On the Eve of Talks, Israeli and Palestinian Negotiators Get Ready for an Unlikely Deal

  • Share
  • Read Later
PAUL J. RICHARDS / AFP / Getty Images

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry hosts dinner for the Middle East peace envoys: Israeli chief negotiator Isaac Molho, Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and veteran Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh, at the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C., on July 29, 2013

When the new round of Middle East peace talks begins in Jerusalem on Aug. 14, they will differ markedly from some of the intense face-to-face negotiations that Israeli and Palestinian leaders have conducted in the past in the hope of finally reaching a final agreement between the two peoples. Instead, the process this time — which is meant to result in a deal after nine months — will begin with a meeting between two appointed negotiators from each side, with an American emissary refereeing. None of them will have the power to cut a deal.

“We have wonderful negotiating team lined up on both sides, but the real decisionmakers are not in the room,” says Alon Liel, a former director general of Israel’s Foreign Ministry and a peace advocate who know well each of the negotiators due to meet in Jerusalem. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry will not be present.

(MORE: Palestinians Say Israeli Decision on Settlements Will Hurt Peace Talks)

Instead, representing the Israeli side will be Tzipi Livni, the former Foreign Minister who joined Netanyahu’s Cabinet with the explicit promise that he would make her a negotiator with the Palestinians and that he would support a resumption of peace talks. Formerly a stalwart of the Israeli right wing, Livni has in recent years become committed to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state as part of a final deal. But her Tnuah party only brought six of 120 Knesset seats into Netanyahu’s coalition, meaning she carries limited political influence with her to the negotiating table.

Netanyahu has appointed veteran lawyer Isaac Molho his chief negotiator. The Prime Minister has brought in Molho several times in the past to represent him, both in Palestinian negotiations and in domestic affairs, like in coalition talks. Netanyahu, sources close to the Premier said, puts complete faith in Molho and views him as a straight shooter who doesn’t have a hidden agenda or his own political ambitions. But some in the Israeli press have dubbed Molho a “babysitter” who has been sent in to make sure that Livni is coordinating closely with Netanyahu and not making offers he would never be prepared to honor.

“What Molho brings to the table is the institutional memory of every detail of the negotiations in recent years,” says Dore Gold, who served as foreign policy adviser to Netanyahu during his first term in office and is now the president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, a think tank. “The key to successful negotiations is to have the historical record in mind. One of the biggest problems that Israeli governments have is that they fall from power after two to three years. On the Palestinian side, you have someone like Saeb Erekat who has been there all along and has never missed a beat.”

(MORE: A Fool’s Errand Worth Pursuing: Why the Middle East Peace Negotiations Are Worth It)

Erekat has served as chief Palestinian negotiator for much of the past two decades. He speaks fluent English and is a familiar face at the negotiating table for Israelis; in some respects, Israel knows what it is getting with Erekat. In the past he has shown that he is prepared to compromise on some key issues. But Erekat has strongly repudiated Israel’s decision earlier this month to approve the construction of nearly 1,200 new homes for Jewish settlers in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying that the talks “may be unsustainable” amid continued settlement building.

Accompanying Erekat is Mohammed Shtayyeh, an economist who since 1996 has headed the Palestinian Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction, which oversees almost all economic-and-infrastructure development throughout the Palestinian territories. Like Erekat, he is a former academic with a doctorate from the U.K. He’s served twice as Minister of Public Works in Abbas’ government and has been on Palestinian delegations to peace talks with the Israelis from as early as 1991. Like Molho, he has a deep knowledge of previous negotiations. Working to cajole the two sides towards an agreement is U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk, who has been involved in shaping Washington’s diplomacy in the Middle East conflict for several decades, most notably during the Clinton Administration.

“Indyk is one of the four or five Americans who know the situation best,” Liel says. “But looking at the negotiators at the table overall, unfortunately it’s quite a technical team. This is a kind of simulation of the real thing. These negotiators can’t even get close to a breakthrough without instructions from above, and Abbas and Netanyahu will have to decide if they’re convinced and when to make a move. In past negotiations, by comparison, we had Anwar Sadat, Menachem Begin and Jimmy Carter in the room for two weeks. And in the second Camp David, we had Clinton, Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in the room — also for about 10 days.”

Although hopes on both sides for an agreement remain muted, Palestinian officials say they have geared up for the best-case scenario — that the talks will actually lead somewhere.

“We have been preparing for this in a very serious manner. It’s unbelievable how many experts we have called in, to look at maps, to discuss sharing agreements on Jerusalem,” says an official in the Palestine Liberation Organization’s negotiations unit office, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the talks. “Even if some people believe that nothing will come out of this, we have prepared as if we believe that something will come out.”

An official in Netanyahu’s office says the Israelis are similarly preparing for serious talks, which include gearing up teams of specialists to address some of the main issues that will need to be resolved, including the final borders of both states, the future status of Jerusalem and the claims of Palestinian refugees to return to the West Bank, Gaza or to what is now Israel.

PLO executive-committee member Hanan Ashrawi tells TIME that the first issue she expects the negotiators to hit on, as per Washington’s agenda, is borders. But that issue spills over to other explosive ones, such as Jerusalem and security.

“The Americans want to focus on borders and security, the Israelis want security only. Our position is only talking about a state in the 1967 borders,” Ashrawi says, referring to the border between Israel and Jordan from 1948 to ’67, which Palestinians see as the basis for an agreement. “We’re hoping that we can start where Abu Mazen and Olmert left off,” she added, referring to the 2010 talks that took place between Abbas and the then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. During that meeting, Olmert came with a proposed map, and a meaningful discussion ensued. The map showed Israel annexing some of its largest settlement blocs, but giving alternate tracts of agricultural land inside Israel to the Palestinians. Abbas wanted to keep the map, but Olmert refused, so Abbas apparently sketched it on a napkin, according to documents leaked — or perhaps stolen — from the Palestinians’ negotiating office two years ago.

