NO INTERNATIONAL PRESSURE
Israel was not in its favor, and the international community, led by the United States, was not prepared to pressure the Israelis into accepting it. There were no negotiations at the time, nor was there much hope in resuming them any time soon.
The API was a joint message indicating Arab acceptance of a comprehensive peace settlement including full recognition of Israel and the establishment of normal relations with the Jewish state in exchange for the latter withdrawing to the borders of June 1967 and accepting a fair solution of the refugee problem. Yet the Israelis turned the API down. In fact, Israel responded to it by launching a full-scale onslaught on the occupied Palestinian territories that culminated in the assassination of President Yasser Arafat and changing the entire Palestinian political system by creating the post of Prime Minister.
For their part, the Americans responded to the API by attacking, invading, and occupying Iraq in 2003, and then by launching the International Roadmap, which adopted many of Israel's demands. Nevertheless, Israel did not accept the Roadmap as it stood. They expressed 14 separate reservations, which effectively turned it into the Israeli Roadmap that has been implemented since 2003. Under this altered Roadmap, Israel's security became paramount, and piecemeal solutions were adopted in order to facilitate Israel's racist, colonial, and expansionist plans designed to impose new facts on the ground making Israel's own vision of a final settlement the only feasible one.
In fact, it is very difficult to describe the talks that have taken place between the Palestinians and Israelis since Madrid in 1991 as negotiations; they were more akin to unilateral diktats than negotiations per se. Negotiations take place when two warring sides fail to impose their wills by force, and when they are ready to make major concessions in order to reach a compromise acceptable to both parties.
There must be a clearly defined and binding point of reference, and the broad outlines of the final outcome must be agreed beforehand. There must be reciprocity in the sense that both parties must meet their commitments. Should one party fail to do so, the other should be absolved of its commitments as well. And if the negotiations fail and one party decides to go back to square one, the other should be bound to do so as well.
It is unacceptable for each new Israeli government to ignore the commitments made by its predecessor and insist that talks start from the beginning while the Palestinians are required to honor all their commitments, despite Israel reneging on its obligations, and failing to resume talks from the point at which the previous round left off.
Under the 1993 Oslo accords, the PLO recognized Israel, committed itself to the full cessation of armed resistance, and declared negotiations to be the only means to settling the conflict. The PLO agreed to separate the Palestinian cause from the twin issues of people and land, and went on to divide and subdivide each of those further. The Palestinian territories had already been divided into areas of 1948 and 1967, and then the 1967 territories were subdivided into areas A, B, C, and Jerusalem. The Palestinian people were also divided into those living in Palestine and those living outside, the people of 1948, the people of 1967, and the people of Jerusalem.
Yet Palestinian concessions kept on coming. The PLO accepted the principle of land swaps at the 2000/01 Camp David and Taba talks and reiterated that commitment at Annapolis in 2008. It agreed to the principle of dividing Jerusalem and the West Bank according to parameters set President Clinton (i.e. Israel retains all 'Jewish' sites and areas in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, including the Jewish Quarter and the Buraq [Western] Wall, while the Palestinians only receive 'Arab' areas.)
The PLO also agreed to a fair and mutually agreed solution to the refugee problem based on UNGA Resolution 194. This transformed the entire refugee question into an issue to be negotiated, not an inalienable right that cannot be altered or liquidated. But Israel rejected even that concession, because it opposes the very terms 'right of return' 'just settlement,' and Resolution 194. What Israel wants is for the entire refugee issue to be liquidated.
Israel quickly reneged on Oslo, and stopped honoring its commitments even before Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. In fact, the Israelis began imposing their own version of a settlement step by step exploiting regional and international conditions. It appears that these conditions are becoming more favorable as far as Israel is concerned, what with the chaos of the Arab spring, and the increasing chances of war breaking out against the Palestinians, Syria, Iran, and Hizbollah. A new map could then be drawn in which the Middle East would be dominated by Israel, Turkey, the United States, and certain European powers.
It was in this context that the seven-party Arab delegation agreed to amend the API by the addition of a clause allowing land swaps. The rejected Palestinian concession thus became an Arab concession in order to persuade Israel to agree to withdraw to the lines of 1967. And in order for the picture to become complete, mention must be made of the fact that the new Arab concession came on the heels of the Arab spring, which saw the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Americans had made numerous requests to have the initiative amended, starting from the meetings [PLO negotiators] Saeb Ereikat and Mohammad Ishtayeh had in Washington in preparation for President Obama's last visit, and including Secretary of State Kerry's visits to the region as well as on Obama's own tour. The Americans wanted the Arabs to provide cover for a resumption of peace talks – after the Palestinians make new concessions to the Israelis.
For the amendments to the API are not restricted to land swaps. The Arabs are now also committed to normalizing relations with Israel even before a peace deal is signed. This is supposed to reassure Israel that the Arab Spring will not harm its interests. As it now stands, the API calls for sharing East Jerusalem (and not the entire city), annulling the right of return, and de facto recognition of Israel as a Jewish state through the adoption of the 'two states for two peoples' formula.
The Obama administration, having failed in its first term to pressure the Israelis into making meaningful concessions, has apparently decided to lean on the Arabs and Palestinians in its second term in office. And truth be told, the current state of the Arab nation tempts others to take advantage of it. Consenting to the principle of land swaps could well be the start of a very slippery slope that could end up with the Arabs agreeing to a solution that liquidates the Palestinian cause.
What was interesting was that Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu did not even acknowledge the latest Arab concession, but stressed that they should recognize Israel as a Jewish state. As for Israeli [Justice Minister and chief negotiator with the Palestinians] Tzipi Livni, who welcomed the amended peace initiative, said that its significance lies in the fact that the entire initiative is now subject to negotiations and is no longer a take it or leave it proposition.
The amended API signals the start of a new phase in the process of Arab surrender, which could only tempt Israel to demand even more concessions. We cannot blame Qatar for this mess before we blame ourselves. We Palestinians were after all the first to take part in direct bilateral talks with the Israelis with no fixed terms of reference. We adhered doggedly to the Oslo accords even after Israel reneged on them. We were the first to agree to the principle of land swaps, and it was we who continued believing in bilateral talks under American sponsorship even after we saw that such a course could only lead to catastrophe.
The confused Palestinian reaction to the recent statements by the Qatari Prime Minister was telling. Some officials spoke of border amendments while others spoke of land swaps, despite the big difference between the two. Some Palestinian officials defended Qatar, while others portrayed it as evil incarnate. Some regarded what happened as natural since the Palestinians had agreed to land swaps long ago, and that the borders cannot be amended unless Israel agrees to withdraw to the lines of 1967, while others see it as a free concession to Israel.
While these new concessions are strongly opposed by many Arabs and Palestinians, this opposition is not strong enough to cause those proposing them to back down. Ironically, it was Qatar that only a few months ago demanded that the initiative be withdrawn. In order for the API not to become an 'Israeli initiative,' the path of futile bilateral talks must be abandoned forthwith.
A new route to peace must be found.