Dr. Elias Akleh
Another round of the Palestinian/Israeli bargaining negotiations started September 2nd despite all the predictions and expectations of miserable failure. The two parties had met for the ninth time, within the last 17 years, where they had discussed the same old issues again and again, and then departed without any positive results despite the American mediation (falsely called the honest broker).
Palestinian/Israeli peace negotiations started in 1993 with Oslo Accord that was supposed to end the conflict between the two parties by 1999. Yet conflict and further Israeli colonization on usurped Palestinian land continued. In 2002 came the Road Map proposed by US President George W. Bush promising to end the conflict with two states solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state by 2005. Then, came Annapolis Conference in November 2007 to postpone the creation of the Palestinian state to 2008. Yet, still nothing happened; neither peace nor statehood. Now, 2010, comes the direct talks. What is different this time? Why re-negotiate the same issues one more time when it has proven, again and again, that such negotiations did not resolve any of these issues?
This direct talk is unpopular neither among Palestinians nor among Israelis. All Palestinian factions rejected direct talks. This was evident on August 26th when Palestinian political parties, independent politicians, and human rights organizations convened a conference in Ramallah to denounce the negotiations. The meeting, though, was violently interrupted and shut down by Palestinian Authority intelligence and police forces, who also attacked journalists and confiscated their cameras. In the same day similar conference in Gaza City was convened by officials of various Palestinian parties to denounce the direct talks. Gaza had also witnessed large demonstrations denouncing the talks. The West Bank could not have such demonstrations due to oppression of Abbas’s Security Forces.
Even among Fatah members, Abbas’s own group, there are plenty of disapproving voices. The decision to go to direct talks is clearly rejected by the majority of Palestinians. The decision was taken only by Abbas and a small circle of his people. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, Abbas chairs, was not even properly consulted about the matter. A quorum acceptance is normally required for such a decision.
Abbas and his Palestinian Authority lack support and confidence of his people. His term had ended in 2008. He had illegally called off scheduled elections and extended his presidency twice. He does not have the political authority to represent Palestinians in West Bank, in Gaza, and Palestinian refugees all over the world. Without any election or a national referendum Abbas has no right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinians or to bargain against their rights. He represents only a small group of Fatah; many of them don’t have confidence in Abbas’s leadership for he spent the entire summer asserting that he would not enter into direct talks without a settlement freeze. Yet now he enters talks without even any guarantee of such a freeze.
The statement of Saeb Erekat, the PLO’s Chief Negotiator, that the Palestinian delegation would walk out of the talks should settlement construction anywhere in the West Bank “including East Jerusalem” continue, has no credibility what so ever among his own people, among the Israelis, and every body else in the world. Nobody believes him anymore. The alleged Israeli moratorium to freeze settlements until September 26th has been known to Palestinians as a big smoke screen, for settlement construction had never stopped especially in east Jerusalem. Ghassan Daghlas, the Palestinian National Authority official in charge of the Israeli settlement file in North West Bank stated that up to August 30th settlement construction and expansion had never stopped especially in Elon Moreh and Giv’at Gilad settlements north of Nablus in the West Bank.
To make things worse Abbas demonstrated his weakness when he made it clear that he is going to talks due to American pressure and for fear of losing American funding. He, thus, indicated clearly that any possible agreements out of the talks (if any at all) would have been imposed on him and he has no choice but to accept them.
Regular Palestinians do not have means of countering the American pressure. With their democratically elected Hamas leadership unaccepted, banished and besieged in Gaza, with the appointment of the oppressive Salam Fayyad’s government, with the indefinite postponement of presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections, and without any functioning governmental or NGO’s institutions, Palestinians don’t really have the capability of organizing effective dissenting voices to exert any pressure on their leadership.
So, why would the Palestinian Authority negotiate again?
Abbas had always made it clear that his policies are based on negotiations only. He described Palestinian resistance as silly and ineffective. The West Bank does not have an economy or a tax system that could sustain the apparatus of Palestinian Authority. Abbas depends mainly on money from donor countries (US mainly) for his operation. He and his negotiating team understand very well that the Palestinian Authority was established only to negotiate, to give concessions to the Israelis, and to oppress any Palestinian resistance. That was the only reason for its existence. Without negotiation Abbas and his circle would lose their jobs and their income and any political protection they enjoy.
