Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Israel Pleased Clinton Rejects Idea of Imposed Solution

by Hilary Leila Krieger and Herb Keinon

Israel expressed satisfaction on Saturday night that US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton came out unequivocally against an imposed diplomatic solution in her Middle East policy speech a day earlier.

“The United States and the international community cannot impose a solution,” Clinton said at the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum dinner in Washington. “Sometimes I think both parties seem to think we can. We cannot. And even if we could, we would not, because it is only a negotiated agreement between the parties that will be sustainable.

Clinton’s comments come as Palestinian Authority officials continued to threaten to ask for international and UN recognition of a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 lines; as three South American countries extended that recognition last week; and as 26 former EU leaders issued a letter calling on the multinational organization to set an April 2011 deadline by which either there is “progress” on the diplomatic track or it should be left to the international community to “define a vision and strategy for a resolution of this conflict.”

“Unilateral efforts at the United Nations are not helpful and undermine trust,” Clinton said on Friday.

One government official said that Clinton’s clarity in saying that there should be no imposed solution was one of three important elements Jerusalem saw in her speech.

The second element, the official said, was her stressing that future borders must “protect Israel’s security” – diplomatic code for not insisting that Israel had to return to pre-1967 lines, which are widely deemed by the government as indefensible.

“Israeli leaders must be able to offer their people internationally recognized borders that protect Israel’s security,” Clinton said.

“And they must be able to demonstrate to their people that the compromises needed to make peace will not leave Israel vulnerable. Security arrangements must prevent any resurgence of terrorism and deal effectively with new and emerging threats.”

And third, the official said, Israel was pleased that Clinton said that the core issues must be dealt with together, not separately. Israel has adamantly opposed Palestinian demands that the issue of borders be decided within 90 days, without tackling at the same time the security arrangements – the disarmament of a Palestinian state, and an IDF presence on the Jordan River – that Jerusalem deems will be necessary to enable any Israeli withdrawal.

Clinton said the core issues – borders and security, settlements, water, refugees and Jerusalem – are “woven together. Considering the larger strategic picture makes it easier to weigh the compromises that must be made on both sides and see the benefits to be gained. We are not moving forward in a vacuum.”

Clinton, during her address, recommitted the US to the peace process and said it might offer its own bridging proposals.

“We will push the parties to grapple with the core issues. We will work with them on the ground to continue laying the foundations for a future Palestinian state. And we will redouble our regional diplomacy,” she said.

“When one way is blocked, we will seek another. We will not lose hope and neither should the people of the region.”

She said she shares “the deep frustrations” of so many invested in the peace process who have been concerned at its foundering in recent days. But she said the US would be consulting assiduously with the parties to try to reignite direct talks.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak, who spoke after Clinton at the Saban dinner, also pledged to continue pursuing peace, saying that the contours of a two-state solution were well-known and going further than Clinton into the details of final-status issues.

On Jerusalem – perhaps the most vexing issue – he described a solution that would split the city.

He said the issues would be discussed last and resolved along the lines of the (former US president Bill) Clinton parameters, namely “western Jerusalem and the Jewish suburbs for us, the heavily populated Arab neighborhoods for them, and an agreed upon solution in the ‘Holy Basin.’” One government source stressed on Saturday night that this was Barak’s position, and did not reflect the position of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, who continually says that Jerusalem will remain the united capital of Israel. At the same time, Netanyahu has also made clear that he is ready to discuss all the core issues, including Jerusalem.

There had been speculation that during Friday’s address, Clinton would lay out a more concrete American vision for the outcome of the process. But the closest she came to such a statement was that the US would continue consulting with both sides and that “in the context of our private conversations with the parties, we will offer our own ideas and bridging proposals when appropriate.”

While Clinton listed Jerusalem as a final-status issue that would need to be addressed by the sides, she was more circumspect in possible prescriptions. But on another significant issue – settlements – she stressed American opposition.

We do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity,” she said. “We believe their continued expansion is corrosive not only to peace efforts and the two-state solution, but to Israel’s future itself.”

The Palestinians have refused to hold direct talks so long as Israel does not renew the moratorium on settlements that expired on September 26. Since then, the US and Israel have been working on a deal which would give Israel incentives for a 90-day extension, but that deal fell apart earlier this month.

Still, Clinton warned the sides against thinking that the relative lull in violence and prosperity means a political solution isn’t necessary.

“I know that improvements in security and growing prosperity have convinced some that this conflict can be waited out or largely ignored,” she said. “This view is wrong and it is dangerous.”

She spoke of the “unacceptable” and “unsustainable” status quo that has continued “to deprive the Palestinian people of dignity and self-determination.”

Clinton declared that “a Palestinian state, achieved through negotiations, is inevitable” and the US would continue pushing for its creation.

“She’s recommitted the administration to [achieving] a comprehensive peace agreement in a very short time frame,” said Robert Danin, a former deputy envoy to the Quartet and now a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a US think tank, who attended the Saban dinner.

“It’s dangerous if expectations are maintained at a high level if these goals aren’t realized,” Danin warned.

Clinton met with Barak, opposition leader Tzipi Livni, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat as part of her diplomatic outreach to re-jigger the talks.

US Middle East envoy George Mitchell is headed to the region next week to continue the effort.

Hilary Leila Krieger and Herb Keinon

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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