Yet Another Round Of Land-For-Peace
Talks On The Horizon
President Obama’s planned visit to Israel as soon as next month has already secured Israeli and Palestinian pledges to restart so-called land-for-peace talks, according to informed Palestinian and Israeli officials speaking to this column.
The officials disclosed that the Obama administration told both sides that the talks would be aimed at creating a Palestinian state in what is known as the 1967 borders, meaning an Israeli retreat from most of the strategic West Bank and possibly some eastern section of Jerusalem.
According to the informed officials, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed that once the talks begin there will be a silent, undeclared freeze on all Jewish construction in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem with the exception of what are known as main blocs – Maale Adumin, Ariel, and Gush Etzion.
The officials said the White House was adamant that Israeli talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas begin regardless of the position of Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Still, the U.S. is supporting Qatar, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey in backdoor efforts to broker a national unity deal between Abbas and Hamas during the same time period that the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are set to take place, the officials said.
There is already close coordination between the White House and likely incoming members of Netanyahu’s government coalition who are known to be sympathetic to creating a Palestinian state, primarily former opposition leader Tzippy Livni.
Further, this column was told that Livni and former Minister Haim Ramon are currently coordinating the renewal of talks with the PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat.
Regarding Jerusalem, the informed Israeli and Palestinian officials said the White House has been nonspecific other than to champion talks based on what is known as the Clinton parameters. That formula, pushed by Bill Clinton during the Camp David talks in 2000, called for Jewish areas of Jerusalem to remain Israeli while the Palestinians will get sovereignty over neighborhoods that are largely Arab.
This journalist previously reported that Palestinians are building illegally in Jewish-owned areas of Jerusalem, changing facts on the ground and resulting in Arab majorities in certain neighborhoods.
The informed officials, meanwhile, said the White House expects the issue of Jerusalem to be a key impediment in reaching a deal and is therefore discussing the formation of an international committee to help smooth the process.
As a way to entice the PA back to the bargaining table, the White House agreed to release some $200 million in aid that it has withheld for months, said the officials. According to the officials, this deal was brokered with the Palestinians by incoming Secretary of State John Kerry.
How Much Did The White House Know?
The White House denial of supplying arms to the Al Qaeda-saturated Syrian rebels may be somewhat more difficult for some to swallow now that it has been revealed that the arms-to-rebels plan had been endorsed by the leaders of the CIA, Pentagon, and State Department.
If, indeed, President Obama rejected the arms plan, as reported earlier by The New York Times, it would mean the White House went against the recommendations of outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and then-CIA Director David Petraeus.
The plan was said to have been generated by Petraeus and Clinton.
During Senate hearings on Benghazi this week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) asked Panetta and Dempsey whether they had supported a plan “that we provide weapons to the resistance in Syria.” Both replied in the affirmative, reportedly surprising McCain.
This past weekend, The New York Times reported that the White House rebuffed the Clinton-Petraeus plan developed last summer to arm and train Syrian rebels. The Times, citing unnamed Obama administration officials, reported the White House rejected the proposal over concerns it could draw the U.S. into the Syrian conflict and the arms could fall into the wrong hands. The plan reportedly called for vetting rebels and arming a group of fighters with the assistance of Arab countries.
According to informed Middle Eastern security officials speaking to this reporter, the U.S. has been coordinating arms shipments for months now to the Syrian rebels. The officials also described the U.S. mission in Benghazi and nearby CIA annex attacked last September as an intelligence and planning center for U.S. aid to rebels in the Middle East, particularly those fighting Assad’s regime. The aid, the sources stated, included weapons shipments and was being coordinated with Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar.