ABU MAZIN’S OPTIMISM
The U.S., the Arabs and certain elements in Israel may believe that the moment is opportune to impose a settlement that is not to the Palestinian’s interests, says Hani al-Masri in today’s Palestinian al-Ayyam
It is clear that the current regional moment is most opportune for imposing a solution of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict that would be heavily tilted in Israel's favor, argues a leading Palestinian commentator. But the main obstacle to such an agreement so far seems to be the extremist Israeli government.
ABU MAZIN’S OPTIMISM: "Contrary to most of his aides who have seemed pessimistic in their statements, President Abu Mazin has said that the negotiations have not reached a dead-end," writes Hani al-Masri in Tuesday's leading Palestinian daily al-Ayyam.
Almost at the same time, the British Consul General in Jerusalem has said that next Spring will be important and decisive for the establishment of a Palestinian state, suggesting that is more than likely that an agreement will be reached.
For her part, [Justice Minister] Tzipi Livni, the head of the Israeli delegation to the talks, has said that the negotiations have not reached a dead end, but that if they were to stumble, that would lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state under different conditions from those currently being negotiated that will not be favorable to Israel. She also warned that a stalemate in the 'peace process' poses the greatest threat to Israel because it may lead to a Palestinian state that does not arise from negotiations in which Israel's interests are represented. In other words, Livni is warning against an agreement that is imposed on Israel. She prefers an agreement that comes from bilateral negotiations in which Israel secures all its demands.
After [U.S. Secretary of State] John Kerry met with an Arab League's delegation in Paris, the League's spokesman stated that Kerry promised that the U.S. administration will offer ideas that will help bridge the gap between the two sides if no progress is achieved in the negotiations by the beginning of next year – that is after six months of negotiations that are supposed to end within nine months. This is despite the fact that both Livni and the U.S. State Department have repeatedly said that this timeframe is not a final ceiling to be brandished above the negotiators' heads, and may be extended –Palestinian assurances to the contrary notwithstanding.
Kerry told the Arab League delegation that 'the negotiations have not achieved a breakthrough, and that the expansion of settlement activities comes within the context of Netanyahu's attempts to preserve his ruling coalition; freezing these activities, moreover, was not part of the understandings that led to the resumption of the negotiations.'
He added that the negotiations have so far gone through the two sides' presentations of their respective positions – as if these were not known before – and have recently begun an attempt to bring the different positions closer together. That phase will take some time. But if the negotiations do not achieve their aim, there will be an American intervention, which indicates a determination to ensure the negotiations' success.
The above as well as the predictions of various credible sources lend credence to the belief that the U.S. administration will not allow the negotiations to fail after having invested so much in them. This is especially true, given Washington’s urgent need for some achievement to compensate for its losses especially in Egypt and Syria, and in Iraq and Afghanistan before that– and the possibility that Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states may follow suit after being fed up with the fluctuations of U.S. policy and its betrayal of its allies.
What further encourages the Obama administration to try its luck in urging the two parties to reach an agreement is the fact that the Palestinian side is in its worst state in light of its weakness and the inter-Palestinian [Fatah/Hamas] split, and in the absence of a supportive Arab position. In fact, and in their current condition, the Arab states will portray any U.S. attempt to impose a solution on the two sides as a sort of achievement, and better than a solution that results from bilateral negotiations controlled by Israel. This is because the latter lack any point of reference and will be conducted based on Israeli preconditions in light of the vast imbalance of power in Israel's favor.
If the U.S. administration manages to convince Russia, it will be able to convince Europe, the UN, and the Arab League to impose a solution on both sides, because the region and the world's security and stability, as well as the interests of the parties that influence global decision-making need a solution for the Palestinian problem. After all, they have all earlier eagerly agreed to the resumption of negotiations, despite the fact that this was done with terms and conditions biased in Israel's favor.
In fact, the Arab League's delegation agreed to a resumption of the negotiations in its meeting with Kerry in Amman last July. It did so even before Kerry had formulated his proposal for the talks, before the acceptance of the Palestinian president, and despite almost unanimous opposition inside the PLO Executive Committee to any negotiations without a settlement freeze and an Israeli commitment to the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders – even if this included a land-swap that allows Israel to annex the lands it needs.
Israel, however, rejected this because the Israeli government is really negotiating with itself. The real negotiations are underway between various [Israeli] currents:
- The first, is the weakest, and is represented by Livni and the other less extreme parties that are part of the government. This current believes that there is a golden opportunity today to impose a final status solution on the Palestinians that Israel can tailor to suit its needs, and that includes a final liquidation of the refugees problem and the establishment of a Palestinian 'mini-state' cut to match Israeli specifications.
- There are two other currents inside the Israeli government both of which reject the establishment of a Palestinian state but disagree on the following: One calls for maintaining the status quo until the chances for a more beneficial solution for Israel emerge. The other calls for a new interim solution with cover from a new 'declaration of principles' that would be final if implemented.
- Yet another current calls for unilateral steps if the Palestinians fail to agree to new transitional arrangements. This current is also part of those who call for a new interim solution.
Instead of avoiding greater U.S. intervention in the negotiations because of Washington’s overwhelming bias in Israel's favor, the Palestinians and the Arabs are insisting on this and suggesting that it will be a major achievement if it occurs. This is despite the fact that U.S. bias occasionally goes so far as to adopt positions that are even more extreme than those of the Israeli government, or that embody Israel's interests even more than the Israeli position itself. This is what is happening now when the Obama/Kerry administration believes that the time is appropriate for imposing a settlement that achieves the overwhelming majority of Israeli demands. But the most extremist government in Israel's history can still reject this and insist on achieving all its demands in full.
The question is this: Can the U.S. administration impose an agreement on Israel, or will it fail to do so? The answer depends on Obama having the will to clash with the Israeli government and his readiness to bring it down if need be, seeking help from those Israeli parties and military and security echelons that realize the importance of exploiting the moment and imposing a solution on the Palestinians that suits Israel perfectly, even if it requires some crumbs to be cast the Palestinians’ way.
The answer also depends on Washington's ability to convince Moscow. But this is not impossible after the Syrian chemical weapons deal, the agreement to convene the Geneva-2 Conference, and the historical phone call between Obama and Rowhani, and the launching of serious negotiations between Iran, and the U.S. and the other major international parties.
"How is the Palestinian side behaving, and how should it behave? And what are the main features of the agreement that is needed? This will be the subject of another article," concludes Masri.