Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1150, 29 May - 5 June 2013

Ahram Weekly

Now it’s money, not land

John Kerry’s latest gambit is to offer hard cash in lieu of Palestinian rights, writes Saleh Al-Naami

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The most interesting thing about the World Economic Forum, held in Jordan Sunday, was the tweets Israeli journalists accompanying Israeli President Shimon Peres wrote. Those tweets poked fun at the initiative US Secretary of State John Kerry proposed for resuming talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA). Most Israeli journalists were amused by the fact that Kerry totally embraced the position of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

According to Israeli and Palestinian media, Kerry proposed economic “incentives” to persuade President Mahmoud Abbas to go back to the negotiating table without preconditions. In practice, the proposals mean that the Palestinians should stop calling for a freeze on settlement building, for an end to the systemic Judaisation of Jerusalem, and for a prior Israeli endorsement of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.

In return, Secretary Kerry offered to develop the natural gas fields off the Gaza shores, develop the potassium mines north of the Dead Sea, and improve infrastructure in Area C in the West Bank.

It is worth noting that Israel resists Palestinian investment in Area C and the north of the Dead Sea. Israeli officials are afraid that the proposed economic plan may force Israel to cede control of parts of Area C to the Palestinians.

According to Yedioth Ahronoth, Israeli politicians have voiced no objection to the Palestinians developing the natural gas fields off Gaza, or using this source of energy to supplant their imports of electricity from Israel. The economic plan, the paper says, is an integral part of the political plan Secretary Kerry is trying to develop. The plan aims to provide the Palestinians with adequate infrastructure to make them no longer rely on the Israelis for things such as water and energy.

The US plan for developing natural gas resources includes a scheme to build a power station in Jenin with a capacity of 600 megawatts, enough to provide the entire West Bank with electricity. At present, Gaza has a European-built power station that runs on diesel oil, although it was originally designed to run on natural gas. The Kerry plan also involves building a water purification station in Gaza, in order to boost Palestinian independent in water and electricity.

It is to be recalled that Israel used to oppose the development of the natural gas field discovered off Gaza shores 10 years ago for fear that the income will be used to support “terror”.

The Kerry plan aims to increase the national income of the PA by 50 per cent, reduce unemployment by 60 per cent, and increase salaries by 50 per cent in the span of three years.

The detailed leaks in the Israeli press suggest that American officials have been discussing the plan with the Israelis long before the Palestinians were brought into the picture.

Secretary Kerry asked Tony Blair, representative of the International Quartet (the UN, EU, US and Russia), to discuss practical details of the plan with the Israeli government. Consequently, Blair met with Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Shteinitz to discuss ways to implement the Paris Economic Agreement and build a fuel pipeline from Haifa to Jenin.

What is clear so far is that the Palestinians are being asked to go to talks without preconditions. Still, the Israelis are setting their own preconditions.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that any political settlement of the conflict should involve the Palestinians agreeing to: recognise Israel “Jewishness”; and implement security measures to safeguard Israel.

Asking the Palestinians to recognise Israel’s “Jewishness” is rather tricky. If the Palestinians agree to that, they would be practically ceding their right to return. Also, they would be consenting in advance to any step Israel takes to assert its “Jewishness”, through grabbing more land for example.

Secretary Kerry must be aware that President Abbas would have trouble going back on his promise not to hold further talks unless settlements and Judaisation are halted.

Former Israeli minister Yossi Beilin offered an interesting explanation of Kerry’s “audacity” in proposing this plan. Kerry, he said, believes that the situation in the region now is similar to how it was after Iraq invaded Kuwait. The Syrian revolution and Iran’s interference in Syria have thrown the region into such discordance that it will be easy to get Gulf countries and Jordan to press the Palestinians to accept talks without preconditions. The Gulf countries can also be easily enticed to finance the projects Kerry proposed.

In other words, the Gulf countries and Jordan are now expected to offer both the carrot and the stick to the Palestinians. If the Palestinians refuse to cooperate, they can simply be told that assistance by Gulf countries will be discontinued.

Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee Secretary Yasser Abd Rabbu says that the Kerry initiative is far from final. The initiative “is in the middle, not the end, and I cannot say that there is an initiative or ready-made ideas at present.” Abd Rabbu dismissed the possibility of negotiations getting underway by mid-June. Such a date would be “too soon”.

He voiced hope that Kerry would bring “new and viable positions, not the same stuff that a parade of US envoys brought to the region for long years”. Abd Rabbu added that there is a need to “provide serious and adequate guarantees to make the talks a success”.

The PLO official denied a statement by UK Foreign Secretary William Hague that negotiations would begin in the “middle of next month”. He clarified: “I disagree with this view, even if it comes from the British foreign secretary.”

Abd Rabbu said that, “Israel is trying to get out of the hard spot it is in at present.” He accused the Israelis of “wanting to portray the Palestinians as the ones who are refusing to talk”. The Palestinians, he noted, are not being offered much to entice them, not even a halt on settlement building.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum, President Abbas said that he was committed to protecting Israel’s security. He even bragged that the PA returned 96 Israeli soldiers and settlers who entered PA territories by mistake.

It is too early to assess the prospects of Kerry’s new approach to the talks. So far, only the Palestinians are being asked to make concessions. In short, the Americans are asking Abbas to take the money and forget all about the land.

 

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