A Glimmer of Hope from Jerusalem, Damascus and Ramallah

Categories: Letters From Leadership

Syria-Israel Peace Talks

1. Syria prepared to break its ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas once peace with Israel achieved: U.N. special Middle East envoy Michael Williams after meeting with high-ranking Syrian officials; Assad will break with extremists only in exchange for direct commitments from U.S.

In his re-election speech to parliament in mid-July, Assad laid down tough conditions for peace talks with Israel: first, Israel would have to provide a commitment in writing to hand over the strategic Golan Heights should negotiations succeed; second, he rejected Israel’s call for direct, secret talks, saying Syria would only be ready for public talks through the good offices of a third party.

At the same time, he revealed that progress had been made in secret negotiations through a third party. A few weeks earlier, U.N. special Middle East envoy Michael Williams came away from talks with high-ranking Syrian officials under the impression that Syria was ready to break its ties with Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas once peace with Israel was achieved.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Williams said he had conveyed his impression to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, adding that he thought a breakthrough on the Israeli-Syria track was possible.

“The Syrian side has basically said, ‘Look the work is done. It’s here in the drawer,’ ” Williams said.

Referring to Israeli-Syrian peace talks in 2000, Williams was quoted saying: “The big issues like water, security, access were all looked at then, were pretty much thrashed out. So if negotiations were resumed, then maybe we could make real progress.”

So far, the United States has not been prepared to become involved in Israeli-Syrian peacemaking. This vacuum apparently has been filled by Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul, who has been mediating between the parties for months. In his speech, however, Assad intimated that there was a limit to how far this channel could go and there would have to be public talks through another third party.

Although he didn’t spell it out, it was clear Assad meant the United States. Only with the United States deeply involved, and ready to make commitments to Syria, would Assad be ready to break with Iran, Israeli Syria watchers say.

From Iran Seeks To Derail Peace Moves, By Leslie Susser, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

July 23, 2007


When asked about Syria, Olmert said that Syrian President Bashar Assad’s overtures towards peace were serious. Olmert said he didn’t rule out peace with Israel’s northern neighbor, but that the only way to achieve it would be through direct talks.

JPost.com Staff, THE JERUSALEM POST Jul. 20, 2007 For the original Post article, click here.

2. Olmert offers Abbas ‘Agreement of Principles’ on Palestinian statehood

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is offering to hold negotiations toward an “Agreement of Principles” for the establishment of a Palestinian state on most of the territory of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The likely principles that Olmert will offer as part of the the agreement will be the establishment of a Palestinian state comprising about 90 percent of the territory of the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

A. Under U.S. pressure, Olmert agreed earlier this year to discuss with Abbas a so-called “political horizon”, which Israel defined as the legal, economic and governmental structures of a future Palestinian state. After U.S. President George W. Bush said last week that negotiations should also move towards a “territorial settlement”, Olmert’s office again ruled out any final status talks “at this stage”. But Olmert shifted tactics over the weekend, saying Israel would have to withdraw from “many areas” of the West Bank and suggested this could only happen through negotiations.

Israel Inches Closer to Talks With Abbas on Core Issues, By Adam Entous, Reuters, July 23, 2007


B. “Top [Israeli] governmental echelons are examining an improved plan for a convergence into temporary borders, in line with the route of the separation fence. This time the proposal is to coordinate such a move with Palestinian agreement and to accompany it with several guarantees for a timetable for negotiations on permanent borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.”

The Palestinians’ Good Ol’ Boy, By Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, July 23, 2007


C. PM offers Abbas ‘Agreement of Principles’ on Palestinian statehood

By Aluf Benn, Haaretz Correspondent



Prime Minister Ehud Olmert is offering to hold negotiations toward an “Agreement of Principles” for the establishment of a Palestinian state on most of the territory of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

Olmert’s proposal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is based on his view that it is important to first discuss issues that are relatively easy for the two sides to agree upon. No less important is Olmert’s assessment that such an accord will enjoy the overwhelming support of the Israeli public and the Knesset.

If Olmert’s proposal is accepted by the Palestinians, the two sides will begin negotiations on the characteristics of the Palestinian state, its official institutions, its economy, and the customs arrangement it will have with Israel.

After an “Agreement of Principles,” the two sides will tackle the more sensitive diplomatic issues, like final borders and the transit arrangements.

Such agreement is believed to offer both Abbas and Olmert domestic political gains, and the Palestinian leader will be able to use it as part of his reelection campaign.

According to surveys, Olmert knows that the Israeli public is overwhelmingly supportive of a two-state solution, and that the current balance of power in the Knesset will allow him to rally a firm majority of 82 MKs behind such an agreement.

