NO MATTER THE MOTIVATION"

The current suggestion from Lieberman is not a flash in the panidea. Through the years numerous Israelis have come up with the proposal, only to have it rejected out of hand by the Palestinians.

Jonathan Fighel was a member of the steering committee that implemented the Oslo Accords and previously served as the Israeli governor in the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Jenin and Tulkarem.

He was quick to point out that he is in no way a supporter of Lieberman, who heads the hawkish Israel Beiteinu party. He also questioned whether the leaked Foreign Ministry report came from the ministry's research department or, more likely, from Lieberman himself or one of his close advisers.

However, no matter what the source was, he said he believed Lieberman's argument had considerable merit.

"We need to look at this document without connecting it to Lieberman's well-known views and say first of all a fact is a fact and there is a total freeze (in the peace process) because of both the Palestinians and the Israelis," Fighel said.

Both parties seem to believe that they are at the center of the world and everyone is clamoring to help them out, he said, adding that actually this is not the case and the parties need to be aware of that.

Some form of temporary agreement would give sufficient breathing space to allow Israel in particular to develop all sorts of relationships with parts of the world where its ties are not currently the best. For example, it would give Israel room to foster strong ties in Latin America and Russia, Fighel proffered.

  PALESTINIANS, U.S. LIKELY TO INITIALLY REJECT IDEA

On all previous occasions that Israelis have brought to the table the temporary-agreement idea, it has been rejected by the Palestinian leadership.

Meanwhile, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is pushing for a permanent deal inside two years, which means the declaration of a Palestinian state on all or most of the land Israel has occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.

At the moment, the Americans favor launching negotiations with a view to moving directly towards a permanent deal. However, Washington is well aware that in both the Israeli and Palestinian political environments there are major hurdles to overcome.

In Israel, there is serious opposition to a deal with the Palestinians that includes full territorial compromise, the division of Jerusalem and the resolving of the issue of Palestinian refugees. That resistance comes from both politicians and the streets.

On the Palestinian side, a series of moves by Abbas over the last two weeks has shown he does not have the political backing at home to move ahead full-throttle with the peace process.

The lack of political will on both sides of the fence could mean that at some future point the Americans will seriously consider a long-lasting temporary understanding. Yet for the time being, U.S. President Barack Obama wants to push for a permanent agreement.

To that end, he has reportedly asked Mitchell and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to produce an interim report on the peace process by next Thursday.

However, Fighel said he was concerned there is a distinct lack of information and understanding at hand as the Americans attempt to summarize the present position.

The Americans proved over the last two weeks that they really do not have a grasp of political realities in the Palestinian arena, he said. There is a feeling that the internal calls for Abbas to quit were the direct result of too much American pressure on Abbas to show more goodwill towards the peace process.

At the same time, nobody really knows what Israel's policies are regarding the peace process, said Fighel.

"To my great sorrow, I really don't know what Israel's agenda is towards the Palestinian issue. You can't say it's what they call ' economic peace,' that's not a policy," he said.

Virtually every headline and every comment by Palestinians and Israeli politicians and academics is negative at the moment, despite the New York handshake last month between Abbas and Netanyahu under Obama's watchful eyes.

The very fact that the Israel's Foreign Minister is publicly talking up the idea of abandoning the current peace effort because it is a lost cause speaks volumes and appears to be highly reflective of the views of the two parties that Washington is so desperately seeking to bring together.


Source: Xinhua
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