MOMENT OF TRUTH
“As the nine-month timetable draws to an end, the features of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's framework agreement are becoming clearer,” writes leading Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian website www.masarat.ps
Whatever final shape the agreement takes, it will inevitably impinge on Palestinian national rights.
In an interview with the Washington Post, Kerry said that the moment of truth is almost at hand, and that a settlement would be implemented in stages. He said that disagreements over which party should be responsible for security at the borders and in the Jordan Valley could be resolved with the help of a third party. ‘Each party can register its reservations in order for the talks to continue,’ he said.
Although the agreement does not satisfy either party completely, its danger lies in the fact that it ensures that the talks can continue beyond the March deadline (which means more time for Israel to consolidate its occupation and build more settlements). Extending talks will also prevent the parties from searching for other options and alternatives, but will contain the consequences of failure that they dread.
Another dangerous aspect of the framework agreement is that it completely replaces international law and UN resolutions as terms of reference. Moreover, it does not contain ready solutions to all problems although it does comprise the bulk of results and concessions (by the Palestinians in particular) achieved and made at Taba , Camp David in 2000, the 2003 Roadmap, Annapolis , negotiations under the Olmert government, and finally the [2009/11] proximity and exploratory talks.
Those rounds of talks witnessed an endless series of concessions on the Palestinian side, including the principle of land swaps, agreeing to divide the West Bank including Jerusalem, annexing major settlements. The Palestinians were also forced to agree to their future state being disarmed, and that it sign up to security agreements with Israel, as well as to forego the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes.
Should the current round of peace talks collapse, this would not mean that no progress was achieved. In fact, the talks achieved much, which is what Kerry is trying to document and build on until a settlement can be reached that would comprehensively liquidate the Palestinian cause.
For, as far as the Palestinians are concerned, there is a growing danger of an American-Israeli solution being imposed, one based on points the Americans and Israelis agree on – if not all at once, then in stages. The Palestinians should not dwell too long on perceived differences between Washington and Tel Aviv, not because such differences do not exist, but because they cannot be exploited unless the Palestinians come up with a new strategy that is capable of mobilizing all the potential of the Palestinian people.
In short, the talks cannot uphold Palestinian rights. The Palestinians would not be able to determine their own future, the West Bank (and East Jerusalem) would be divided, and the new Palestinian 'state' would be little more than an autonomous entity.
Talks held under a backdrop of Palestinian division, Arab weakness, American bias, and international hypocrisy cannot produce a just settlement. Even then, implementing an agreement under the prevailing imbalance of power between the two sides would be far worse than the actual agreement signed. That is why the Palestinians, and their leadership in particular, should abandon the myth that says bilateral talks under American supervision can ever secure the bare minimum of Palestinian rights.
This being the case, the Palestinians have no other choice but to struggle to build a practical alternative to the path of negotiations, one based on several new strategies. And in order to agree on these strategies, the Palestinians must embark on a wide-ranging national debate in which all factions take part. No single faction or leader, whether within the PLO and PA or without, can pretend to practically represent the Palestinian people.
Officially, however, the PLO is still recognized as the sole representative of the Palestinians, which was a historic achievement the Palestinians must not squander. The PLO needs to rebuild its public support in a difficult time in which national aims have not been achieved; peace talks and resistance are at a dead end, with failure to hold elections, and failure to implement reforms.
The agenda for the debate could include means to come up with strategies capable of facing up to challenges and threats, keeping the cause alive, preserving rights and achievements, and minimizing damages and losses. These objectives must be met before proceeding with the difficult tasks of defeating the occupation, and achieving freedom, independence and equality.
The second step – after new strategies are put in place – must be the restoration of national unity and ending the split on the basis of democracy and genuine partnership that ensures all factions and Palestinian communities are fairly represented.
It is futile, counterproductive, and downright damaging to keep calling for reconciliation agreements to be implemented, for committees to meet, for a new government to be formed (under PA President Mahmoud Abbas, PA/PM Rami al-Hamdallah, or another independent politician), and for elections to be held within three or six months, without dealing with the root causes of the split.
There is enough common ground to reach an agreement despite the considerable differences that tend to prolong and preserve the split.
“The Israelis occupation is after all a common threat, and there is no hope at the moment that Palestinian rights are going to be honored and upheld,” concludes Masri.