In the prime minister’s view, this is not the time to deal with the minute details of the agreement, because it will be very difficult to reach agreement on final status issues, such as borders, Jerusalem and the refugees.

These, Olmert proposes, should be left to the end of the negotiations. Olmert would like to reach an agreement on principles, and then proceed to more difficult issues. This way, the prime minister claims, it will be possible to restart the peace process, in spite the weakness of the Palestinian Authority, and the skepticism regarding its ability to keep its part of the agreement and guarantee security.

The likely principles that Olmert will offer as part of the the agreement will be the establishment of a Palestinian state comprising about 90 percent of the territory of the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip.

Even prior to the 2006 elections, Olmert suggested that Israel unilaterally evacuate from such territory in the West Bank, and withdraw to the separation fence, for the primary purpose of retaining a Jewish majority in its territory, behind a defensible border.

Palestinian support for such agreement will contribute to Israeli public and political support for the deal.

*Exchange of territory to compensate for the large settlement blocs that will remain under Israeli control in the West Bank.

*Connecting the West Bank and the Gaza Strip through a tunnel in order to offer the Palestinians territorial contiguity, prevent friction between Israelis and Palestinians, and preserve security.

Israel will request territorial compensation for the digging of a tunnel in its sovereign territory. From Israel’s point of view, a tunnel connecting the West Bank and the Strip is the best option to link the two, and is better than the elevated or sunken highway proposals.

*The Palestinians will be able to declare Jerusalem their capital. In the past Olmert has hinted that he would be willing to withdraw from the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem “on the edge,” which have never been considered part of the historical city.

The Old City, its environs and the Mount of Olives would remain in Israel’s control.

The prime minister initiated discussions on the political vision during his recent meetings with Abbas. The goals and the framework of the negotiations was also discussed during the routine meetings between Olmert’s senior aides, Yoram Turbowicz and Shalom Turjeman and their Palestinian counterparts, Rafik Huseini and Saeb Erekat.

Olmert turned down the proposal of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for a “shelf agreement,” which would be a complete final status agreement, negotiated by the U.S., whose implementation would be postponed.

The prime minister explained that he is concerned that the PA will be unable to implement the agreement.

Olmert is also worried that such a plan would be used as the starting points for further negotiations, as happened to the proposals of Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000, and the Clinton Plan, that are now seen by the international community as the basis to any future agreement.

3. Akiva Eldar Interview with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad (Ha’aretz) on possible Fatah reconciliation with Hamas, negotiations with Israel, agreed solution to the refugee problem

“Fayad has reservations about Abu Mazen’s intention to appoint a permanent government while bypassing the legislature and the voter’s decision that gave the majority to Hamas. Fayad refuses to call it quits with Hamas, and is insisting on leaving the organization an open door to the government. He does not attribute particular importance to accepting the Quartet’s conditions and is prepared to content himself with dismantling the armed militias in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, which he sees as “the main reason for the June catastrophe.”

“Even though he is entirely opposed to the Hamas charter, he does not see it as an obstacle to diplomatic progress with Israel. “The way forward is open to us. The results of the elections in 2006 did not change the reality whereby the Palestinian Liberation Organization is the body that represents us and they did not erase the agreements that the PLO signed with you. As finance minister I have signed innumerable documents in the name of the PLO for the benefit of the PA and it is impossible to rewrite history, neither in the political sense nor in the legal sense. We are now trying stabilize the situation in the West Bank and in Gaza so that we will be able to go to the people and ask for its support.”

Fayad: “So much time and so many lives have gone down the drain on futilities. On ‘yes-partner no-partner,’ and ‘yes-weak not-weak.’ You people repeat things so many times that it’s hard for you to get free of them. We are partners and we have wasted too much time. Yes, we were weak and we are weak today, too. If you are expecting that we will become a power, you will have to wait for a very long time. It is necessary to decide once and for all whether we want to reach a solution or to make do with continuing to talk about a diplomatic horizon. It is possible to reach an agreement within a reasonable amount of time on the basis of the Arab initiative.”

How do we solve the right of return and the mention of United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 in the Arab League initiative?

“Have the people who are talking about the right of return read the Arab League initiative? They wrote there that the solution has to be agreed upon. Agreed upon with whom? Of course with Israel. This means that the agreement will not exist without the other side. I prefer to deal with finding solutions. We have to move from conflict management to getting the process moving in a serious way. I don’t want it to happen that a few years from now people will be scratching their heads and asking why we didn’t do this or that, and saying what a pity it is that we didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. I fear that we are going to deteriorate back into complacency. The enemies of peace are not sitting around twiddling their thumbs and time is definitely not working to our benefit?”

July 16, 2007 Ha’aretz

Interview / If you can do it, so can we By Akiva Eldar


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