In an interview with Roger Cohen of the NY Times, Tzipi Livni, Israel’s chief negotiator with the Palestinians, detailed the events which led to the failure of the most recent talks. Despite the fact that Livni is not a supporter of Prime Minister Netanyahu and felt he was difficult to deal with during the negotiations, she placed the failure of the talks firmly at the feed of Palestinian President Abbas.
According to Livni, the U.S. presented its own framework for a peace plan, Netanyahu agreed to work with it despite his objections but Abbas never gave the U.S. an answer. Things went downhill from there.
On March 17, in a meeting in Washington, President Obama presented Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, with a long-awaited American framework for an agreement that set out the administration’s views on major issues, including borders, security, settlements, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.
Livni considered it a fair framework, and Netanyahu had indicated willingness to proceed on the basis of it while saying he had reservations. But Abbas declined to give an answer in what his senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, later described as a “difficult” meeting with Obama. Abbas remained evasive on the framework, which was never made public.
This, in Livni’s view, amounted to an important opportunity missed by the Palestinians, not least because to get Netanyahu’s acceptance of a negotiation on the basis of the 1967 borders with agreed-upon swaps — an idea Obama embraced in 2011 — would have indicated a major shift.
Livni also indicated that the rumored deal to release Jonathan Pollard was real:
Still, prodded by Secretary of State John Kerry, talks went on. On April 1, things had advanced far enough for the Israeli government to prepare a draft statement saying that a last tranche of several hundred Palestinian prisoners would be released; the United States would free Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel more than 25 years ago; and the negotiations would continue beyond the April 29 deadline with a slowdown or freeze of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Then, Livni said, she looked up at a television as she awaited a cabinet meeting and saw Abbas signing letters as part of a process to join 15 international agencies — something he had said he would not do before the deadline.
She called Erekat and told him to stop the Palestinian move. He texted her the next day to say he couldn’t. They met on April 3. Livni asked why Abbas had done it. Erekat said the Palestinians thought Israel was stalling. A top Livni aide, Tal Becker, wrote a single word on a piece of paper and pushed it across the table to her: “Tragedy.”
Talks limped on around the idea of a settlement freeze and other confidence-building measures. Then, on April 23, a reconciliation was announced between Hamas and Abbas’s Fatah — something since proved empty. That, for Netanyahu and Livni, was the end: They were not prepared to engage, even indirectly, with Hamas. A long season of negotiation gave way to recrimination and, soon enough, the Gaza war, with nearly 2,200 Palestinians dead and about 70 Israelis.
It seems as if the famous quote made in December of 1973 by the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban still applies: “The Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”