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The Palestinians Revisit the Illusion of “Agreement on Principles” - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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We wouldn’t be exaggerating if we said that the direct negotiations, which began in Washington (on 2nd September 2010) between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under U.S. sponsorship and with an additional Arab presence (representatives from Egypt and Jordan), are the most futile negotiations to take place in the early 21st century. Everyone who went to Washington knows that negotiations have certain foundations, the first of these being that a reference and a goal, upon which subsequent talks are based. Yet regarding the Washington negotiations, there is no reference, nor is there a goal to be agreed upon, because the basic principle of these negotiations is that there are no preconditions.

In these negotiations, without terms of reference or specific targets, each party can say what they want, talk about the references they want, determine the demands they want, but ultimately, these are mere words. Netanyahu announced that he wanted to discuss security first and foremost, and accordingly he can adopt a position on the border issue.

President Mahmoud Abbas could reject this Israeli position, and request that Israel withdraw to its 1967 borders, only to then listen to Netanyahu dismiss this demand. In this manner, each party can contradict the position of the other party, because there is no reference to determine whether requests are consistent with approved conditions, or in violation of them. Because of this there is a prevailing atmosphere of pessimism, and many think that the negotiations will fail.

However, the negotiations may not fail, because when there is no reference, and when there is no specific goal, the balance of power between the parties becomes the sole reference, which imposes itself as a matter of fact. The balance of power here is determined by two things: The strength of the Israeli occupation, and the strength of the U.S. authority. The Israeli occupation is dominant, and is therefore able to say yes or no. The U.S. weight is completely biased towards the Israeli side, and considers solutions proposed by Israel as if it were a superpower.

For his part, President Abbas considers such proposals as inevitable, and has no option but to treat them seriously, otherwise he would be out of the political game. Although President Abbas has tried up to now, in a desperate manner, to bring about international resolutions, with political references to the road map, and several International Quartet statements, this attempt has not been accepted by other parties. His attempt is therefore a mere personal opinion, he can announce it and repeat it, but his opinion has no official presence at the negotiating table.

Even the European Union, having realized that all its international, political and economic weight have not been acknowledged, has opted to boycott the negotiations, and was not present at the opening ceremony. The European Union seeks a political role, whilst Washington and Tel Aviv both reject this. They support its participation in a funding capacity only, leaving the political agenda to be determined by others.

Our experience of Arab-Israeli negotiations serves as a good example to justify this critical outlook on the Washington negotiations. Let’s begin with the Egyptian-Israeli talks [Camp David Accords 1978], which led to a peace agreement between the two countries. Even those negotiations, which many rejected and condemned, had been conducted according to international principles. Israel did not approve of a complete withdrawal from the Sinai, yet [late Egyptian President] Sadat refused to continue with negotiations until Israel declared its consent to the principle of complete withdrawal. The second example is the Israel-Syria negotiations. Syria demanded indications of Israel’s readiness to withdraw fully from the occupied Golan Heights, as a condition for negotiations. When Israel refused to make such a pledge, the negotiations broke down, as happened in Washington (negotiations from 1991 to 1993) after the Madrid Conference, and with the indirect negotiations conducted by Turkey recently.

As for the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Netanyahu has refused to determine a specific objective (full withdrawal), yet the Palestinians have accepted to enter into this framework (without preconditions). Therefore, we would say that these negotiations are already ‘crippled’, governed by no reference, and lacking a specific objective. Here, the one remaining goal will prevail; which lies in the balance of power. Currently, the supremacy is held by the Occupiers, together with the bias of the American sponsors, who blindly side with Israel and its hostility.

Once again, despite all of this, negotiations may not fail. The Israeli side will put forth a plan that suits its own interests and aggression, and the US will apply pressure in order to render this plan acceptable. Then, in turn, the Palestinian negotiator will sign up.

What will Netanyahu offer? He will propose to start from scratch, which means to agree upon a “Declaration of Principles”, which the two sides can then negotiate over for the next ten years. The US has announced its approval of this approach (George Mitchell announced the US’s acceptance in an evening press conference held on the 2nd September 2010), and likewise President Abbas has announced his readiness to accept a temporary solution, which will develop as the negotiations proceed.

By taking such an approach, the Oslo Accords have effectively been nullified. The 1993 Agreement contained a declaration of principles, according to which the two sides entered into negotiations for 17 years. These negotiations have now come to an end, whereby there is a proposal to draft another “Declaration of Principles” from scratch.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak wrote an article in the US New York Times newspaper [published by Asharq al-Awsat] dated 1/9/2010, in which he called for the deployment of international troops in the West Bank as part of the solution. Some have been enthusiastic for such a solution, yet the legal, international and military question is: Where would such international troops be deployed? International law states that their deployment should be at the 1967 border line, to ensure calm between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, otherwise their presence would be worthless. However, Netanyahu rejects this proposal, and furthermore, he declines to even discuss the 1967 borders. Therefore, Arab hopes of a settlement will soon vanish because of Netanyahu’s plot, and the American support for him. Instead, we will just be left with the ‘Declaration of Principles’, and negotiations surrounding such an agreement for the next ten years.

Numerous Palestinians demonstrated in protest against the renewal of direct negotiations in Washington, and even some of the Palestinian Authority’s supporters were against it. Palestinian Fedayeen [commandos] have carried out operations against the Occupation, with significant and purposeful timing. It is odd that the Palestinian Authority considers all these acts as an attack against them, rather than the Occupation, and thus makes greater effort than the Occupation forces in pursuit of the fighters. This way, the state’s politics and resistance have succumbed to submission. What will remain of the Palestinians then?

Bilal Hassen

Bilal Hassen is a renowned Palestinian writer and political analyst.

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