NOT TO THE PALESTINIANS’ ADVANTAGE
Whatever plan John Kerry will propose and whatever step he chooses to make – whether in the shape of a peace treaty or a framework agreement or a blueprint, or merely an agreement to prolong the negotiations – will not be to the Palestinians' advantage. And it will be very difficult to oppose, especially if it gains the support of the Europeans, Arabs, Russians, and the international community.
Those of us who still believe that Kerry may yet come up with a fair and equitable settlement should read what his deputy Martin Indyk said to a group of Jewish American leaders the other day, which revealed the extent of America's bias towards Israel.
The factors militating against Kerry's success may be summarized thus:
- The yawning chasm separating between the positions of the two protagonists, plus the lack of will on the American side to exert the required pressure on Israel. Time is running out, and the American midterm Congressional elections are just around the corner. The influence wielded by Israel's friends in the United States is strengthening, while the Democrats are losing popularity.
- The hopelessly skewed balance of power in Israel's favor leaves it in no need of striking a peace deal even if such a deal were in its favour.
- A third Palestinian intifada seems unlikely. Israel is thus able to continue business as usual, a situation that is favorable to it as its Defence Minister Moshe Ya'alon has recently clearly stated.
- Israel fears that any agreement [with the Palestinians] may collapse because of the current upheavals in the region. There are simply no stable and legitimate governments or strong leaders to guarantee an agreement's survival. Why make concessions with no guarantees in return? In addition, the results of the Arab Spring so far are clearly in Israel's favor. But there is nothing to ensure that they would remain so in the longer run.
- The Palestinian leadership is weak, and cannot as such agree to a bad settlement that does not uphold Palestinian rights. The PA leadership cannot ensure that such a deal will pass, especially as its mandate has lapsed and its credibility is constantly being eroded by the [Hamas/Fatah] split, as well as by its lack of legitimacy.
- The fact that Israel is currently led by the most extreme and hard-line government in its history makes it highly unlikely that the Israeli public will accept a deal that does not fulfil all their demands. If PM Binyamin Netanyahu dares to make too many compromises, he will surely fall. The Israeli PM cannot forget that the electorate threw him out after he signed the  Wye River agreement.
But there are also factors that favor Kerry's success, chiefly:
- All the relevant parties are fearful of failure, especially as that might encourage other players to try to fill the vacuum.
- The growing realization that Kerry's mission could be the last chance to realize a two-state solution.
- The Arabs’ weakness and the determination of certain active players to resolve the Palestinian question by any means in order to confront the new enemy: Iran, even if that entails making common cause with Israel.
- America's unwillingness to be associated with a new failure in the Middle East. The United States realizes that such a failure would have a negative impact, especially as U.S. influence in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and even in the Gulf has weakened considerably.
- Palestinian weakness and the Palestinian leadership's malleability because of its fear of the possible collapse of the PA. President Mahmoud Abbas, who built his reputation on moderation, dearly wishes to end his political career with a success. This may make him amenable to offering major concessions, which could encourage Israel not to waste a historic and potentially unrepeatable opportunity so as to achieve a settlement that fulfils virtually all its demands.
- The regional and global consensus on settling the region's problems peacefully through negotiation, which necessitates settling the Palestinian issue, which is at the heart of all the other problems in the region.
- John Kerry's dogged determination to make an achievement to crown his personal career. Kerry is obsessed with his mission, and has not wasted so much time and effort merely to manage the conflict.
It almost goes without saying that the positions the protagonists profess in public are not the same as those hold in private. Had this been the case, Kerry would have not persevered for so long. Public positions are for public consumption; they are intended to pressure the other side in order to improve bargaining power, as well as pressure the Americans to do likewise.
The fact that the International Quartet supported Kerry's ideas at its latest meeting lends credibility to all this. EU Foreign Policy Chief Katherine Ashton said that the Europeans were prepared to extend unprecedented support to the two sides if they agreed to a framework agreement. In a similar vein, a Palestinian official said that it would be difficult for the Palestinians to reject whatever Kerry proposes without Arab backing. How then could they hope to resist if the Arabs were to be supportive of Kerry's plans? Should the Palestinians reject Kerry's proposals, they would be in a much worse position than they are in at the moment, what with the possible imposition of American, European as well as Arab sanctions.
Which leaves an extremely important point: Can the Palestinian leadership afford to agree to a settlement that effectively liquidates the Palestinian cause, a settlement that it has taken every opportunity to reject? The answer is that the agreement now on offer is not a final settlement, but a 'framework’. Work is underway to draft that agreement in a manner that would enable both parties to pretend that they have made no concessions to the other.
According to certain leaked information, the wording of the framework agreement – especially as far as the Palestinians are concerned – would be vague. By contrast, the agreement is very clear on such issues as Israel's Jewish identity, security arrangements, compensation for Jewish refugees, and the abrogation of the right of return.
Other potential solutions include compelling both sides to make concessions, such as forcing the Israelis to choose between security on the one hand, and keeping all or the majority of settlements on the other. Some settlements could be leased from the Palestinians, while others would fall under Palestinian sovereignty.
As for the Palestinians, they could be made to choose between incomplete sovereignty over a large part of the West bank, and wide powers over the inhabitants without sovereignty. The more rights the Palestinians cede, the more territories they would receive.
In addition, there is the option of either side expressing reservations regarding the clauses in the agreement they do not like, while accepting to uphold the agreement as a whole as the basis for future negotiations. The framework agreement could also be presented as America's point of view by which talks could be extended beyond the April deadline. In other words, the framework agreement would contain the new terms of reference for all future talks.
This delicate situation requires that the Palestinians – as a whole – should rise to their responsibilities. But this would not be possible unless a national conference is held at once. An all-embracing national dialogue must be initiated in which all sectors of Palestinian society must take part, including all members of the Palestinian National Council, the Palestinian Legislative Council in addition to representatives of all parties, factions, and classes – including women, youth, and exiled Palestinians.
Should such wide representation prove too difficult to convene, the conference should be held with only those able to attend.