For the first time Since September, 2010, negotiators for Israel and the Palestinian Authority met in Jordan Tuesday to explore the possibility of restarting the Middle East peace process. Representing Israel was Yitzhak Molcho, and the Palestinian representative was Saeb Erakat. King Abdullah of Jordan, a country that maintains relations with both parties, hosted the talks, at which envoys from the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – the members of the “Quartet” – were present.
Israel is faced with the possible rapprochement between the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah party and Hamas as reconciliation talks aimed at the formation of a unity government are underway. The Gaza based Islamic movement is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel, the U.S. and the E.U. and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has declared that he will not negotiate with a Palestinian Arab government which includes Hamas.
From Ramallah, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas threatened to take “new measures” against Israel if the meeting in Amman fails to restart peace negotiations. Yet, despite pressure from Hamas, he did not cancel the meeting, such “new measures” could include an attempt to have the UN Security Council pass a resolution condemning development in Judea and Samaria, bringing law suits against Israel for fabricated “war crimes”: related to Operation Cast Lead, its 2008-2009 incursion into Gaza. A renewed push for U.N. membership is also possible.
Palestinian President Abbas had demanding preconditions to the meeting calling on Israel to freeze all development activity in Judea and east Jerusalem. Hamas which seeks Israel’s destruction through terrorism in its constitution condemned the meeting outright; its spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri – by email, Monday – called the effort “a repetition of a track that has failed over the past years.” Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas leader, is on an unprecedented tour seeking support from regional power brokers.
Still, Yitzhak Molcho, an attorney and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s personal envoy met with Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in Amman on Tuesday. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, Speaking on Army Radio, said “This is the first time in a long time that the Palestinians are prepared to speak with us directly. If they want to reach an agreement, now is the time.”
The Quartet has asked Israel and the Palestinian Authority to submit proposals for security arrangements and the borders between Israel and a possible future Palestinian Arab state by Jan. 26.
King Abdullah has led what Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Muhammad Al-Kayed called an “intensive effort” to bring the two sides together, including a visit to the Palestinian Authority’s West Bank headquarters in Ramallah, and a meeting at his palace with Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Abdullah may also have his own national interests in mind. He is concerned about the growing influence of radical Islamic groups. 13 Jordanian Muslim fundamentalist opposition groups rallied for a demonstration against the talks, encouraging a third intifada or armed resistance against Israel.
Abdullah may recall the history of the years between 1967 and 1971 when Jordan faced an increasing, armed resistance from Palestinians living within its borders. Fatah and its commandos became a virtual state within a state within the Kingdom. Facing this growing strength and the possibility of an insurgency of the Palestinian Liberation Organization against him, King Hussein and the Jordanian army cracked down on the militants in an all out three week long war. In 1971, he expelled the PLO and its Chairman, Yassir Arafat. In 1971, a faction of the PLO called Black September assassinated Jordanian Prime Minister Wasfi al-Tel during a visit to Egypt, and killed the Jordanian Ambassador to Britain in December. Black September was also responsible for the murder of 11 Israeli athletes during the Munich Olympics in September, 1972.
Jordan has a peace treaty with Israel.