Maariv published a story (in Hebrew – my translation is below) on Monday, January 4, by its top political correspondent, Ben Caspit outlining what is described as a detailed American initiative to reconvene Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and reach a permanent agreement in two years. What is particularly surprising is the clear implication that Washington has Netanyahu’s consent to enter a negotiation that will result in a return virtually to the 1967 borders.
The Jerusalem Post also reported the purported American plan, giving less detail but adding that it had received Egyptian confirmation (Caspit’s story cites no sources). The Post also quotes Bibi as saying there is “no truth” in media reports that he has agreed to “certain viewpoints, plans and border lines.”
Read on for Caspit’s full report on the American plan, translated into English:
The American peace plan: main points
By Ben Caspit
Pressure is mounting on Palestinian Authority chairman Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) to return to the negotiating table with Israel on the basis of “the American peace plan.” The heavy pressure pplied yesterday (Jan. 3) by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is getting backing from the United States as well as from an unexpected player in the arena: Israeli President Shimon Peres. Maariv has learned that Peres has had contacts recently with Abu Mazen, including direct telephone conversations, and has urged him to return to the negotilating table. As far as is known, Peres’s activity is coordinated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is taking place at his request.
According to the draft of the American peace plan, Israel and the PA will immediately open negotiations toward a permanent accord. The target date for agreement is two years from the beginning of the negotiations.
The first topic they will discuss will be the matter of permanent borders. The target date for agreement on borders will be nine months from the opening of negotiations.
The goal: achieving a draft border agreement before the expiration of the Israeli construction freeze in the West Bank, so that the freeze will not end at the expiration date but will coordinated with the agreement—Israel will resume construction in areas that will be within its permanent borders, according to the draft reached by the sides. In all areas outside the agreement, the freeze will continue.
The principle of the talks: to address both the Palestinian demand to receive the territory that Israel conquered in 1967 (or an identical amount of land) and the Israeli demand for defensible borders. On the agenda: territorial swaps.
Abu Mazen will need sweeping pan-Arab backing
After an agreement is reached on borders, the sides will move to discussions of the other key points of dispute: Jerusalem and the refugees. The Palestinians will receive an American letter containing assurances that the deadline (two years) will be final, and there will not be postponements after that. If an agreement Is not reached, the Palestinians will seek American backing for their demand to receive territory equal in size to the area that was under Arab rule before 1967.
The assessment is that Israel will seek a parallel American letter reaffirming George Bush’s letters to Ariel Sharon in 2004.
It is not yet clear if the heavy pressure on Abu Mazen from all sides will bear fruit. The day before yesterday his aides sounded pessimistic, but it is possible that at the meeting withy President Mubarak things will change.
The Americans and the Egyptians are aware that Abu Mazen will need strong pan-Arab backing, so as not to appear soft in comparison to Hamas’ tough stance. It is likely that an effort will be made to achieve an Arab League resolution calling on Abu Mazen to return to negotiations, thereby giving him backing.
The important question now being asked, if the sides do return to negotiations, is what will happen if the talks run into difficulties before the deadline for permanent borders. Will the Americans present their own plan at that stage (based on former President Clinton’s initiative) and try to impose it on the sides? Washington itself has not come to a decision on this.
The problem of both leaders: domestic opposition
No less important is th question of the two leaders’ ability to deal with the tough opposition they face at home. Abu Mazen is at a disadvantage vis a vis Hamas where relations with Israel are concerned, particularly given the acceleration of contacts over a prisoner swap to free Gilad Shalit.
While Hamas is seen as “bringing Israel to its knees” by force, Abu Mazen could be viewed as going down on his knees once again, without receiving anything in return.
Benjamin Netanyahu’s problem is no less difficult: his coalition is fragile, and it is not clear if it will stand up under this sort of negotiation, which is based on an almost certain return to the 1967 lines. It is not clear if Netanyahu intends to move toward this framework, if he has the ability to bear the political price, or whether he is trying to gain time and hope that the Palestinians will be the ones to sink the process and take the blame.
If Netanyahu does mean it when he says “try me,” it is not clear why he burned his bridges with Tzipi Livni in the bid to dismantle Kadima, which broke down last week. In his conversation with Mubarak last week, Netanyahu refused to show his cards, and asked the Egyptian president to tell Abu Mazen that he would hear “surprising things” from him face to face, if Abu Mazen will agree to the three-way meeting at Sharm el-Sheikh that he was to propose to Mubarak today.