Al Jazeera has been reporting that it has come into the possession of "a document claiming to be Israel's terms on which final status negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians can begin." The story played all day yesterday on TV news reports and also appears here on the English website. Al Jazeera's Jerusalem correspondent said the document
lays out some broad principles that Israel believes both sides should sign up to as a starting point for formal negotiations... Some of the things are fairly obvious - renouncing words and actions associated with war, recognition of United Nations Security Council resolutions... Also, previous peace endeavors such as the Madrid conference of 1991 and the declaration of principles signed between Yasser Arafat and the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1993.
Both Channel 10 and Channel 2 News in Israel picked up and ran the story on their main news shows last night. Reports of the document have also appeared in the Arab media and blogosphere. Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that
Yesterday, a document was circulated in the West Bank that has to do with what is now going on. The document claimed to be a new Israeli proposal for a 'Declaration of Principles' that presents ideas for a final settlement that include a land swap, withdrawal from settlements, and the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. (Courtesy of Mideast Mirror)
Prospects for Peace can now exclusively reveal that the document is NOT an official Israeli paper or even non-paper, but rather an informal draft put together by some of the Israelis involved in the Geneva Initiative. The draft is actually a distilled version, or summary, of the principles and ideas underlying the Geneva document. Prospects for Peace has seen a copy of the draft paper but in the interest of not wanting to undermine this effort, will not be making it public. We can tell you that, so far at least, the draft has not been shared with either the Israeli or Palestinian leaders, and exists as an unofficial private Israeli initiative at this stage.
In their last two meetings, including the one yesterday, Olmert and Abbas have discussed, one-on-one, some of the contours and principles that might be addressed if an Israeli-Palestinian agreement were to be produced for the proposed November peace conference. Thus far, the leaders have not begun any formal process of drafting -- unless there is a secret channel operating -- and that is currently considered to be unlikely. Only after a third Olmert-Abbas pow-wow and the visit of Secretary Rice in mid-September will a decision be taken, apparently, on whether and what type of negotiating teams will be formed. There is also no consensus regarding what type of document is to be negotiated -- a short Memorandum Of Understanding, a Declaration Of Principles, or a somewhat longer, more detailed Framework Agreement (FAPS).
Palestinian President Abbas has argued that only a detailed paper spelling out clear endgame proposals on all issues would make the exercize worthwhile. The Israeli leadership is thought to prefer a more general set of principles without a timetable.
It is positive that after seven years, permanent status issues can again be talked about beyond the confines of the Flat Earth Society! But this is a high-risk endeavor, as Camp David in July 2000 and its aftermath proved. A November effort will require senior planning as well as creative but disciplined and realistic management. (I will discuss the November summit prospects in a future post.) Finally, for now at least, the kind of US leadership required to prepare for November is still absent.