Paris, Asharq Al-Awsat- Well-informed official French sources have revealed to Asharq Al-Awsat that US Envoy to the Middle East, George Mitchell, has called for French and European officials to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table with the Israelis.
The source that spoke to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity revealed that Mitchell was taking a “hard-line” position towards the Palestinians, as he believed that “the time has come to stop finding excuses” for refusing to sit down at the negotiations table. The French official source also quoted Mitchell as saying that the Palestinians “are content” with the current situation, which they believe is less risky than returning to negotiations without securing international guarantees.
Asharq Al-Awsat also learnt that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner “defended” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, urging Mitchell to take into account the risk to the Palestinian leader should he agree to the US requests and return to negotiations without first obtaining international guarantees and prior to a time-limit has been set for the negotiations with Israel. The French sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Kouchner proposed to reassure the Palestinians through the issuance of a clear declaration stating that the purpose of these negotiations is to establish a Palestinian State within a reasonable period of time of anything up to two years.
The French Foreign Minister put forward several “solutions” with regards to this declaration, such as that it could either be issued in the form of a resolution by the UN Security Council or by the “international quartet” or by an international conference. However the sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat that Mitchell rejected all of these “solutions” out of hand, as well as rejecting the idea of issuing US guarantees to the Palestinians and Israelis. The French source said that instead of this, Mitchell prefers the idea of a return to indirect negotiations, at the same time as implementing measures to build trust [with the Palestinians] on the ground.
The French official source also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that the Israelis have accepted Mitchell’s proposal to improve the situation on the ground for the Palestinians by opening checkpoints, halting military operations, and releasing some Palestinian prisoners. However the Israelis stipulated that “the price” for this would be the Palestinians return to negotiations, although they did not specify at what “level” such negotiations should take place at although it is understood that indirect negotiations will take place at the ministerial level. Until now, Abbas has not explicitly announced that he “accepts” the US – Israeli offer [for negotiation], and he answered those who asked about his decision by saying that he is still “consulting” at the Palestinian, Arab, and international level.
President Mahmoud Abbas is set to visit Paris on the 22nd of this month, and the French official sources revealed that Paris is considering urging Abbas to accept the most recent offer [to begin negotiations] despite the absence of international guarantees wanted by the Palestinians. The sources said that this was due to looking at the reality of the situation in Israel, the US, and the international community, adding that the international concern towards the Iranian nuclear file “will draw international attention to the Palestinian – Israeli conflict.”
The French official source also informed Asharq Al-Awsat that US President Barack Obama only has “a number of months” in which he can take action in the Middle East and achieve something. The source cited the forthcoming midterm elections that “will paralyze” Obama’s ability to take action as after this his primary focus will be on avoiding a large internal political defeat, and that following the midterm elections the political campaigning for the presidential elections will begin and Obama will be focused upon running for a second presidential term. The source told Asharq Al-Awsat that this means that President Obama will be unwilling or unable to put pressure on Israel or the US Congress in order to obtain the concessions that will satisfy the Palestinians and the Arabs.
Therefore the French source called on Abbas not to make a mistake but to read the current situation carefully and deal with it in an intelligent manner, in spite of the absence of the international guarantees wanted by the Palestinian side.
The source told Asharq Al-Awsat that the negotiations, regardless of what form they take place in, “is better than the current stalemate.”
The source said that the details of these negotiations are “well-known” as are their solution, and therefore the negotiations will not begin at square one, and that the Palestinians “will not be alone” at the negotiating table as the US has promised to play a more active role, rather than merely delivering messages from one side to the other.