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MIDDLE EAST/ Herzog (Haaretz): Let’s not stifle the hope of negotiations

MICHAEL HERZOG comments on the statements by the President of the Palestinian Authority Abu Mazen and on the possibilities for further peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine.

Abu Mazen   (Infophoto) Abu Mazen (Infophoto)

In an interview with the Israeli TV Channel 2, the President of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Mazen, was the recipient of the warm appreciation of Israeli President Shimon Peres, but he also incited strong protests from the inhabitants of the Gaza Strip. Abu Mazzen stressed the fact that he recognizes the existence of the State of Israel and considers the borders to be those that preceded the invasion of the West Bank. Ilsussidiario.net interviewed Michael Herzog, a columnist for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz, to ask him to comment on Abu Mazen’s words.

Mr. Herzog, were Abu Mazen statements really important, or were they simply superficial concessions?
For Israeli ears, his statements were very important. I refer in particular to the fact that he recognizes that the settlement is about the 1967 borders, and not those of 1948, as well as the fact that he accepts the declaration of the State of Israel. Israelis were concerned that the Palestinians would want to refer to the 1948 borders, which is why the words of Abu Mazen are a step forward.

Peres praised Abu Mazen for his words. Could this be the starting point for new peace talks?
I hope so. To prove he is a reliable partner, Abu Mazen must come to the table and negotiate, and I hope that happens soon, however, I am afraid that it will go in the opposite direction because Abu Mazen intends to turn to the UN later this month to seek recognition as a non-member state.

Why does this worry you?

I do not think this move would encourage negotiations, but it will probably lead to a negative response from the United States and Israel. The Europeans are also urging Abu Mazen not to go to the United Nations. I also think it would be wrong to do so during the Israeli elections because it is very bad to go into an election campaign at a time like that. Therefore, I hope that the positive statements of Abu Mazen contribute to peace, but I also hope that they are not canceled by negative actions.

Why does Israel fear the effects of the diplomacy of Abu Mazen at the UN?
We are not afraid of Palestinian diplomacy, but we need to realize what is really at stake. Israel is concerned that the Palestinian Authority is breaking away from the notion that everything should be resolved through negotiations. They seem to prefer an international diktat rather than sitting together around a table. There is also a second problem, which is what the Palestinians will do with their status as a state once they get that in the General Assembly. According to their explicit statements, this would provide them with the jurisdiction to address the various international bodies, and they want to use this to conduct a real legal battle against Isreal. For example, they will bring Israel before the International Criminal Court on a charge of war crimes. It is therefore only natural that the Israelis are worried, and it is unclear what would happen with the peace process. I would prefer that, before going to the UN, Israelis and Palestinians discussed together to see if they can reach an agreement.

How do you explain the fact that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not comment on the statements by Abu Mazen?