In Cairo, the Arabs gave Mahmoud Abbas a cover for indirect negotiations with the Israelis in which George Mitchell will take on the role of mediator. But the problem that emerged following the meeting of Arab foreign ministers is that those in agreement did not justify their positions whilst those in opposition did not have a convincing argument.
Someone in the know told me, “This is a mandate that should have been given in the sixties, not in 2010.” One Arab diplomat said pessimistically, “[These are] negotiations on how to resume negotiations!” However an Arab foreign minister attending the conference said, “On the contrary, they are serious negotiations,” adding that the aim of these negotiations is to give legitimacy to Mahmoud Abbas and to pull the rug from under those practicing one-upmanship.
However, what Mr. Amr Musa said was also interesting as he stated that the Arabs have decided to give the Americans a four-month deadline and after that the Arabs will see what they accomplished. With all my respect Mr. Musa, the question here is what are the Arabs intending to do after the four-month deadline? Occupy Washington? The Arab minister replied laughing, “The aim of the time limit is for us to test the Americans, and in light of their position, they might be given another deadline!” He added that the Americans are saying “that they are serious and they will come with a comprehensive offer and they will not wait four months!”
On the other hand, we find that the Syrians are opposing [giving] the Arab mandate to Abbas based on the pretext that Palestinian Abbas does not need a mandate and he is capable of making his [own] decision. The meaning here is obvious; the Syrians do not want an Arab precedent such as this and they want to give legitimacy to Hamas to attack Abbas. The question here is as long as the Syrians believe that the Palestinians have the right to make their own decisions by themselves then why is Damascus getting involved in the Palestinian issue in the first place?
However, despite everything, the predicament that the Arabs have found themselves in is that they go too far in criticizing others without paying attention to their own mistakes. If criticism was directed at Washington today because it stepped back from putting pressure on the Israelis to stop settlement construction (which is completely true) then why did the Arabs give Netanyahu the opportunity in the first place to thwart Obama’s efforts or their own efforts? They also lifted the pressure off the Israelis when they insisted on stopping settlement construction knowing that [in the past] we saw that the settlements were not an obstacle, for example, during the Israeli withdrawal from Sinai, just as they did not cause the Syrians to despair over their right to regain the Golan Heights until today. Here we have [Syrian Foreign Minister] Walid al Muallem suggesting gradual withdrawal from the Golan Heights in the same way as the Sinai agreement!
The mistake that the Arabs commit is that they easily fall into the Israeli trap. The simplest example of that is al Muallem’s response to Netanyahu’s comment that he is prepared to visit Damascus. Instead of putting Netanyahu in an awkward position and revealing his tricks, the Syrian response was confused. If the Syrian responded to Netanyahu by saying “declare a gradual or immediate withdrawal from the Golan Heights and you’re welcome [to come here] or we will come to you,” we would have said “well done al Muallem!” Commenting on this point one Arab diplomat said “this was the genius of [Anwar] Sadat!”
The problem today to which some people are not paying attention is the lack of a political horizon and this will pave the way for outbidding and adventurism.