Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Handicapped Negotiations | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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The Palestinians will go to Washington to launch direct negotiations, in an effort to reach a final resolution leading to a Palestinian state. However, they [the Palestinians] are both divided and are competing in the face of a stubborn Israeli negotiator, and an [Israeli] Prime Minister who the majority of Israelis do not believe is sincere in his pursuit of genuine peace. Many describe him as a devious man who wants to defraud the Palestinians and the Americans.

The question that arises is: How can Palestinians achieve true peace, meeting their aspirations, and providing them with security and stability, whilst they are divided between the West Bank, under the administration of the Palestinian Authority, and Gaza, under the control of Hamas?

Netanyahu knows this very well and manipulates it, as he realizes that the resumption of negotiations would raise further the differences between the Palestinians, and in the process will complicate the issue of reconciliation. He is also responsible for the maneuvers to stall the negotiations, yet the blame falls upon the Palestinians, and he [Netanyahu] evades American pressure. We hear him make conflicting statements. For example, when he wants to address the Americans and the International Quartet, Netanyahu comes out and says that he is absolutely serious with regards to negotiations, and if he found himself confronted by a genuinely serious Palestinian party, then they would be surprised by the sincerity of the Israeli response.

Yet Netanyahu soon forgets this stance and returns to assume his real character, as he begins his tricks and imposes strict conditions on the Palestinians. He has maintained that he does not want negotiations with preconditions, and has convinced the Americans to the extent that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s statement proposed negotiations without preconditions, which angered Abbas and the Palestinian negotiators. They had stipulated the non-renewal of settlement construction as a condition for the resumption of negotiations. However Netanyahu reversed his position suddenly, three days ago, to place conditions in front of the Palestinians, demanding: (genuine) security arrangements, the recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state.

This situation has raised concern for the Palestinians, who replied, as expected, by rejecting the preconditions. This has played into the hands of Netanyahu, who will respond likewise by saying that he doesn’t want the Palestinians or Americans to impose preconditions, such as the continued suspension of settlement expansion. Netanyahu has also raised the concern and resentment of the Arab League, and prompted Secretary General Amr Musa to say that the position of the Israeli Prime Minister is considered to be flawed from the outset, and a negative indicator of what will happen in the upcoming negotiations.

Netanyahu knows that his right-wing base will not concede on the subject of [Israeli] settlement, and he in any case is known for his extreme right-wing positions. He has visited settlements and given both promises and several attitudes that reflect his convictions, in refusing ‘the call to return to the 1967 borders’. But it is his extraordinary ability to manipulate and maneuver that makes him aware that he can not raise the issue of the settlement resumption now. In doing so, he would present himself with an unnecessary confrontation with the Obama administration and the International Quartet, whilst uniting the position of the Palestinians, either supporting or refusing to resume negotiations. So, in order to get rid of this precondition, the Palestinians fell into his trap by announcing their rejection of preconditions in response to recent provocative statements.

Furthermore, Netanyahu was encouraged by the date set for the resumption of direct negotiations, September 2nd, which is 24 days before the expiration of the settlement freeze. During this period he will work to put a lot of demands and obstacles in front of the peace talks, prompting the Palestinian side to withdraw, and subsequently holding them responsible. Indeed, Netanyahu is waging on gaining time, instead of providing ‘genuine, heartfelt concessions’ for peace. He believes that the upcoming Congressional elections are an opportunity to coerce the Obama administration into easing pressure on Israel.

Remarkably, the Israeli public, which Netanyahu knows very well, have received the news of the resumption of direct negotiations with indifference. A number of Israeli commentators have written with skepticism about the sincerity of Netanyahu, and about his ability to manipulate and maneuver to derail the negotiations, to the extent that Nahum Barnea, a senior political analyst in the Israeli newspaper ‘Yedioth Ahronoth’, considered the negotiations now “a waste of time”. Netanyahu will stick to the principles of a ‘Jewish Israel’, and Jerusalem as “an eternal and undivided capital”. He will refuse the Palestinian refugees’ right to return, and [the establishment of] a demilitarized Palestinian state with provisional borders, until all outstanding issues have been resolved. He will do this whilst being aware that Abbas and the Palestinian negotiators will not be able to accept all these demands.

From here, it seems difficult to imagine peace with Netanyahu. The hope is that the Palestinians will not be considered the failure of the upcoming negotiations, as is likely. [Rather than see it as] an opportunity to settle political scores with each other, [Palestinians] should see the matter as a reminder of the importance of initiating reconciliation, because in reality, this is the first step towards negotiations where the Palestinians might achieve something positive. The Palestinian weakness is negligence regarding their rights, and wasting opportunities. Hamas is also responsible for this, as they do not fight. They realize that the balance of power, and their calculations of the current political situation, means that war is difficult and likely to be lost. Thus they are content with rejecting negotiations, not doing what is necessary to complete reconciliation, while the situation for those affected in Gaza is going from bad to worse. Stalled negotiations should be an additional incentive, if there is a need for incentives at all, to strive for reconciliation, for the mercy of the Palestinian people, who are stuck under the humiliation of occupation whilst subjected to their [Arab] brothers’ disputes.