The challenge this time will be to come up with a map that will be just a little more permanent.

MORE: Why the Palestinian Prisoner Release Mattered

67 comments
Steven Shellenberger
Steven Shellenberger

Before peace talks, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators get ready for an unlikely deal [how the check will be split]

Andrew M. Kosyjana
Andrew M. Kosyjana

Can't the jews buy there way out of tis like they do with everything else just, get the president to cut them, a check for gaza and the west bank and call it a day.

Steve Mattin
Steve Mattin

Its for real. I watched BBC news yesterday n i feel its now time they come to an agreement. I hope the negotiation is fruitful.

xuzhi813
xuzhi813

@TIME This is the key point. The high lever must make their decision and the stalement can be stopped.

findmejoshua
findmejoshua

@TIME who care negotiation. our brothers ans sisters dying in Cairo. the world is in deep silence. we are deaf and blind.

Ossie Sharon
Ossie Sharon

Much, much, much, much, much longer than that. The world just woke up in 1947.

Abraham Yeshuratnam
Abraham Yeshuratnam

Why Obama Is meddling in Middle Eastern affairs, after miserably failing in SSyria and Egypt?

Azaooz Hany
Azaooz Hany

The United States as the elected president feared the wrath of the military at the Pentagon for that diagnosis of the current U.S. administration to describe what happened in Egypt that coup because he Aatyalhak to the Senate to prevent the military government aid which expired on democracy lived free people of Egypt rejection of the military government. This is the biggest Mithal that unfair Alarmurique Husbandry in Mali United States government approved it either coup in Egypt ft

David Fitzgerald
David Fitzgerald

As you can see the flags in the back round that tells you who really runs America ............

Vanessa Pointejour
Vanessa Pointejour

sooo proud of both sides.........two states solution please asap!!

Lucas Bavaresco
Lucas Bavaresco

world war 3? not happening before cold war 1 really ends ;)

Lucas Bavaresco
Lucas Bavaresco

who cares about palestine when you have uncle sam watching all our moves, god knows what other kind of thing they're doing behind our eyes.

Renato Mota
Renato Mota

It has been going on since 1917 with Balfour Declaration . It will be end only when the US stop to intervene. Just have to look at UN's resolutions and votings. It is pretty clear what all the countries but US and Israel think.

Cristina Bazal
Cristina Bazal

I don't know if this is the real way to reach peace or if its just a rol they're trying to sell to the world. but whatever works. I think everybody wants to see peace in Palestine. Let give peace a chance.

Ahmad Shaheer
Ahmad Shaheer

every one knows these talks will fail again and again

Otetsudai Shimashouka
Otetsudai Shimashouka

Kerry physical set up by addressing "what's on your plate and what's on yours?

Julio Rodriguez
Julio Rodriguez

Heard and responded that peace can be personal, not worldwide or in the case between two countries . Haven't the two been fighting a never ending battle? Its a choice to be free, but more than one man is capable to create tjis fear especially when theyre always talking and shoveling bombs and attacks toward another. I agree, its most unlikely they'll be a difference.

Peter Weidemann
Peter Weidemann

Make Peace, Harmony And Love Now! Stop Hate And War! :)

Marcos Arias
Marcos Arias

Unless you wanted World War III coming. Be careful what you wish for.

Martha Goff
Martha Goff

When I first saw this picture, I thought they were getting ready for an unlikely MEAL :-)

Marcos Arias
Marcos Arias

Would you want a missile hitting your house?

Nathan Lathouse
Nathan Lathouse

I don't understand why we're involved at all, especially on our dime.

Marcos Arias
Marcos Arias

They're the who being being paranoid about the neighboring countries, and they're missiles and I really hate whiners.

Andy Reyes Hurst
Andy Reyes Hurst

Great architect of the universe please help both these people amen!!

Shane Ryan Hanley
Shane Ryan Hanley

shwarma night/ We invented humus , Palestines reply no the Arabs did, oh u sai humus I ment Hamas its all love lol

mrxexon
mrxexon

@Abraham Yeshuratnam  

 So let's end US aid to Israel.

 We should not be supporting this apartheid nation. Which is the REAL reason we have any interest at all with Egypt or Syria.

x

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@Vanessa Pointejour   Two states solution?  But Arabs already have 22 countries (they lost their Iberia after nearly 800 years of occupation, though), 1 in Palestine (80% of the region), Jordan.  Another Muslim Arab bloody dictatorship or medieval kingdom?  Another exporter of terrorism?  No, thank you.

mrxexon
mrxexon

@Marcos Arias  

 Ever watch cowboy and indian movies on TV? Who did you root for and why?

 Israel is not what it seems. It's an intentional outpost by the same people who bring you this "New World Order" you keep hearing about.

Modern day Israel is a trojan horse. With a religious exterior, and a very secular politcal payload if it finds it's target. Firing multiple times at multiple targets, you're bound to hit something.

So far, it's hit the United States, the United Nations,  and human decency in general.

You don't have much time left to say no.


x

ricardo_lion
ricardo_lion

@mrxexon Rights for all in Israel (0,0000000000....1% of the ME, 20% of Palestine).  Apartheid only in those judenrein Muslim Arab bloody dictatorships and medieval kingdoms.