About-Face for Abbas Who Agrees to Meet Olmert
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas agreed to resume talks with Israel's PM Ehud Olmert, next week. The agreement came following talks with US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in Jordan.
Palestinians see no clear signs of peacemaking in Jerusalem
According to the monitoring group, Peace Now, housing starts in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem continue despite PM Ehud Olmert's directive to desist. Peace Now reports, "In the four months since the Annapolis summit, which was intended to restart peace talks between Israel and Palestine, Israel issued tenders for the construction of 747 new housing units in occupied East Jerusalem. Plans for another 3,648 housing units were submitted to the public for objection, an important final stage of review before construction is approved."
Last Saturday, at the Arab summit in Damascus, Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel or scuppering efforts to establish a Palestinian state. He said, "Israel is continuing its aggression, its occupation, the construction of settlements and the Judaisation of Jerusalem."
Palestinian president denies agreement to forestall discussion of Jerusalem.
President Mahmoud Abbas has denied coming to any agreement with Israeli PM Ehud Olmert to delay discussing Jerusalem in the current round of meetings.
As we have noted many times on this blog, Jerusalem is a major, if not the, sticking point.
I came across the following statement from Israel's long-time UN ambassador, the late Abba Eban. Although it's addressing the idea of the internationalization of the city, it captures the issue well when it comes to the identities and ideologies of Jerusalem's people:
The future division of Jerusalem between Palestinians and Israelis stalls "core issues" negotiation
Israel's PM Ehud Olmert seemed to push Jerusalem off the table again today. He said that because the city's future is such a sensitive issue, other matters, such as borders, will be tackled first as this year proceeds toward George Bush's timetable for a Mid-East agreement before he leaves office in January 2009. Not without good reason have many observers noted that the city is really the heart of the century-long conflict.In the opening chapter of Identity Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem (Palgrave 2006), I wrote:
Explosive, contentious, capable of drawing in much of the world community—this is the pervasive nature of the problem.
A sure pathway to remaining locked in conflict
As Reuters reported yesterday, despite the apparent progress made at Annapolis recently, this past weekend Israel confirmed that in 2008 it will build 740 additional homes in two locations—Har Homa/Abu Ghneim (500) and Maale Adumim (240), areas captured by Israel in the 1967 war. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas understandably protested.
Today (Monday) a second round of talks is to begin in Jerusalem between Abbas and Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. Whatever may be going on in the background (Olmert is politically weak and pressured by rightist partners), such moves do not serve the cause of peace, exacerbate tensions and render a negotiated future much more difficult. As historian Barbara Tuchman put it so well in her book, The March of Folly, governments continue to behave in ways destructive to their best interests long after it has become apparent to all that they are doing so and despite feasible alternatives—in a kind of disastrous lockstep.
The Israel Project has released its weekly update.
While this is generally a useful overview, I am surprised that there is little about the two developments I mentioned yesterday. Firstly, the Knesset's move to frustrate attempts to redraw Jerusalem's borders to allow for the Palestinian capital to be established there gets no mention; secondly, Ehud Olmert's new condition that the Palestinians recognize Israel as "the state of the Jewish people" gets reference only via Saeb Erakat's rejection of the concept.
Two rather significant items that warrant more comment from the non-profit organization that in its own words, "provides journalists, leaders and opinion-makers accurate information about Israel."
The next round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations scheduled for the forthcoming Annapolis, Maryland, conference (date yet to be announced) were being actively promoted in Jerusalem today by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Her optimism is being supported by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. There does seem more cause for optimism than in the final round of talks at Taba in late 2000, a last ditch attempt to gain some ground after the failed talks at Camp David, when Bill Clinton was unable to get agreement between Ehud Barak and Yasir Arafat.
Overlapping with Secretary Rice’s visit was the fourth meeting of the Saban Forum, a program of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. It brought “a high-level, bipartisan U.S. delegation to Jerusalem for discussions with their Israeli counterparts on the theme of ‘War and Peace in the Middle East.’” The official report on Israeli Foreign Minister, Tzipi Livni’s address makes interesting reading. It was also encouraging to note the presence of Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
For further background on the potential for peace, view these recent videos: