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The Tedious Negotiation Game - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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If we are judging by appearances, then Benjamin Netanyahu, the Prime Minister of Israel, is a terrifying monster. He is so terrifying that he is able to challenge the President of the world’s only superpower. He can say no to him, dictate to him, and then be coy with him in order to dictate further. Netanyahu often rejects the messages and offers which he receives from the U.S. President, and in the best of cases, his acceptance is conditional upon the US President giving in to his new demands. However, is this image correct?

If we are judging by appearances, we can also note that there are tripartite communications under way between the U.S., Israel, and the Palestinian Authority [PA], with the aim of reaching a tripartite understanding, which would allow the resumption of direct negotiations. Even George Mitchell – known as a miracle worker for achieving peace in Northern Ireland – has come in person to put everyone back on the negotiation road. This time, he has come to Ramallah, alongside another US envoy whom he can consult when necessary. However, is this what is really happening?

To answer this question, I will put forth what I believe to be the correct answer. Netanyahu appears to be challenging U.S. President Barack Obama, because Obama is not pressuring him, but is instead meeting all his demands against the Palestinians. This is evidenced by the fact that he has supplied weapons [to Israel], in order to strengthen Netanyahu’s army even further. Obama complies with Netanyahu’s wishes, and aims to satisfy him, so that Netanyahu will agree to one thing. In other words, the Israeli Prime Minister is allowed to keep all his objectives against the Palestinians, on the sole condition that he resumes the negotiation process with them. A return to negotiations with the Palestinians would provide President Obama with political support within the U.S., allowing him to claim that his foreign policy has been successful.

In spite of such simple demands being made of him, Netanyahu remains stubborn. But why? We must consider recent U.S. attitudes towards events in the Middle East, in order to answer this question. Such stances can be summarized as follows: America has mounted severe pressure on Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, whilst applying constant pressure towards Iran, and covert pressure on Jordan, where Netanyahu seeks to deploy his troops. In relation to all these U.S. stances, Israel remains in the middle, or ‘sitting on the fence’. This is because the American policy of continual pressure requires the use of Israel at certain decisive and strategic moments. Because Netanyahu knows that Obama is preparing him for such a decisive moment, he is also aware that he cannot abandon him for the sake of the Palestinians. Thus, the Israeli Prime Minister is able to keep demanding and rejecting endlessly, without fearing the American reaction.

Whilst Obama has sent his envoy George Mitchell to mediate, and perform a new miracle, he is well aware that Mitchell has lost the ability to do so. He has lost his personal ‘shine’, to the extent that he now appears in the media as someone who can do nothing but laugh foolishly. He is like a novice actor who knows that his only job is to remain under the camera lights, even if in reality he is simply a novice, or a failed actor.

Mitchell came to Ramallah to brief the PA on the negotiations between Obama and Netanyahu, yet he did not conduct negotiations with the PA. He only informed them of the information he had in his possession, and the proposals that have been offered to Netanyahu, in the manner of ‘keeping them posted’.

For example, Mitchell would say to the Palestinian negotiators: Netanyahu has stipulated that the American spy, [Jonathan] Pollard, should be released and presented to Israel as a national champion, even though this request has nothing to do with the Palestinians. Michel would only disclose this information as a form of gossip, a distraction from the negotiations.

Obama has presented Netanyahu with a highly appealing deal; in the hope of forming another strategic alliance, in addition to the existing and permanent strategic alliance between the two countries. The deal incorporates the following points:

Firstly, Israel must adhere to a freeze on settlement construction for another 90 days – with the exception of the city of Jerusalem. In return, the U.S. pledges not to demand any more settlement freezes during the Palestinian-Israeli negotiation process, meaning that the issue of settlement construction will effectively be bypassed in any future negotiations.

Secondly, the U.S. promises Israel that it shall veto any Security Council decision against Israel. In theory, this veto would be used against any Palestinian demand made to the Security Council, if it was unilaterally agreed upon that a Palestinian state should be formed in accordance with the 1967 borders. This means that the Palestinian negotiation team’s contingency plan [to appeal to the Security Council], should negotiations fail, is effectively redundant.

Thirdly, the U.S. will support Israel in its demand to deploy its troops 14 km inside the Jordan Valley area. In doing so, Obama is supporting Netanyahu’s assertion that Israel’s security-related demands should be resolved before any peaceful settlement is considered with the Palestinians.

Fourthly, the U.S. will provide Israel with the latest American war planes, in order to promote its military potential. This serves America’s permanent goal in the region, which is to maintain the presence of Israel as a force to threaten all Arabs.

Despite all these temptations, Netanyahu continues to reject America’s offers, and remains coy. In reality, he would like to accept all Obama’s proposals, without having to cease settlement construction, but he does not say so explicitly. It may be that Netanyahu is stalling to gain Obama’s approval for his latest trick; namely to freeze settlement construction only in areas where Israel intends to withdraw from. This would mean that construction would not be suspended in settlements where a ‘land swap’ principle has been agreed, a principle which the Palestinians have accepted. These settlements are located within the Jerusalem district, and thus Israel could easily seize the city, declare it as Jewish, or even as the “eternal” capital of the state of Israel.

This all is happening whilst Obama continues to ignore Arab interests and Palestinian rights. Perhaps this is because the Arabs demand nothing, or because they do not threaten any action. They do not threaten to reactivate the Arab economic boycott of Israel, to suspend diplomatic relations, to withdraw the ‘land swap’ principle, or to cease Palestinian and Arab security cooperation with Israel.

In view of all of this, Obama continues to make proposals to Netanyahu, who remains ambiguous. The negotiation game continues as if the U.S. was dealing with another superpower, yet we know this is not the case in reality.

Bilal Hassen

Bilal Hassen is a renowned Palestinian writer and political analyst.

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