WITHSTANDING THE PRESSURES
“By the time these words are published, Presidents Abbas and Obama would have met, and the results of the meeting already known,” writes leading Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian website www.masarat.ps.
I hope and pray that the Palestinian President would be able to withstand the pressures Obama promised Binyamin Netanyahu he would exert on the Palestinians in order to persuade them to agree to John Kerry's 'framework' deal, or at least persuade Abbas to agree to an extension of the negotiating process until the end of the year.
This being the case, the measure of Abbas' steadfastness is not whether he agrees to the framework or not, but rather he will also refuse to extend the negotiations without any reciprocal Israeli commitments.
Agreeing to resume negotiations without Palestinian conditions – i.e. on Israel's terms – would mean that there is a danger that the process could be extended in exchange for some incentives. There is a precedent that is still fresh in our minds: Abbas agreed to resume talks [in July 2013] in exchange for a limited prisoner release. He agreed to suspend plans to head to the UN even without a settlement freeze.
Abbas arrived in Washington at a time when the Palestinians are at their weakest. The split has not been healed, and Fateh is tearing itself apart. There is open warfare between Abbas and [former PA security head and Fateh leader] Mohammad Dahlan. Many Palestinians oppose the resumption of talks, not to mention extending them beyond the April 2014. The Palestinian territories are suffering from a serious economic crisis, especially in light of the deteriorating relations between Egypt and Hamas [in Gaza].
Those calling for the talks to be extended argue that doing otherwise would shift the blame for the failure if American efforts fail on to the Palestinians at a time when the Arab world is in a particularly inappropriate state as far as the Palestinian cause is concerned. This could result in the U.S. stopping financial aid, and the PLO being expelled from the circle of political players. It could also result in the stoppage of EU aid, which in turn could lead to even more division. The Americans could decide to abandon the process altogether, thus freeing Israel's hands.
Furthermore, those advocating this point of view argue that settlement activity is continuing with or without negotiations, and that the Palestinians have no real choice other than to keep talking. Going to the UN, boycotting Israel, popular resistance, ending the Fatah/Hamas split, and banking on Arab solidarity all cannot change the balance of power. The importance of all these factors is linked to negotiations, which should be the major – if not the sole – option.
Those calling for endless negotiations do not seem to comprehend that that is exactly what we have been doing, and that this path has led us to catastrophe – rather than to the promised Palestinian state. There is a great difference between continuing settlement activity with Palestinian cover (through participation in peace talks) and settlement activity that faces Palestinian resistance. Only by taking the Palestinian cause back to its roots as a struggle for national liberation and self-determination can the Palestinians-- with Arab, Islamic, and international help-- make the occupation too costly for Israel to bear, especially at a time of American regression and the rise of other powers such as Russia, China, Iran, and Latin America.
Negotiations gave the Arabs, Europeans, and most other supporters of the Palestinians an excuse to cut back on their support. They could easily say that the Palestinian leadership put all its eggs in the American basket, and thus absolved the Arabs of their responsibilities; it chose not to use all the facilitating factors provided by international law and the dozens of pro-Palestinian UN resolutions. The international community could have been held responsible for a problem it created in the first place and then abandoned.
In order to illustrate the dangers inherent in extending negotiations in exchange of the release of a few more prisoners, one has to note that since talks were resumed last July, the American position has worsened considerably. The Obama administration now embraces positions very close to those of the Israeli right-wing as far as the issue of Israel as a Jewish state, Jerusalem, settlements, and refugees are concerned, as well as the continued presence of Israeli troops on Palestinian land, all in the absence of any international dimension (such as the International Quartet). This means that any future talks would be held based on terms of reference that would be much weaker than those in previous rounds of talks.
Also, the Arab position has regressed alarmingly, even compared to the weak [2002/07] Arab Peace Initiative. Instead of backing the Palestinians, the Arab League Follow-Up Committee endorsed the principle of land swaps, and agreed to the resumption of talks based on Israel's terms. Some Arab countries have even agreed to Israel's demand for recognition as a Jewish state, which would bring even more American and Israeli pressure on the Palestinians. While the Arabs could argue that they cannot be expected to be more Palestinian than the Palestinians, this does not absolve them of all responsibility, after all the Palestinian cause is an Arab cause that profoundly affects Arab national security.
Since the talks restarted, Israel has given permission for 10,000 new settlement units; attacks by the Israeli army and Israeli settlers have increased especially in Jerusalem. And there have been more Palestinian concessions. If the Israeli government refuses to restart talks from the point at which the previous round left off, why do the Palestinians not do the same? Why do they not withdraw the concessions they made in the past, regarding ‘an agreed solution to the refugee problem,’ and the principle of land swaps that legitimizes Israeli colonization?
But instead of adopting more robust positions, we have heard President Abbas say that he does not want to go home to Safad [now in Israel] and does not want to swamp Israel with millions of refugees. What is required, he said, was a token return of a few refugees to their homes. He also indicated that he would be prepared to prevent a new uprising.
We also heard Palestinian leaders say that a future state would be demilitarized, and that it would agree to the presence of NATO or U.S. troops on its soil. A future state, they said, would even agree to an armed Israeli presence for three-- or even five--years. Israel has offered nothing in return for all these concessions.
For the sake of negotiations, the Palestinians abandoned their quest for UN membership, ignored the plight of Gaza, and forgot about national reconciliation – only because the U.S. and Israel see reconciliation as choosing ‘terror rather than peace.’
“While Hamas should share the blame for the failure of the reconciliation process (believing that the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt would make reconciliation superfluous), one should not absolve the obsession with peace talks of its share,” concludes Masri.