The danger of an interim settlement
The U.S. and Israel may want to impose yet another interim settlement dressed up in the garb of a permanent resolution; the Palestinians must do everything possible to oppose this, says Hani al-Masri on Palestinian www.masarat.ps
The current round of Palestinian-Israeli peace talks has highlighted the fact that the positions of the two sides are still as far apart as ever, writes leading Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian website www.masarat.ps.
SECURITY FIRST: In fact, the problem is even more complicated than that, as while the Palestinians have outlined their positions on most issues, the Israelis have not, with the excuse that they want to deal with the problem of security – which they say influences all other issues – first.
Israel wants the issue of security to be dealt with before that of borders is even considered. The Israelis also want the Palestinians to recognize that Israel is a 'state of the Jewish people,' and that a settlement should be final with no more demands from the Palestinian side.
The fact of the matter is that the government of Binyamin Netanyahu fears that it could come in for severe international criticism if it tabled all its real demands. More than that, Netanyahu fears that his government could collapse, as it contains elements that are far more extreme than the hard-line PM. Moreover, the Israelis know that if they come clean with their demands, it would make it easier for the Americans to produce compromises that would not suit them – although such compromises would inevitably be biased towards them anyway – because they want everything and want to give away nothing.
After three months of talks, the conclusion one could draw is that the maximum Israel could agree to is a new interim settlement disguised as a final settlement, that President Abbas is seeking a final settlement, and that the Americans are prepared to countenance a phased final settlement – and, if that proves impossible, then something in between a final and an interim settlement. In this case, we would have an agreement to establish a state with provisional borders along with an agreement on all elements of a permanent solution that would then be implemented in stages.
The features of the interim settlement favored by Netanyahu, [FM] Lieberman, et.al. is not that different from that envisaged in the 1993 Oslo accords. In fact, it could be even worse, as it lies somewhere between reverting to the situation as it stood before [the outbreak of the second intifada] September 28th 2000 on the one hand, and establishing a state with 'provisional borders,' which would in fact be a continuation of limited self-rule, on the other.
Meanwhile, final status issues are postponed in exchange for giving the PA some of the areas marked as Areas C, and allowing the Palestinians to invest some of the monies they receive from donor nations in those lands. In other words, Israel would be absolved of the responsibilities of occupation, which would be transformed into a 'five star' presence.
The final settlement that U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry could propose (and try to impose) on the two sides (within the framework of a transitional settlement or without) would entail less than was proposed by former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert. Kerry has already proposed land swaps that involve 6.5 per cent of the area of the West Bank (which could rise to 7.5 per cent); dividing East Jerusalem such that Arab neighborhoods would become part of a Palestinian state while Jewish neighborhoods (including settlements) remain within Israel.
The al-Aqsa compound and the old city would fall under international control, while the refugee question would be settled by agreement according to the Arab Peace Initiative and the  parameters proposed by president Clinton. The Palestinian state would be demilitarized, not necessarily as Israel wants it to be but at least in a way that fulfils most of Israel's demands, such as maintaining control of land crossings for a certain period.
Although the details of the negotiations are still secret (only Kerry is authorized to divulge what is going on behind closed doors), what has leaked so far indicates that the three parties will try to reach agreement on a final settlement, or an interim settlement that is made up to look as such. The parties know that the consequences of failure would be dire for all of them, especially for the PA, which would no longer be able to survive in its present form. The PA could either be transformed into a state (even a state without borders, in the hope that borders could be agreed on in the future) or collapse. This could happen either because the Palestinians choose a new path that could lead to a confrontation with Israel, or because the world would refuse to shoulder the costs of the occupation indefinitely, especially if those costs do not appear to lead to peace, security, or stability.
For his part, President Abbas seems to be willing to agree to an interim settlement if it is accompanied by agreement on the principles of a final settlement and a timetable to implement such a settlement in stages. He knows the catastrophic consequences of failure, which could include confrontation with the Obama administration, financial ruin, possible collapse of the PA, the possibility of a new Palestinian intifada, or a return to chaos and lawlessness in the Palestinian territories.
What could be worse is that the government of Binyamin Netanyahu could reject a settlement proposed by the Americans despite being skewed in its favor. This could either lead to the Americans trying to persuade Netanyahu to agree, or alternatively to Washington trying to replace the present Israeli coalition with one more malleable and less hard line. The Americans know that establishing a Palestinian state – even with the weak specifications mentioned above, in other words not a state in the true sense of the word - is in the security and strategic interests of both the United States and Israel, even if the Israeli government does not realize it. Alternatively, the Americans could choose not to impose a settlement on Israel and instead try to make do with proposing the elements of a final settlement without asking the two sides to agree to those elements – especially the Israelis.
It would of course be extremely difficult for the Palestinian side to agree to an interim settlement dressed up as a final settlement that Israel does not accept. But the same formula would become palatable if Israel approves of it, especially if it enjoys Arab and international backing.
The Americans' keenness to involve the Arab League Follow-Up Committee in the deliberations should be looked at in this context. Without Arab pressure and involvement, it would be impossible for the Palestinians to agree to a settlement that all but liquidates their cause. But how could the Palestinians resist a settlement supported by the Arabs and the entire world?
Even reaching this point (i.e. an interim settlement dressed up as a permanent settlement that does not address the bare minimum of Palestinian concerns) is not easy because of Israel's nationalist fervor on the one hand, and – sadly – the Palestinians' weakness and disunity on the other.
But the Palestinians must act quickly to abort such a destructive outcome. In fact, they should have acted yesterday. They must bring the Palestinian house in order, give priority to ending the [Fateh/Hamas] split and restoring national unity on the basis of democracy and genuine partnership, and come up with workable alternatives to the American-sponsored peace process, a path that could only lead to catastrophe.
This requires mobilizing all elements of strength that the Palestinians can muster, including Arab, Islamic, regional, and international pressure in order to undermine the possibility of the emergence of an American-Russian-European-Arab agreement at the expense of the Palestinians.