No-one can spoil a good mood like Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas can.
The visit to Washington by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on July 6 created the most robust and hopeful atmosphere toward Israeli-Palestinian peace-making that we have seen in the last two years. U.S. President Barack Obama expressed an upbeat, fervent hope of soon seeing face-to-face discussions between the PA and Israel.
Obama’s special Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, personally reiterated that very same message to Abbas directly one week later in Ramallah.
During talks last week in Jerusalem with the European Union’s foreign policy head, Catherine Ashton, Netanyahu emphasized what he had made clear to the president in Washington: that he wishes to make quick progress once direct negotiations with the Palestinians begin. According to Ha’aretz, Netanyahu believes it would be possible to reach an agreement with the Palestinians within a year that would be implemented gradually over a number of years.
The key, of course, in the positive messages being conveyed about the possibility of peace is the need for direct, face-to-face discussions. The parties must speak to – not at or toward – each other. That is the only way to find and establish common ground. That is the only way to hammer out the fine detail of any agreement.
Abbas, however, seems not to agree that direct negotiations are desirable. Who knows? He may not even consider them necessary.
He told 128 delegates of his Fatah party’s Revolutionary Council last week that he would not return to direct negotiations with Israel unless he had prior guarantees from the Americans (i.e., from the Israelis) regarding the issues of Israeli settlement construction and the final borders of a future Palestinian state. American guarantees, to date, he complained, have been too “vague.”
The Americans seem to be a little bit irked at Abbas’ reluctance to get down to serious negotiations with Israel. In response to the PA leader’s public whine over America’s unwillingness to guarantee the outcome of the negotiations with Israel, U.S. State Department spokesperson Philip J. Crowley said: “Let’s get to direct negotiations as quickly as possible. Once direct talks commence, parties can address the fundamental issues in the process, including borders. Ultimately, in order to address the concerns that we know that both parties have – refugees, security, Jerusalem, borders – those can only be resolved in direct negotiations themselves.”
It is thought that Abbas may only have been delaying his final acquiescence to direct negotiations with the Israelis until after the meeting of the Arab League on July 29, when, presumably, he would receive the league’s blessing to do so.
With or without the league’s blessing, however, one conclusion is very certain: it is the PA leader and it has always been the PA leader who keeps the possibility of peace further and further away.