Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinians Consider Mideast Talks Trump Card: Declaring Statehood

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Palestinians Consider Mideast Talks Trump Card: Declaring Statehood

Article excerpt

Israeli President Benjamin Netanyahu offer to extend the moratorium on settlement construction - but only if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. The Palestinians are mulling counteroffers.

Could the Palestinians get the attention of the Israelis - and the international community's support - by leapfrogging negotiations and simply declaring a state?

That is one option Palestinian leaders are contemplating as they mull over how to respond to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's latest proposal for keeping the Obama administration's iteration of peace talks going: Israel would agree to extend a partial moratorium on settlement construction for 60 days in exchange for the Palestinians' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Mr. Netanyahu's proposal is both a response to US pressure to keep the fledgling talks going and a way of putting a high price tag on meeting the Palestinians' demand that the settlement moratorium that expired last month be renewed. Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is tied up with the so-called "right of return" to Israel of Palestinian refugees from the 1948 partition of Palestine and the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.

But Netanyahu's proposal also has the effect of lobbing the peace talks ball back into the Palestinian court - and preparing the way for Palestinians to be perceived as the guilty party should the talks launched Sept. 3 in Washington die an early death.

"We're in the blame game place - we're in a place where we're defining who's to blame" if the talks fail and the door continues to close on the two-state solution, says Daniel Levy, an expert in the Israeli-Palestinian negotiations at the New America Foundation in Washington. In that context and given Netanyahu's proposal, the Palestinians cannot afford to simply stand by and wait for others, including the US, to respond, he says.

"The question is," Mr. Levy adds, "is there a Palestinian strategy beyond, 'We are waiting'?"

This is where the idea of simply declaring Palestinian statehood and negotiating backwards from a fait accompli comes in. Maen Areikat, the Palestinian Liberation Organization's chief representative to Washington, says it is just one of several ideas that surfaced at last week's meeting of the Arab League in Libya.

"It has to be clear that we are not going to continue talking with the Israelis while they are continuing to build settlements," says Mr. Areikat, who spoke Tuesday night at a dinner sponsored by the Palestinian Business Committee for peace and reform.

The State Department on Tuesday characterized Netanyahu's call for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as the Israeli leader's offer for keeping the peace talks going, and called on the Palestinians to respond by coming up with their own. On Wednesday Palestinian officials called on the US to produce a map that would show where Israel envisions its borders with an independent Palestine. …

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