THE ONLY RESULT
Indeed, the only result that came out of the trip was an agreement to pursue the efforts to reach a peace agreement until the end of April, and to ensure that Israel releases the fourth batch of prisoners as it promised to do on March 29th. Several Israeli ministers have threatened not to release the final batch of prisoners, some made the release conditional on Abbas's agreement to extend peace talks beyond the April deadline.Why was the Palestinian-American summit fruitless? According to a Palestinian official who was in Washington at the time, Obama was preoccupied with the crisis in Ukraine, the Iranian nuclear issue, and Russo-American relations, while Abbas was thinking primarily of [former Palestinian security chief] Mohammad Dahlan, the ramifications of the speech Abbas delivered to the Fateh Revolutionary Council [criticizing Dahlan], and Dahlan's tirade against the Palestinian president on an Egyptian satellite TV channel – which Abbas construed as a tilt in Cairo away from him and towards Dahlan.While these factors do not necessarily mean that Egypt now sees Dahlan as a possible successor to Abbas, it does mean that the former security chief is now an important player in Palestinian politics. Dahlan's speech – and the responses it elicited – has restored his actual stature, and underlined his ambitions to play a future role commensurate with his aspirations. But the imbroglio has also damaged Abbas, not to mention the credibility of the Palestinian leadership. This requires urgent action to find a political solution to the mistakes made by the Palestinian leadership, as well as legal solutions to crimes committed against Palestinian citizens, the homeland, and the Palestinian cause.This does not, of course, mean that Obama did not raise the issue of a ‘Framework Agreement’ with Abbas, as drafted by Secretary of State John Kerry. In fact, he asked Abbas to agree to the draft. But the U.S. president did not do so officially in a 'take it or leave it' manner. The fact that Obama did not insist that Abbas should accept the framework was because he understood that there still was a yawning chasm between the positions of Israel and the Palestinians. He did not want to pressure Abbas or Israel.Obama feared that were he to pressure Abbas to accept the Framework Agreement, the Palestinian President might refuse – which would make Obama look weak, the last thing he needs at the moment especially as he has been accused of weakness on Syria and other issues. On the other hand, Abbas' already shaky position would have been further weakened before the many Palestinian factions that are opposed to the peace talks, had he agreed to the framework. Many Palestinians are angry because Israel has been using the talks to consolidate its occupation.It is useful to recall the American position as articulated by Kerry on the eve of the summit, especially regarding the Palestinians' recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The Obama administration had apparently decided not to make this recognition a condition for the framework, but as a condition for a peace treaty, when they would know what they would receive in return. Israel's Jewishness was after all, as Kerry pointed out, decided decades ago, and is mentioned many times in the UN partition plan 194 on which Israel's founding was based.Obama feared failure, which was why he did not table the Framework Agreement officially. Binyamin Netanyahu' rejection of the framework however is in need of a closer look. There are enough indications that the Israeli PM would be prepared to agree to the framework (with some reservations) because he knows how advantageous it would be for Israel. In other words, the framework addresses all of Israel's concerns. He also fears that should the talks collapse, the Palestinians might revert to resistance, go to the UN, and put their weight behind the growing campaign to boycott Israel. He also feared that the collapse of the talks could help heal the Palestinian [Fatah/Hamas] split and restore Palestinian unity on the basis of an anti-occupation agenda rather than the unjust terms set out by the International Quartet,This being the case, this writer believes that Binyamin Netanyahu pretended to reject the framework, (a) in an effort to force the Americans to make it more suitable for Israel, and (b) to make Abbas agree to it without modification. He also wanted to deflate the anger of some Israeli political parties and hardliners in his own Likud who rejected the framework and threatened to walk out of Netanyahu's coalition if they fail to get rid of the Prime Minister – despite the fact that most opposition parties would vote for any agreement.Fear of the parties rejecting the framework has led the Americans to search for conditions to extend the peace talks. Let us discuss the issue of extension further: President Abbas is very concerned about being held responsible for the failure of the peace process and having to face a fate similar to that of his predecessor Yasser Arafat. He fears that the collapse of the peace talks would fling open the doors of confrontation between the Palestinians and Israel – with the possible collapse of the PA and the outbreak of a new and unpredictable Palestinian intifada, which could target the Palestinian political system.This fear of failure – and its potential consequences – is driving Abbas towards agreeing to extend the current round of talks. After initially refusing to extend the negotiations ‘by even one second,’ Abbas relented and began speaking of possibly accepting an extension ‘if the talks offered some (unspecified) hope,’ if the Israeli government demonstrated (unspecified) seriousness, and if it agreed to freeze settlement activity and release new batches of Palestinian prisoners which would have to include [Fatah leader] Marwan Barghouti, [PFLP leader] Ahmad Sa’dat, and [Fatah official] Fu’ad Shoubaki.But as any observer of Israel knows, the Israeli government simply cannot freeze settlements, even as a token gesture. In fact, the fact that Abbas agreed to resume peace talks last July without a settlement freeze encourages Israel to refuse the demands for a freeze now. It is enough to know that the rate of settlement rose 123 percent while the talks were going on.Which leaves the issue of releasing new batches of Palestinian prisoners, including the three above named leaders. In addition to the grave error inherent in turning the release of prisoners into a negotiating issue, it is extremely damaging to trade prisoners for the very causes and rights they were jailed for in the first place.What the Palestinians need to do is reject any notion of resuming peace talks without clear and binding terms of reference based on international law and UN resolutions and that ensure the bare minimum of Palestinian rights. This could only be achieved through an international conference held under UN auspices, in which other leading world powers take part.To achieve this, the Palestinians need to engage in a new and multi-faceted form of struggle designed to alter the prevailing balance of power more to their favor; a struggle that does not close the door on negotiations and forces the world to shoulder its responsibilities instead of misleading it with a sham 'peace process.'This struggle for Palestinian national rights and aspirations should also mobilize all the efforts and creativity of the Palestinian people wherever they are.