DEBKAfile Exclusive Analysis July 28, 2013,
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s willingness to “do everything” to avoid giving the Palestinians a pretext for not turning up for their first encounter with Israeli negotiators in Washington Tuesday, July 30, bodes ill for Israel’s bargaining position right from the start. So too does his proposal to include jailed Israeli Arabs among the 104 Palestinian prisoners to be released. Several threats from Ramallah not to make the Tuesday date had their effect.
Netanyahu sent an open letter to the Israeli people Saturday night, July 27, explaining his “incredibly difficult decision” to free the 104 prisoners as a gesture ahead of the renewal of peace talks. “Sometimes prime ministers are forced to make decisions that go against public opinion – when the issue is important to the country,” he wrote.
That letter arouses less sympathy than concern. It confirms the impression that the Palestinians only have to threaten to walk out of the negotiations in order to extort concessions from Israel, in the knowledge that US Secretary of State John Kerry or his “special envoys” will move in fast to save the process.
If so, how far will Netanyahu go when the substantive talks begin? By including Israeli Arabs in the prisoner deal, is he saying that the Israeli Arab population is part of a future deal with the Palestinians and their regions are on the table for potential land swaps?
If so, he is handing out freebies far too early in the game.
Because, according to DEBKAfile’s sources, the Tuesday meeting in Washington is just a preliminary step to prepare the procedures and modalities for the process. That is all Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and the prime minister’s political adviser Yitzhak Molcho, for Israel, and Yasser Abd Rabbo for the Palestinians will be asked to do in Washington.
For now, the terms of reference for the negotiations have yet to be determined and President Barack Obama has yet to sign the formal letters of assurance promised to Netanyahu and the Chairman of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas.
There are reasons for this delay. Secretary Kerry wants to be certain that the talks will show real progress before he asks the president to offer formal assurances to the two leaders. There is another reason too.
DEBKAfile’s Washington sources also report that although Obama gave Kerry a free hand for restarting the peace track, he is slowing the Secretary down with reservations of his own, especially with regard to the Secretary’s choices of special envoys to lead the four specialist negotiating tracks or mechanisms.
Leading candidate for the political mechanism is his longtime close adviser on Middle East issues Frank Lowenstein, former Senate Foreign Relations committee chief of staff who acted as policy advisor to Senator Kerry. Another candidate is Martin Indyk, twice ambassador to Israel. It is not clear which would be the senior.