Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is in a difficult position. The Palestinian negotiators linked the continuation of direction negotiations with Israel – which were launched with great difficulty and are still at an early stage – with an extension to the partial freeze on settlement construction; something that has not materialized from the Israeli side, despite international pressure, in particular from Washington, who are sponsoring the current negotiations.
Abbas can either adhere to his previous position and break off negotiations, as demanded by Hamas – thereby returning to square one and waiting an indefinite period of time until the conditions are deemed appropriate for negotiations, if there is still something to negotiate for at this time – or perform a “tactical retreat” in the same manner that he has previously. This tactic is not new in politics and diplomacy and would see a continuation of negotiations in the hope of reaching a final agreement that resolves all the outstanding problems, including the issue of settlement construction, following the demarcation of the Palestinian state.
Indicators suggest that the Palestinians are inclined to continue negotiating, for as Abbas said in Paris on his return from New York, the Americans have a new outlook, while [Palestinian President adviser] Nabil Abu Rudaynah’s remarks also give the same impression, especially after he stressed that this was an opportunity that should not be missed, even if a complete settlement freeze would represent the most appropriate atmosphere for negotiations. It seems that the Palestinian negotiators will wait for Arab support from the Arab League’s monitoring committee that is scheduled to meet in the first week of October.
When the Palestinians are studying their decision, they must be sure to take into account its pros and cons, as this something that must be the most important factor in any rational decision. Through simple calculation, we find that withdrawing from the negotiations at this time will not give the Palestinians anything, or stop settlement construction. On the contrary, the problem will be even greater when new negotiations commences, whether this is months or years from now, this is not to mention the atmosphere of violence that will emerge in the absence of any hope. This is something that will create new consequences on the ground that nobody can predict.
On the other hand, continuing with direct negotiations will give the Palestinian negotiators a more favorable position at the negotiation table, in front of the international powers and the negotiations sponsors as this shows that the Palestinians are the party that is keen to continue towards peace and search for solutions that don’t lead to obstruction of or withdrawal from, the negotiations. In addition, this also gives the Palestinians more opportunity to explore the features of a final solution – something that would be registered and documented [by the negotiating parties] – as well as [explore] the international agreements and guarantees that will be made to ensure this. The Palestinian negotiators should not waste the momentum they have built up from the current round of direct negotiations, or the interest that the US is currently taking in this. Evidence of the US interest came in Barack Obama’s speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations, which focused on the issue of peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and his hope that there will be a meeting next year to pave the way for a Palestinian state joining the UN.
The road will not be easy, as there are those in the Palestinian ranks who want to block the path of the negotiations and place obstacles in front of it because they are fundamentally opposed to such negotiations. There are also many on the Israeli side who are fundamentally against the negotiations, and instead wish a continuation of the status quo. This effectively means the unchecked spread of Israeli settlements, which would significantly change the situation on the ground until over time there would be nothing left to negotiate.
However, this opportunity is worth the risk. It is worth negotiating until the end of the road, overcoming all obstacles and surprises that appear here and there, so that at least we would see where this road leads. It is likely that the Palestinian Authority will gain international support and momentum throughout the various stages of negotiations, and it is [also] likely that this momentum would later expand to include other parties such as Syria and Lebanon.