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Tough Questions Amidst Direct Negotiations - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Delegations negotiate in Jerusalem, whilst jets carry out raids on the people of Gaza.

Talks shuttle from Washington to Cairo to Jerusalem, whilst Israeli detention operations in the West Bank continue everyday unabated.

In all these situations, the Palestinian negotiator never protests or objects, neither does he request a cessation of the raids and detentions in the ‘A Zone’, an area supposed to be under Palestinians control.

The negotiations in Jerusalem need to stop. For along time, the world as a whole, including the West, considered Jerusalem as an occupied city. Accordingly, the world was united in its rejection of two issues: Israel’s decision to annex Jerusalem immediately after it had occupied it in 1967, and later on, its decision to announce Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Whenever a Western minister paid an official visit to Israel, and a meeting was arranged with an Israeli minister in Jerusalem, the Western minister would refuse. For the Western minister, the meeting implied, although indirectly, an admission that the city had become part of Israel. A position such as this was a real support to the Palestinian and Arab stance, which has so far rejected Israeli resolutions with regards to Jerusalem.

For years, and in particular since the Oslo Accords were signed, the Palestinian negotiator took a lenient view of this particular issue, and thus Palestinian-Israeli negotiations were held in Jerusalem. When the Palestinian negotiator neglected this serious and sensitive issue, Western diplomats began to adopt similarly lenient positions by accepting Israeli invitations to hold official meetings in Jerusalem. Little by little, this became something ordinary, but its essence reflected genuine Western recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. This was a political victory for Israel, albeit one that it acquired indirectly, as a result of the Oslo Accords’ catastrophic consequences.

Now, the Palestinian delegation, presided over by the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Palestinian Liberation Organization and the Fatah Movement [Mahmoud Abbass], is going to Jerusalem to meet with the negotiating Israeli delegation, thus contributing to the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel. This is despite the fact that Mahmoud Abbass always reiterates that Jerusalem should be the capital of the Palestinian state, and that he has insisted on putting forth this issue within the framework of the current negotiations.

What if the Palestinian Authority President said that he would not accept a negotiation meeting in Jerusalem? What if he demanded that the meeting should be held in a place other than Jerusalem? Certainly, the Israeli negotiator would strongly object but the impartial US sponsor would be extremely embarrassed, for he cannot say that Jerusalem is part of the state of Israel, neither can he risk assuming an anti-Israeli government position. Here rises the question: What if such an embarrassment were to take place? Would this jeopardize the negotiating position of Mahmoud Abbas? Or would it further consolidate his position?

We say this whilst recalling that the late President Yasser Arafat was denied even crossing Jerusalem’s streets by Israel. Yasser Arafat was forbidden from taking a step upon any of Jerusalem’s streets, but why? The Israelis were well aware that Arafat had the intention of creating the ‘whole’ of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine. They were always being reminded of Arafat’s famous phrase that someday a Palestinian boy will raise the Palestinian flag from above the minarets and churches of Jerusalem, and for this attitude, the Israelis always sought to punish him. Is there anyone now in the Palestinian Authority’s leadership who rejects Yasser Arafat’s vision? Is there anyone in the Palestinian Authority’s leadership who has informed the Israeli rulers of this rejection? We do not know whether or not this has happened, but the Palestinian leniency with regards to accepting the principle of holding meetings in Jerusalem is perplexing, and raises difficult questions.

In the midst of the negotiations, an Israeli patrol entered the West Bank (Tolkarm zone) and killed a Palestinian dissident (Iyad Shelbaya) in cold blood (why didn’t they detain him?). The patrol claimed that he was a military official from al-Qassam Battalion, and that he was held responsible for two suicide attacks that took place recently in the West Bank. This event took place without the objection of the Palestinian negotiator, or, for example, him demanding that assassinations be ceased, at least during the negotiation period. So, has Palestinian negotiator submitted to Israel’s right to assassinate Palestinians in areas under the Palestinian Authority’s control, for belonging to the Fedayeen, without any objection? The Palestinian Authority must provide an answer to this question.

Yet, the negotiating Palestinian Authority should first answer a more embarrassing question. Sometime ago, the Palestinian Fedayeen carried out a suicide attack in the “C Zone” – an area entirely under the control of the Israeli security forces, in terms of both administration and security. The great surprise was that Israel did not react; it neither entered a town or village, nor did it detain any Palestinians, rather it remained silent. Then came a greater surprise; the Palestinian security services moved to investigate the attack, which was carried out by Fedayeen, outside its security jurisdiction, in the “C Zone”. This is something which would never have occurred anywhere else in the world. Nevertheless, the Palestinian security troops began to arrest and detain, and after each wave of arrests ended, a new campaign began until the number of detainees reached nearly 700. After a period of arrests, the Palestinian security troops proudly announced that it had identified the members of the cell responsible for the suicide attack in the “C Zone”. The forces also announced immediately, without being asked by anyone, that they had not provided the information in their possession to the Israeli security apparatuses.

How can we interpret this incident? There is only one way to understand this this; the Palestinian security troops, which West Bank residents named after the United States General Dayton, carried out the operation on behalf of the Israeli security troops. Is this the task of the Palestinian security forces? Is it now their responsibility to safeguard Israeli security? Why don’t these troops move to protect the Palestinians when they are assassinated or detained by Israeli security? Is this the security cooperation they are talking about now?

One last embarrassing point remains. Nobody believes, after all that has happened, that the Palestinian security troops declined to present to the Israel security forces the information they had acquired (following their campaign detention and torture). Anybody can deduce that the Palestinian security troops provided information that subsequently led to the assassination of Iyad Shelbaya, in his capacity as an official in the al-Qassam Battalion.

As long as this all is actually happening, why won’t the ongoing direct negotiations be successful, since there already appears to be a full commitment to Israeli demands? The coming months will bring to an answer to this question, and we expect that political cooperation will then correspond with the current ‘security cooperation’.

Bilal Hassen

Bilal Hassen is a renowned Palestinian writer and political analyst.

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