Israelis, on the other hand, do not want any negotiations that may lead to peace and/or to the creation of a Palestinian state. Such outcomes would put an end to the Zionist dream of Israeli expansion. Israel had rejected all Arab peace gestures including the Arab peace initiative that guarantees Israel’s security. Israelis would not enter into any negotiation unless it serves their interests. That is the reason they reject Palestinian pre-conditions, such as settlement freeze, but they imposed their own pre-conditions. The Israeli pre-conditions include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, excluding Hamas from the talks, united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, no return for Palestinian refugees, no Israeli withdrawal to pre-1967 borders, no extension to settlement freeze after September 26, Israeli control over the Jordan River Valley, and demilitarized Palestinian state.
Israelis know that they can impose their pre-conditions because they possess all the bargaining chips while Palestinians don’t have any. Israeli bargaining chips include the military power to invade any Palestinian town anytime they want to, the extremist settlers terrorizing Palestinian civilians, and their control over Palestinian economy and waters. Above all the Israelis have the American support for rejecting any Palestinian pre-conditions while accepting the Israelis’.
Israeli citizens, politicians and rabbis denounced the direct talks. Official Israeli media resources had criticized the talks. Their Foreign Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, called for everyone to have “lower expectations” of the talks. Israel’s authoritarian chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, condemned the talks and asked God to exterminate all Palestinians including their leaders.
So, why would Israel enter into futile negotiations one more time?
Israel’s image has been changed lately from being a victim surrounded by Arabs, who want to throw them into the sea, to a militarized terrorist state, who uses internationally banned weapons in violations of all international laws and human rights laws to steal Palestinian land, to murder children in Lebanon and Gaza Strip, and who perpetrates high-seas piracy and murders international human rights activists, and commit a long list of political assassinations all over the world.
Exposing Israeli crimes has led to many lawsuits against Israeli leaders in many countries and in International Criminal Court. These leaders don’t leave Israel for fear of being arrested and persecuted. Israel has also been boycotted, culturally, educationally and economically by many European countries. A campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) is affecting a lot of western corporations, who deal with the Israeli military industry.
The Israelis want to change this negative image. They want to portray themselves as peace seekers, ready to negotiate peace (although on their own pre-conditions) with Palestinians. The unjust strict Israeli pr-conditions are meant to humiliate Palestinian negotiators into withdrawal so that Israelis could absolve themselves by using the “there is no Palestinian peace partner” cliché.
The American pressure on both parties to meet is due to the administration’s need to gain more political points before the coming congressional election. The Democratic Party is losing support due to its unpopular wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and lately in Pakistan. The “Tea Party” had gathered thousands demonstrators in Washington protesting Obama’s internal and foreign policies. To score political points Obama hastened the withdrawal of some troops from Iraq and pressured Palestinians to accept direct talks without freeze of settlements.
The Follow-up Committee of the Arab Peace Initiative, during its last meeting, gave the Palestinian Authority a green light to enter into direct talks. All the Arab leaders understand very well that Israel’s continual rejection of all Arab peace offerings is due to the Zionist expansionist ambition. They are willing to sacrifice Palestine and Palestinians to save their own skins. They (especially Egyptian President and Jordanian King) are pressuring Palestinian Authority to negotiate with Israel in the hope that such negotiation may lead to designate some type of internationally recognized borders that could contain Israel.
The parties agreed, though under pressure to talk, yet for all the wrongs reasons except for peace. How could peace be achieved when the Israeli pre-conditions marginalize all the Palestinian rights? The predicted failure of these talks will irrupt more violence; Israel’s security would not be attained and Palestinian struggle will continue.
Dr. Elias Akleh is an Arab writer from a Palestinian descent born in the town of Beit Jala. His family was first evicted from Haifa after the “Nakba” of 1948, then from Beit Jala after the “Nakseh” of 1967. He lives now in the US, and publishes his articles on the web in both English and Arabic.