The U.S. government has asked senior Palestinian officials to refrain from leaking details of talks that took place recently between Middle East Quartet envoys, Israeli representatives and the Palestinian Authority.The recent comments from Howard Gutman and especially Leon Panetta indicate that despite soothing words the Obama administration has hardly tilted towards Israel.
According to a senior U.S. official, the Quartet agreed with Israel and the Palestinians that the content of the talks would remain confidential.
“Quartet members and parties have agreed to preserve confidentiality in their discussions. So frankly, we're somewhat disturbed by the fact that many of these details have appeared in the press,” the official said.
The Palestinians presented the Quartet with two documents relating to the borders of a future Palestinian state and security arrangements with Israel in November, but the Quartet told the Palestinians that the documents would not be passed to the Israelis, according to the official.
Quartet representatives told Saeb Erekat, head of the Palestinian negotiating team, that the proposals he presented were not relevant, because they had not been presented in direct talks with Israel, the official said.
The Americans have expressed displeasure with the Palestinians in part because of their refusal to engage in face-to-face talks with Israel. The Obama administration sees the Palestinian strategy of presenting proposals to the Quartet without engaging in direct talks as an attempt to change the rules of the game.
On December 13 and 14, Quartet envoys will once again hold separate meetings with Erekat, and Israeli negotiator Isaac Molho.
Haaretz reported on Thursday that Erekat presented Quartet representatives with two documents on November 14 that contained the Palestinian proposals. One document proposed the borders of a Palestinian state based on 1967 lines,but also indicated a willingness to swap 1.9 percent of West Bank territory with that of Israel.
The second document dealt with security arrangements and included the Palestinians' consent to an international peacekeeping force on the Israeli border and in the Jordan Valley. It also committed the Palestinians to refrain from forging military alliances with countries hostile to Israel, and also to the demilitarization of the West Bank. The proposal, however, would permit the Palestinians to have limited weaponry.
The Palestinian proposal was submitted in the context of a timeline suggested by the Quartet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session in New York on September 23, just a short time after Netanyahu delivered a speech to the assembly. The Quartet's timeline called for the Palestinians and Israelis to submit proposals on borders and security issues by January 26 of next year, to serve as opening positions for subsequent negotiations.
However, it is fascinating that Palestinian Arabs have managed to irritate three White House administrations in a row that had started off very supportive of them.
Clinton did more than anyone to turn Arafat from a terrorist into a respected politician, only to be rebuffed and insulted during negotiations in the final months of his presidency.
George W. Bush started out quite sympathetic towards Palestinian Arabs, but Arafat's lies to him during the Karine-A incident made him publicly call for a change in the PA leadership.
And now it appears that the White House, years after Obama told his friend Rashid Khalidi that he would tilt the US' policy towards Arab positions, is showing unhappiness towards the PLO leadership as well. And, more amazingly, so is the Quartet - which includes the UN.
The PLO will always pocket their gains given by successive US leadership, but it does not make them any more flexible or amenable to peace - on the contrary, it makes them more arrogant.
The lesson, that no Western leader seems to learn until it is too late, is that coddling Palestinian Arab leadership is counterproductive to peace.
If only that knowledge would transcend an election cycle.