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Do We Want the Direct Negotiations to Succeed? - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The parties involved in the Palestinian-Israeli issue have finally settled on starting direct negotiations between the Palestinian National Authority [PA] and the Israeli government to reach a final solution to the conflict between the two sides under the supervision of the United States. And in order to give a strong impetus to the negotiations, a kind of ceremony will be held in the US capital attended by several sides involved in the negotiations, such as the members of the Quartet and the Arab countries that have signed peace treaties with Israel.

To be honest, the reasons for pessimism regarding the success of these negotiations are justified and they had been reviewed in this space on several occasions and in different contexts. However, the question that is posed to the Arab countries – especially the moderate one and those that wish stability in the region and a just solution to the Palestinian issue – is the following: Do they really want to reach a solution to this conflict that has gone on for long and for which our Arab peoples have paid an exorbitant price in wars, divisions, and the emergence of various forms of radicalism, fascism, and dictatorship under the guise of regaining Arab rights that are being lost one after the other? In my opinion, the answer should be “yes” while also knowing at the same time that reaching a solution is “close” to impossible! But impossible” is the title of all historic conflicts. Otherwise, they would not be “historic” in the first place because they consist of acute and complex contradictions that feed on themselves and move from one generation to another.

But this “yes” does not mean appeasement. No one can turn down the US President’s initiative, particularly since so far he seems to be the best US President with whom we have dealt although his accomplishments, so far, do not go beyond interest in and desire for a solution, contrary to his predecessor that needed seven years to become persuaded of the paramount importance between the conflict in the Middle East and the relationship between the Muslim world and the West. However, I believe that mere acceptance [of the US initiative] and then leaving Obama to proceed on his own to solve the conflict will not be enough. It will only add one more setback to the peace process and setbacks and suspensions of this process always meant marching on the road to war. We all know that the failure of the Camp David negotiations in July 2000 led to the second Palestinian intifadah or the four-year war. When the Annapolis process did not lead to anything, the Gaza war erupted in the end of 2008. Between this and that, the conflict nurtured several wars and crises from Hezbollah’s first war with Israel until the Iranian nuclear crisis that is always auguring war and a bloody conflict.

Therefore, we are before a dilemma of a different kind. We know that the negotiations are taking place at the worst times. They are being held under the auspices of a US Administration that has withdrawn its initial stands on the need to stop settlement building and launch negotiations at the point where they ended. The negotiations are being held in the presence of the most radical Israeli government and in the shadow of an unprecedented Palestinian rift. All this reinforces the need for an active Arab intervention. This intervention can be undertaken by an active Arab group that includes Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Morocco that strive to ensure the success of these negotiations through a series of measures that would give the US President enough courage to face the Zionist pressures on him. This intervention can also give a sufficient incentive to the Israeli prime minister to change his ruling coalition to have another more flexible coalition. Perhaps all need to review the Egyptian-Israeli negotiations that took place between President Al-Sadat and Menachem Begin under the supervision of US President Jimmy Carter. The Arab starting point would be the “Arab initiative” that enunciated a clear Arab stand on the need for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Arab lands in return for peace with the Arab countries. The prevailing opinion here is that the first part of this initiative is very clear. In fact, tangible progress in this regard was made in the negotiations that took place between Olmert and President Mahmoud Abbas and that was actually drafted by the US Administration in the person of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the middle of August 2008. It is high time for the second part to emerge strongly and to be proclaimed not as “free” normalization as is said. However, silence regarding it means the continuation of the occupation and wars also for “free” and without being totally convinced that we did our best to avert war in the region. This viewpoint should be conveyed to the whole world. If peace is reached and Israel withdrew from the occupied Arab lands, this would define Israel’s position in the Middle East region not only through the exchange of ambassadors but also – as the initiative spells out – within the framework of security, economic, and political relations among all the countries in the region.

Thus, clarifying and proclaiming the Arab viewpoint and conveying it to the Israeli interior is a duty if we wish to reach a solution and not another war. From a purely negotiating angle, the issue means giving Israel another option. It also strengthens the hand of the Palestinian negotiators with Arab cards now that they have no more cards to play except threaten suicide or move from the two-state solution to the one-state solution. The Arab Palestinian option regarding normal relations gives hope for another future. If it does not succeed with Netanyahu’s government it will isolate it before the world. It will place it in a dilemma with its own people and give a breath of hope to the peace groups that have receded in the wake of the Palestinian suicide operations. Moreover, Arab effort is not only a proclamation of intentions or a contact with “To whom it may concern” to inform him of these good intentions. [Arab effort] means political and diplomatic efforts to prepare the climate to ensure the success of the negotiations through participation in reining in the parties that wish to spoil the negotiations. It is certain that the first effort should be directed toward Hamas in Gaza because it can – and it has done so in the past – spoil all peace processes through suicide or martyrdom-seeking operations in order to evoke ugly aggressive reactions by Israel that end the negotiations.

In simple terms, what is required now is the continuation of the current period of calm in order to give the negotiations a chance. Let this period extend for another year. After that, if the negotiations reach a result, they will be judged in a referendum of the Palestinian people under international supervision. However, if the negotiations do not reach a result, all the options will be open once again. Such a thing or something similar to it should take place with Syria: First, because what we are talking about is not a Palestinian-Israeli peace only but an Arab-Israeli peace where the latter withdraws from the occupied “Arab” lands, and second, because if Syria is not part of the peace process, there will be no peace process at all. How can we accomplish this? The issue needs thinking and deliberation, but there are doors in Cairo and in Ankara that can do a lot. What is important is not to leave the Palestinians alone and not to let another opportunity be lost!

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said

Abdel Monem Said is the director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.

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