White House offers Israel a carrot for peace talks
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 9:55 PM
In its scramble to salvage Middle East peace talks, the Obama administration has dangled incentives before the Israeli government that touch on some of the most sensitive issues of final status talks between the two sides, administration sources said.
Among other inducements, the administration has proposed that there be a lengthy "transitional period" for security on the eastern border of a future Palestinian state, a plan that would presumably include Israeli troops. The United States would also promise military hardware and pledge to veto U.N. resolutions relating to Arab-Israeli peace for a year.
As part of the package, Israel would agree to extend a partial freeze on settlement growth for 60 days. A 10-month moratorium expired earlier this week, and Palestinian officials have said they will not return to the talks unless some sort of extension is arranged. Israeli media reports, however, said Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was inclined to reject the U.S. proposal.
The detailed offer - first outlined in an article by David Makovsky of the Washington Institute for Near East Affairs - struck some analysts as an unusual gambit that might leave the impression that Washington wants the talks more than either of the two sides negotiating. The inducements offered to Israel also might undercut the Palestinian negotiating position, though Makovsky suggested that if Israel balked at the proposal, similar inducements might flow to the Palestinian side.
The latest moves also suggest the administration may have miscalculated when it assumed that momentum from the talks would keep them going, even if a freeze was not maintained. Both sides appear to have hardened their positions in recent days, though Palestinians have held off on a final decision until a meeting of the Arab League next Wednesday.
Makovsky is a respected analyst who co-authored a book with Dennis Ross, now the White House point man for the Middle East. The account has the imprimatur of an official leak, perhaps to show Israel's supporters that the administration is being supportive of Israeli negotiating needs.
Administration sources confirmed Makovsky's account was largely accurate. Officially, a State Department spokesman denied there was any "letter" outlining such terms, as Makovsky wrote.
The draft letter, he wrote, details a list of assurances, including a lengthy "transitional period" for Jordan Valley security, which Makovsky called "an apparent allusion to keeping Israeli troops in that region for an extended period of time."
Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, said that "once we reach the final agreement there won't be any Israeli on Palestinian soil, but we accept third-party sharing with us on the security issues."
Rudieneh and other senior Palestinian officials said they has seen media reports on the assurances but had heard nothing from the Americans. President Obama's Middle East envoy, George Mitchell, met with Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday, but officials said no parallel assurances were offered to the Palestinians.
By some accounts, administration officials are surprised Netanyahu would reject what they see as a generous offer. But Netanyahu may also view such written assurances from Americans with skepticism. When Obama took office, his administration refused to acknowledge written assurances that President George W. Bush had given Israel in 2004.
Special correspondent Joel Greenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.