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US President Barak Obama has himself declared that the attempt he made for launching Palestinian-Israeli negotiations based on halting settlement construction has ended. Netanyahu challenged him, declaring that he will not freeze settlement construction. Afterward, the US president invited Netanyahu for a meeting at the White House. He even announced on behalf of the superpower that success had been made on which we can build.

Palestinian President Abbas, who traveled to the Washington meeting from the West Bank, has backtracked on all his stances as though he were saying that since the US president backtracked on his stance what he could do. He stated, repeated, and asserted that he would not go to talks unless settlement construction was stopped. Yet, he did go, and after the White House meeting, which has a very deep significance, notwithstanding all that had been said that it was a meaningless meeting, President Abbas said: “The Netanyahu Government is indeed a problem; there is no common ground for talks. Settlement construction will continue; Jerusalem is not on the table for negotiations, and the refugee issue is out of the discussion. They reject a two-state solution. So what are we going to discuss, and on what shall wee agree?”

These questions are indeed correct: What are we going to discuss, and on what are we going to agree? The answer to this question is very simple from the Palestinian viewpoint. There is nothing to discuss with Israel and there is nothing to agree on with Israel. However, no one agrees with this self-evident truth; neither President Barak Obama, nor President Mahmud Abbas, and each has his own reasons and motives.

President Obama leads the superpower that brought the State of Israel to existence; it protects and arms the State of Israel and has encouraged it to wage successive wars against the Arabs and Palestinians. It is the superpower that sees that Israel offers permanent strategic services to the United States in threatening the Arab world, keeping it under control, and preventing it from rebelling against the overwhelming US influence in the region. So much so that former Israeli Prime Minister Menahem Begin challenged the then US president (during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war), requesting enormous aid. He said: Israel serves the United States at a costless than that of any US Army’s military base.

The time has now come when the US president believes that Israel has to comply with the US political tactics to placate the Arab and Muslim world (according to Obama’s Cairo speech). However, when viewpoints differed with those of Israel’s, the US president opted to preserve Israel as a US base, leaving it freedom of political action with the Palestinians as it deems appropriate. In this sense, it transpires that Obama’s Islamic speech in Cairo was no more than play on words, and that by adopting this practical stance, he complies with the same course with which all former US presidents had complied. The basis of this course is protecting Israel against Palestinians and Arabs as a US interest.

Back to the position adopted by President Abbas, who said he unwillingly traveled to Washington, and who himself questioned the usefulness of negotiations with Israel by saying: “What are we to discuss, and on what are we going to agree?” And yet he himself gave a strange answer to these questions, which can be summed up in that there is no problem with Israel; the problem is only with Binyamin Netanyahu. He said this after the Palestinians negotiated with six Israeli governments since the Oslo agreement up to this day without reaching any kind of solution; and he said this after he himself negotiated with three Israeli governments without reaching any solution. But still President Abbas is optimistic, indeed very optimistic, to the extent that he revealed a secret that we had known nothing about before now. He said that he had very good relations with the Ehud Olmert government, which had been in power before the Netanyahu government, to the point that he had reached with it a solution to the most complicated step in the negotiating process, namely, defining the border and the land over which they negotiated. He said: “If we demarcated the border, we would end the problem of settlement construction, and would settle the problem of water and of Jerusalem.”

Abbas told us another secret about which we had known nothing before, that is, after he reached a solution to the border issue with Olmert, the two parties began drawing the maps that defined the land that would be exchanged. Abbas surprised us with what could not be expected when he said: At this point we did not agree.

This overly optimistic attitude toward the Israeli governments, which has no basis except in the secret that is unknown even to those who closely follow up this process, requires President Abbas to say that there is a need to continue negotiations with the Israeli government, and even with the Netanyahu government if it agrees to start from where the (secret) negotiations with Olmert left off. Is this conclusion true? According to Abbas’ statements, we find out that this conclusion is not true, and that negotiations between him and the Netanyahu government have been continuing and that relations between them are very good, and are as good as they were with the Olmert government. He firmly said: “I have absolutely not broken off the dialogue with Israel regarding security, economic issues, and day-to-day life affairs. There is no rupture between me and the Israeli government. There are differences over how to begin the political negotiations. When we agree, we will start the dialogue.”

According to President Abbas, cooperation in security issues is not politics; neither is stopping the uprising against the occupation. Also, according to him, ending the fedayeen action and regarding it as unlawful is not politics. Politics is only “agreement on border and differences over the maps of the border.” According to him, even the issue of the Palestinian refugees can be solved away from politics as part of three points:

First, Some Palestinians may return to Israel

Second, some Palestinians may turn to the homeland [West Bank and Gaza]

Third, some Palestinians will hold Palestinian nationality and will not be a burden on any country.

Can we see how easy it is to solve the problem of the six million Palestinians? There is another clause that will contribute to solving the refugee issue, a clause that has nothing to do with negotiations or political solutions. It is a purely Palestinian innovation. In the PLO’s Executive committee that has been recently formed in the West Bank, a new department named (the Expatriates Department) was created. Given this new department, which a notable leftist (of the Palestinian neoconservative leftists) will take charge of it, we will henceforth have to deal with two types of the Palestinians who were expelled from their homeland: Palestinian refugees and Palestinian expatriates. So the United Nations will be busy for a long time defining who is a refugee and who is an expatriate. And from now on, every Israeli official could declare that he refuses to discuss the issue of refugees before a census is conducted in all capitals of the world over the number of refugees and the number of expatriates in order to know over what to talk and negotiate!

If we continue discussion of these issues in this way, all issues would become out of context, and the absurdity of the negotiations would reach a new height. Neither the tripartite meeting in Washington was a step toward a political settlement, nor Abbas’ analyses about the good Olmert government and its maps, which only needed further negotiations, was a step toward a settlement.

A settlement has one address, namely Netanyahu in his capacity as Israel’s Prime Minister. All Israeli prime ministers have refused to reach a settlement with the Palestinians because they want the land and the land alone with all its settlements and settlers, water, and its scared basin. They all have wished they could expel the rest of the Palestinian people. This is the truth, and in light of which everyone should conclude what everyone’s responsibilities are. As for President Obama, history will put on record that he delivered a “strange” speech in Cairo, which then got lost in the welter of developments.

Bilal Al-Hassan

Bilal Al-Hassan

Bilal Al-Hassan is a distinguished journalist and political analysts specializing in Arab–Israeli affairs. He is based in Paris.

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