Israeli, Palestinian Differences Exposed to Public View

YERUSHALAYIM -

The veil of secrecy which U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had drawn over the peace talks when they resumed in August has been pulled away, as Israeli and Palestinian officials spar openly in public, exposing the wide gaps that persist between the two sides on everything from borders and security to refugees and even Tzipi Livni’s good intentions.

“The transitional period between the signing of a peace agreement with Israel and the final withdrawal of all IDF troops from Yehuda and Shomron cannot exceed three years,” declared Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in an interview aired Tuesday.

The comments, made during an interview in December that was screened at the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) annual conference in Tel Aviv, are at odds with Israel’s insistence on a slow, graduated withdrawal lasting at least 10 years, with constant monitoring of the Palestinian security regime.

“Whoever proposes 10-15 years for a transition period does not want to withdraw,” Abbas said. “We said that a transitional period cannot exceed three years, during which Israel can withdraw gradually. We are willing to allow a third party take Israel’s place during and after withdrawal to soothe our concerns and Israel’s and ensure both sides that things will continue as normal.”

Abbas suggested NATO for the third party. But Israel remains opposed to any outside guarantors.

Meanwhile, the issue of the possibility of Israeli citizens remaining under Palestinian rule in a future state, which flared up this week, drew more comment on Tuesday.

Former Labor leader MK Shelly Yacimovich said on Israel Radio that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had accepted the proposal in a meeting between herself and Abbas in May of 2013.

Yacimovich made the claim after the furor caused by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s parting comment at Davos that he would not uproot a single Israeli resident from Yehuda and Shomron. Palestinian spokesmen rejected Netanyahu’s remark.

U.S. State Department and White House officials sidestepped on Monday reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will insist that settlers have the choice of remaining in a future Palestinian state.

When asked specificially about the Netanyahu comment, State Department Spokeswoman Jen Psaki said vaguely that “we’ve seen those statements, and obviously, a discussion over borders and all of those issues surrounding that is part of what is being discussed.”

Psaki said that Kerry was “dismayed when there are public leaks of private discussions,” speaking directly to details of the framework document leaked by PLO Executive Committee member Yasser Abed Rabbo.

Palestinian official Abed Rabbo disclosed several details about U.S. proposals currently on the table in an interview with the London-based al-Hayat daily.

“You would all know if there was an agreement on a framework for negotiations. There is not, otherwise you would know,” Psaki added. “So reports out there about what it may entail or what it may include are inaccurate.”

In addition, the Palestinians have in recent days turned against Israeli chief negotiator, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who has been one of the strongest proponents of the two-state solution and often criticized for being too willing to make concessions.

Yet, the Palestinian Authority now says it wants her out of the talks, after her remark that Mahmoud Abbas’s positions are “not only unacceptable to us, but to the whole world, and if he continues to stick to them, then the Palestinians will be the ones to pay the price.”

What Livni apparently meant as friendly advice, of the kind U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry  has lately been dispensing to Israel, was taken by the Palestinians as a threat.

Several PA officials responded by accusing her of “incitement” and of attempting to oust Abbas from his position of leadership.

Abbas’s spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudaineh, announced that “Livni’s statements make her unacceptable for negotiations. … She has joined those voices in the Israeli government that are trying to destroy prospects for peace. This is a very dangerous statement.”