Nine months have passed since George Mitchell was entrusted with the task of preparing a peace plan between the Arabs and Israel, which the US President took on in order to set up a Palestinian state. The US President thought that it would take him a mere two weeks to start the negotiations, but no one appears to have learned from the past.
The one thousandth plan for negotiations is currently in the process of announcing its failure, and the reason is the same one that recurs in every project of negotiations. It is the Israeli prevarication and repeated Arab stubbornness. The Arabs do not look at the finishing line where the big prize lies.
The Israelis succeeded in preoccupying Mitchell and the PA with talk about halting the settlement activity, and this move enabled them to procrastinate.
We cannot blame Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for his wasting of time because the Palestinians themselves are in line with the Israelis and the two sides engaged in a match of wrestling that wasted time and a golden opportunity. And we now see Mitchell leave us empty handed and unable to start negotiations.
I listened to statements made by chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat whom I regard with respect. He repeated the same conditions on starting the negotiations, as if negotiation were an American, not a Palestinian and Arab dream in order to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state.
In fact, I failed to understand the philosophy that makes him rigidly adhere to this condition, not because I differ with his view on the legitimacy of halting the settlement activity, but because it is a minor condition in a more important issue.
If the negotiations succeed, the settlements, including most of the ones where the Israelis live, will be evacuated, just as the Israelis evacuated the Sinai settlements after the Camp David Accord and just as the Gaza settlements were demolished when Israel withdrew from the Strip.
A final resolution will decide which settlements will be exchanged, which ones will be demolished, and which ones will be sold in a compensation process. This is the desired ending, except in one case, continuation of the occupation.
Erekat says a nice poem, but it is not practical at all. It serves the Israeli goal by blocking the plan of President Barack Obama who is in a hurry to begin negotiations. He gave himself 24 months beyond which the negotiations must not continue in order to prevent procrastination.
Very regrettably, the condition of halting the settlement activity wasted one of the most important opportunities for negotiations in the history of the Arabs, represented by the presence of a fair and enthusiastic president in the White House and the designation of Mitchell as an impartial negotiator who has no hostile agenda.
The PA will lose these two opportunities and will have to wait for another historical cycle until a new US president has been elected, with the hope that he will have the same sincere desire, which is uncertain.
Historically, the US presidential cycle shows that every president who is enthusiastic about achieving peace in the Middle East leaves the White House to be usually succeeded by a hesitant and indifferent president.
Former President Carter had a desire for peace and succeeded in enabling Egypt and Israel to sign the most important peace accord. He was succeeded by Reagan who shut the White House door eight years.
Then came Bush Senior who created a [favorable] climate in Madrid, but he was succeeded by Clinton who slept seven years and woke up in the eighth year to begin successful negotiations. But these negotiations evaporated because of the Arabs’ lingering. He was succeeded by George W. Bush who ruled for eight years and only opened a small window to the road map.
Then came Obama who made the establishment of a Palestinian state his first official plan, but this plan was torpedoed by Palestinian conditions that played a disruptive role and served the Israeli side.
Yet, Mitchell secured some concessions from Netanyahu who made a commitment for a partial halt to the settlement building. It is considered the biggest commitment ever made by any Israeli prime minister before him. However, Erekat rejected these concessions, and his stand made me think that he was working in the government of Ismail Haniyeh. So, what will happen now?