Feb 24, 2012

Amman Talks: No Deal Abbas' Fault? No, Diehl.

Jackson Diehl, the Jerusalem Washington Post editor who has often written one-sided columns squarely placing blame on the Palestinians or President Obama for the death of the Peace Process is at it again. In a piece today, Diehl posits that the Amman talks failed because......."the Palestinian leader punted". Original stuff from Diehl, I know. He's blamed Abbas and Obama several times, including here, here and here, in the past year and as you can see in the columns, he dosn't bother to quote any Palestinians.

This most recent piece is especially ridiculous. Diehl paints the picture that the Israelis presented a proposal to the Palestinians on borders. What he won't tell you is that the Palestinians presented a detailed written document, with maps, specifying their position on where the border should be, while the Israelis put nothing in writing and presented no maps whatsoever.

Diehl tries to hide the fact that the Israelis refused to reply with a written and detailed document like the one the Palestinians provided. He states in his piece that the Israelis "presented substantive proposals" and that Netanyahu's negotiator "set out" a proposal on borders in the final meeting. "Presented" and "set out" are Diehl's ways of dancing around the reality that the Israelis refused to put anything in writing.

What is even worse is that Diehl relies on a report from Haaretz' Barak Ravid which he clearly selectively reads. In Ravid's report, it becomes evident that the Israelis never submitted a written proposal or a map but rather presented "principles". (Maps, by the way, tend to be helpful when discussing things like borders.) Anyone familiar with the negotiations who read Ravid's article could hardly describe the principles laid out by Molho as anything other than vague and unhelpful.

The Annapolis talks which ended in 2008 suffered from a similar flaw when, at the highest levels, the Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert at the time simply flashed a map before President Abbas without allowing him to keep it for analysis or discussion. We learn from the Palestine Papers that the discussion on borders fell apart over issues like the settlements of Ariel and Maale Adumim, two large settlements deep in Palestinian territory. When talking about land swaps of 1.9%, or 4% or 6.8% or 10.2% the specifics tend to matter.

So when the Palestinians presented a detailed document showing where they believed the line should be, they did so with the faith that their Israeli counterparts would respond with the same level of seriousness about the specifics. To understand just how vague and unhelpful the Israeli proposal was, let's go back to Ravid's report, the same one Diehl quotes (emphasis mine):

Molho presented several principles:

1. The border will be drawn in a way that will include the maximum amount of Israelis living in the West Bank, and the minimum amount of Palestinians.

2. Israel will annex the large settlement blocs, without defining what exactly is considered a ‘bloc,’ nor defining its size.

3. It is necessary to first solve the problem of borders and security in relation to Judea and Samaria, and only afterwards move to discuss the topic of Jerusalem which is far more complicated.

4. Israel will maintain a presence in the Jordan Valley for a period of time. Molho did not mention how long nor what kind of presence.
So, if you are the Palestinian side and you painstakingly drew a specific line through what is your own territory, to include in a written proposal to the Israelis about where the border should be, how would you interpret the proposal from the Israeli side as characterized by Ravid above? The Israelis want to keep most of the settlers in most of the blocs but wont say what a bloc is or how big it can be. They want to keep a presence in the Jordan valley but wont say for how long or what kind.

What kind of nonsense is this?

When the disagreements between the sides comes down to specific settlements and fractions of percents, precision is necessary for progress. What the Palestinians got in return for their good faith effort in presenting a precise map was vague principles that indicated the Israelis were not interested in moving forward or matching the seriousness of their counterparts.

Despite facing tremendous pressure from his own public NOT to return to what has amounted to worthless negotiations for decades, Mahmoud Abbas agreed to the Quartet call for a three-month timeline for negotiations on security and borders. The Israelis supposedly "agreed to put forward a comprehensive proposal on borders within three months." The Palestinians, for their part, actually submitted a "document relating to security arrangements and the prospective borders of a Palestinian State, in which they agreed to a 1.9% land swap of West Bank territory"

The Israelis submitted NOTHING in writing and then, on the final day of the end of the three months since the Quartet call, Netanyahu's representative provides nothing more than vague principles.

Any half-objective observer must conclude that the Israelis are simply wasting everyone's time.

Here is what Diehl concluded:
Yet Abbas passed up what could have been an opportunity to press Netanyahu for his bottom lines on the terms for statehood — and force a debate in Israel. Not for the first time, the Palestinian leader punted.
You'd think Diehl would at least chide the Israelis for waiting until the very last day to present these undetailed principles just as he chided the Palestinians for waiting until the 9th month of a 10 month 'settlement freeze' as he did in this column. Of course, if you thought that, it would be because you thought of him as some sort of consistent and objective observer and not a hack. And, of course, you'd be wrong.

Diehl has effectively acted as Netanyahu's finger in Washington - ready to point blame on the Palestinians and Obama in a effort to set the discourse in favor of an Israeli Prime Minister, who leads the most right-wing coalition in Israeli history and is dedicated to continued colonization of Palestinian territory.

Thankfully we have this thing called the internet and can expose all the additional fingers pointing right back at Jackson Diehl.

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