While accepting the team's resignation, President Abbas reiterated his commitment to the peace process, saying that the Palestinians would continue talking for the full nine months agreed upon. He also said that he would try to persuade the two negotiators to reconsider; otherwise, he would form a new negotiating team.
With that statement, President Abbas foiled the purpose of the resignation, which was to prod the Americans and other world powers to pressure Israel into adopting a more flexible position regarding settlements and borders/security before the talks collapse.
According to the Palestinian negotiators, the Israelis have been deliberately wasting time trying to reach agreement on security issues and borders in order to tailor a Palestinian state's future borders according to their (the Israelis') security requirements.
The resignation was a warning of what may transpire if urgent steps were not taken to rescue the talks from total collapse.
Ereikat and Ishtayieh’s resignation, which they tendered after a meeting of Fatah’s Central Committee last, Sunday, is still valid. But the negotiators will still be taking part in talks in a caretaker capacity until a new team is formed. This is a bizarre situation indeed, as we not only have a caretaker cabinet but a caretaker negotiating team as well that could conceivably take part in talks for the entire nine months and perhaps even longer.
Nevertheless, the resignation could either have been a weak gesture (in line with general Palestinian weakness) of protest at the readiness to take part in resumed peace talks according to Israel's conditions, and was just another resignation in a long list or similar actions. Had the negotiators seriously wished to resign, they would have done so without waiting for President Abbas' approval.
Or the resignation could have been a reflection of Ereikat and Ishatiyieh's 'repugnance' and feelings of guilt at participating in talks that Ereikat himself recently described as 'Israeli-Israeli,' that is to say talks between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and his ministers, rather than between Palestinians and Israelis. The Palestinian delegation was just an extra. In this case, the negotiators could have decided to resign in order not to shoulder blame before the Palestinian people.
At any rate, we shall find out in the coming days whether the resignation was serious and irreversible, or whether it was just a maneuver. According to press reports, Ereikat is going to retract his resignation, while Ishtayieh seems determined to press on with his. Time will tell.
Yet notwithstanding the eventual fate of the resignations, they revealed for the first time the true nature of the resumed peace talks, and how the Palestinians agreed to take part in them because the Palestinian leadership and a large part of the Palestinian opposition simply did not see an alternative to bilateral negotiations. This state of affairs came about largely because of the political, economic, and security situation that developed twenty years after the signing of the 1993 Oslo accords.
Oslo was not merely a political agreement; it also resulted in a new reality that prevents the Palestinians from pursuing new options unless it is reversed as soon as possible. Steps must be taken in this regard until a point is reached at which a major strategic shift would be possible. The resignation of the Palestinian negotiating team offered further proof of the futile nature of the resumed peace talks.
These talks are either doomed to failure, or may only result in an agreement that does not fulfill Palestinian interests and rights (i.e. in a new interim settlement disguised as a final settlement), a unilateral solution that Israel would implement whenever the separation wall is completed (in order to evade international criticism), or in an American-imposed settlement with international cover (as Israel's chief negotiator Tzipi Livni warned). Livni said that an agreed settlement between Palestinians and Israelis, under Israeli and American supervision, would be infinitely better for Israel than an international settlement forced on the two parties.
The current talks should always have been (and should still be) abandoned. In fact, it was wrong to resume them in the current form. But stopping the negotiations would not stop settlement expansion or the other measures taken by the Israeli occupation. Israel is simply not ready for a settlement; its policies are designed to annex more Palestinian land and expel more of its inhabitants. What Israel is after is creating a 'Greater Israel,' in a new shape that includes areas in which the Palestinians would be granted a limited degree of autonomy.
What Israel is definitely not interested in seeing is a single state with a large number of Palestinian inhabitants who, with time, would eventually outnumber Jews. That would spell the end of Israel as a 'Jewish state.' According to Israel's thinking, an autonomous Palestinian entity could go under the name of a 'Palestinian state.'
What is far more important for the Palestinians than whether to take part in talks or not, is to engage in a comprehensive national dialogue in which all Palestinian factions and forces take part. Such a dialogue should not focus on how to implement signed agreements on reconciliation and reunification, since these issues suffer from major structural deficiencies that must be addressed.
What the dialogue should focus on is making a deep and comprehensive review of past experiences in order to come up with a vision of how best to face up to the threats and challenges confronting the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause as well as provide the essential requirements for defending the Palestinian people and struggling to achieve their objectives and uphold their national rights.
In this way, ending the split and restoring national unity could be undertaken on solid democratic and patriotic foundations. Yet this goal should not be isolated from the task of redefining the Palestinian national project, an essential task given the developments, achievements, and mistakes that have taken place in the last few decades.
This would be the first step towards rebuilding the Palestinian national movement, Palestinian representation, and Palestinian consensus.