When Egyptian President Anwar Sadat was negotiating with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David, the Israelis complicated all issues to the point that the negotiations almost failed. One of these issues was when they insisted that Egypt withdraw the bulk of its military force from the Sinai Peninsula [as a precondition to their withdrawal]. The Israeli side was adamant that no more than 80 [Egyptian] tanks be allowed to be deployed in Sinai, while the Egyptian delegation insisted that this number should be closer to 120. The Egyptians were ready to pack their bags and return to Cairo when President Sadat went to visit President Carter in order to bid him farewell. Carter admitted that the Egyptians were right, and he promised Sadat that he would put pressure on Begin [to agree to the Egyptian demand]. However Sadat surprised him by accepting the Israeli precondition and all parties resumed to the negotiations.
This is how the Camp David Accords were signed, and how Sinai, the Suez Canal, and the oil resources there were returned to Egypt. Time has proven Sadat right, and thirty tanks were not worth such contention. Sadat felt that Begin was looking for any pretext to derail the negotiations, and one hundred or even three hundred tanks would not stop future Israeli aggression.
Any Palestinian negotiator can figure out the following equation. There are three possible ways in which the Palestinian problem can be settled. The first possibility is entering negotiations following the complete freeze of settlement building, with the eventual result of removing the majority of the Israeli settlements. The second possibility is entering negotiations without first securing a freeze on settlement buildings, the result this time would be the removal of the old and new settlements. The third possibility would be simply not negotiating, and the continuation of settlement building.
Which of these three possibilities is the worst?
The last one, of course, which is not negotiating, and not securing an end to settlement building.
Let us look at what happened in the previous rounds of negotiation. In 2000, former [Palestinian] President Yasser Arafat refused to continue with negotiations which resulted in Israel resuming settlement building. As a result of this, the number of settlers in the West Bank has increased from 180,000 to around 450,000 today. This number will rise at an even faster rate due to the disruption of these negotiations because the Israeli extremists who are playing the settlement game wish to impose an Israeli presence on the ground, whether this is a human or concrete presence.
The Palestinian opposition, led by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, scared Arafat and foiled his negotiations with [then US President] Clinton, with both factions committing suicide bombings in Jerusalem and elsewhere. This resulted in Israel erecting one of the longest and most effective security walls in the world; a wall that stretches for around 400km. Not only did this wall succeed in stopping suicide attacks, it also devoured around 12 percent of the West Bank territory, splitting Palestinian villages and lands apart, and turning the lives of those living behind this wall into one of misery.
Therefore a lot of evidence asserts that time-wasting is not a tactic suited to the Palestinian case, but rather a ruse that only serves Israel’s objectives. I am talking here about the exceptional and historical opportunity [in front of us now] with the presence of Barack Obama in the White House, the presence of an impartial mediator such as George Mitchell, and Europe showing a real willingness for the establishment of a Palestinian State and Presidency that will enjoy the respect of the world.
This time Netanyahu attempted a pincer strategy in order to frustrate the American pressure. He accepted some of the US Envoy’s demands to halt the Israeli expansion in settlement building. However he persistently refused to freeze what he deemed as the natural growth [of Israeli settlements]. This invited the Palestinians to become preoccupied with the pre-negotiation conditions, thereby wasting eight precious months.
The positive thing about the Palestinian side is that the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, continued to work quietly on the project of building the institutions of a Palestinian State, acting as if the Palestinian State was due to be announced in just two years time. This is something that deserves our admiration.
The [Palestinian] State project got the attention of the Europeans last summer as a means of putting pressure on Netanyahu. They threatened that they would declare a Palestinian State without negotiations. This idea is not new except in one thing, and that is that this time it is not the Palestinians who are pushing this, but the Europeans, making this the boldest step taken against Israel since it occupied the West Bank and the Gaza Strip in 1967. This is a very important project that requires the Palestinians to show that they are the cooperative party, not the uncooperative side, but ultimately the problem is no closer to being resolved than it has ever been.