On Sept. 1, 2013, Nabil Sha’ath, a senior Palestinian leader leaked to Israel Radio that Israel and the Palestinians met the evening before, Saturday Aug. 31, 2013 for the fifth peace talks meeting. The next day on Sept. 2 an Israeli official told the press that an additional sixth meeting will be held on Tuesday, Sept. 3 in Jerusalem prior to the Jewish High Holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.
The United States State Department released one of the very few progress statements on the negotiations on Sunday, Sept. 1 when State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said; “Israeli and Palestinian delegations have been meeting continuously since final status negotiations resumed on July 29. The negotiations have been serious, and U.S. Special Envoy Martin Indyk and his team have been fully briefed on the bilateral talks and also participated in a bilateral negotiating session. As we have said in the past, we are not planning to read out the details of these meetings.” In fact, Indyk has only been present at only one of the last five joint Israeli- Palestinian peace talks meetings.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has imposed a gag order on all parties involved, where he or the State Department will be the only ones allowed to divulge information about the status of the peace talks publicly. However, some details have emerged from the talks mostly coming from the Palestinian side; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior officials. The Israeli side has remained even more silent than the State Department on the details and progress of each meeting. Israeli Chief Negotiator and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s office refuses to even confirm the upcoming meeting on Tuesday.
Palestinian Authority President Abbas stated on Monday, Sept, 2 that the United States promised the basis of the talks would be creating a Palestinian state based on Israel’s pre-1967 Six-Day War borders, meaning the Golan Heights the West Bank, Gaza with land swaps and East Jerusalem which the Palestinians are demanding be their capital, despite the fact that Jerusalem’s old city is home to the Western Wall, the Kotel the holiest site for Jews; a extremely contentious issue among the Israeli public and lawmakers that is widely opposed. Israeli Benjamin Netanyahu stated from the start that Israel would retain all settlement blocs in any peace agreement.
Israel does not want to focus on discussing borders at the present moment, but on the security issues that most interest Israel, that will ensure Israelis will no longer have to live in fear of terror attacks. The security issues include Palestinians officially recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.
From the little details leaked from the talks is seems obvious that the demands are primarily one sided and coming mainly from the Palestinians. PA President Abbas is also demanding that Israel release an additional 250 Palestinian prisoners mostly Fatah leaders. As a pre-condition, Israel agreed to release 104 pre-Oslo accord Palestinian prisoners convicted of terror attacks against Israelis, and Israeli Arabs, to be released in four stages.
Palestinian chief negotiators and Abbas have been complaining about the recent announcement by the Israeli Government that they will be building over 1200 new housing units in the West Banks settlements and East Jerusalem. The Palestinians supposedly “expressed resentment over Israeli procrastination in replying to queries regarding settlement activities.”
They have also threatened to end the talks; “The Palestinian threat has reached the US administration, which has yet to reply. The Palestinians expressed in their message their rejection of Israel’s policy to create new facts on the ground.” The Palestinians were aware coming into the talks that Israel would continue their building projects.
Nabil Sha’ath, a Fatah Central Committee member spoke to Arabic news source, Al-Resalah news and also complained about Israel’s building plans saying they are “in complete contradiction of the principles of the peace process.” He also accused Israel of the “Judaization” of Jerusalem, particularly the old city, eastern side. He also threatened to appeal to international bodies.
The Palestinians have also been complaining about the lack of progress. Nabil Sha’ath holds the position that “The Palestinian side held a number of negotiating sessions with the Israeli side in order to achieve progress, but Israel did not present anything positive.” However, Abbas commented that in the meetings so far “Israel presented its positions and we responded to them.”
The forth meeting was supposedly held in the West Bank in Jericho on Monday, Aug. 26. Some media outlets had reported the Palestinians were temporarily ceasing the talks, because a clash between Israeli military, Israel Defense Force (IDF) and border police and 1500 of Palestinians at Kalandiya refugee camp in the West Bank near Jerusalem that killed three Palestinians and injured 15. The IDF came to arrest a recently released convicted terrorist, and encountered a riot where Israeli military and border police were struck by rocks. However, the U. S. State Department denied that the talks stopped. With State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf stating during the department daily briefing on Aug. 26; “I can assure you that no meetings have been canceled. The parties are engaged in serious and sustained negotiations.”
Previously revealed meeting occurred throughout the second half of the month of August. The Israeli-Palestinians peace talks had two unannounced meetings on Tuesday Aug. 19, 2013. Israel’s chief negotiator Tzipi Livni revealed that the meetings took place. Both meetings were held in Jerusalem, one in the morning at Jerusalem’s King David Hotel just between Livni and her Palestinian counterpart chief negotiator Saeb Erekat. The second one occurred in the evening between the two negotiators and United States Special Envoy Martin Indyk.
Their first serious negotiation meetings began on Wednesday, Aug. 14, in Jerusalem. The five-hour meeting at a location that was not revealed was described by insiders as “long and serious.”
This first meeting included all the negotiators Israeli; Justice Minister Tzipi Livni the designated chief negotiator for Israel, Yitzhak Molcho is personally representing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Saeb Erekat representing the Palestinians, and Mohammed Shtayyeh as an Abbas’s advisor representing the PA President, in addition to U. S. Special Envoy Martin Indyk, who has mostly been meeting separately with both groups.
In total, this will be the sixth round of meetings the Israelis and Palestinian negotiators had since agreeing on July 19 to new rounds of peace talks since negotiations broke down in 2010 over West Bank Jewish settlement construction.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made six trips to the Middle East from March to July, 2013. Kerry finally announced both sides agreed to peace talks on July 19, 2013. On August 13, Israel released the first batch of 26 prisoners.
With the one sidedness of the current rounds of peace-talks it is actually surprising they are continuing to last this long. If any tangible peace agreement will be reached, the Palestinians will have to heed their demands. Negotiations are about give and take, with both sides hoping to gain in an eventual agreement. If Israel will have to only give and not received any, with demands continually being raised despite previously agreed pre-conditions, the talks will eventually end again without a peace deal. Hopefully if that ever comes to fruition, the international community will not blame Israel, because they would have done the same in their shoes.
Bonnie K. Goodman is the Editor of the Academic Buzz Network, a series of political, academic & education blogs which includes History Musings: History, News & Politics. She has a BA in History & Art History & a Masters in Library and Information Studies, both from McGill University, and has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. Her specializations are US, Canadian & Israeli politics.