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December 24, 2014 11:17 am

Livni Reveals Pivotal Role of Abbas in Sabotaging US-Sponsored Peace Talks

avatar by Ben Cohen

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"Your choice in the end was to get nothing," a frustrated Tzipi Livni is reported to have told Mahmoud Abbas. Photo: Twitter

Tzipi Livni, the former Israeli Justice Minister and lead negotiator with the Palestinians who is now running as a Prime Ministerial candidate in Israel’s forthcoming March elections, has revealed that the Palestinian leadership “caused the failure” of American-sponsored peace talks “at a critical moment.”

Livni’s centrist Hatnua party is running in alliance with the the Labor Party for the elections. In the event that the bloc wins the ballot, Livni will rotate the prime minister’s post with Labor leader Isaac Herzog every two years.

Speaking to New York Times reporter Roger Cohen, Livni said that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had been presented with an American-authored framework agreement at a meeting in Washington, DC on March 17. The framework – which has not been made public – set out the administration’s views on major issues, including borders, security, settlements, Palestinian refugees and Jerusalem.

“Livni considered it a fair framework, and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu had indicated willingness to proceed on the basis of it while saying he had reservations,” Cohen wrote. “But Abbas declined to give an answer in what his senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, later described as a ‘difficult’ meeting with Obama. Abbas remained evasive on the framework.”

In Livni’s view, Cohen said, this “amounted to an important opportunity missed by the Palestinians, not least because to get Netanyahu’s acceptance of a negotiation on the basis of the 1967 borders with agreed-upon swaps — an idea Obama embraced in 2011 — would have indicated a major shift.”

Nonetheless, talks continued. By April 1, the Israeli side was ready to release a draft statement “saying that a last tranche of several hundred Palestinian prisoners would be released; the United States would free Jonathan Pollard, an American convicted of spying for Israel more than 25 years ago; and the negotiations would continue beyond the April 29 deadline with a slowdown or freeze of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.”

It was at this point that Abbas dropped his bombshell.

Livni, Cohen said, was watching a television news broadcast as she waited for a cabinet meeting. She saw “Abbas signing letters as part of a process to join 15 international agencies — something he had said he would not do before the deadline.”

Livni immediately contacted Saeb Erakat, asking him to stop the Palestinian unilateral move. Erakat, Cohen reported, “texted her the next day to say he couldn’t. They met on April 3. Livni asked why Abbas had done it. Erekat said the Palestinians thought Israel was stalling. A top Livni aide, Tal Becker, wrote a single word on a piece of paper and pushed it across the table to her: ‘Tragedy.'”

Livni met Abbas in London on May 15. “I said to him,” she told Cohen, “the choice is not between everything and nothing. And your choice in the end was to get nothing.”

Livni’s account of how Abbas caused negotiations to collapse contrasts sharply with the frequent claims of the Obama Administration that Netanyahu’s apparent intransigence was the major factor behind the failure.

In that regard, the headline of Cohen’s piece – “Why Israeli-Palestinian Peace Failed” – is instructive, since it in no way indicates Abbas’s culpability for the negotiations being replaced by his unilateralist strategy. Both the headline and the introduction to the article shift the emphasis onto Netanyahu. Before the reader even learns of Abbas’s wrecking tactics, Cohen highlights Livni’s attack on Netanyahu.

“Written on my wall is: Jewish Democratic State, two states for two peoples,” Livni is quoted as saying. “Written on Likud’s wall is: Jewish State, Greater Israel.”

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