By Bilal Al-Hassan
The United States is basically a self-appointed leader of the "peace process" between the Palestinians and Israel. It also happens to be the world's remaining superpower. As such, one would expect its allies, especially its pampered ally Israel, to listen when it speaks, but that is not what we see. The representative of the USA is reduced to the status of an ordinary delegate at the peace talks to the extent that any Israeli official can tell him not to exceed what Israel wants to happen.
Ex-Senator George Mitchell, President Obama's delegate to manage the Palestinian negotiations with the Israelis, is a living example of this cartoon image. He said in advance that he is disappointed at the failure of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to respond to his requests. And he is starting to show his age, as if the frustrations of dealing with Israeli intransigence are wearing him down. He has to listen to Netanyahu's terms, which must be met before the Israeli PM will authorise the development of the negotiations, and then listen to requests from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas before the approval of the switch from indirect to direct talks. In the face of conflicting demands he can do nothing and returns to Washington to tell his President of the latest failure, and so the cycle continues. We get used to hearing that the negotiations are absurd, but the real absurdity is the way that the most powerful country in the world is managing them.
Moreover, there is another ridiculous scenario playing out between the Palestinian negotiator and the Israeli negotiator. It was announced that Ehud Barak, Israel's defence minister is to meet with Salam Fayyad, the PA's Prime Minister, but scrutiny of the agenda for the two men reveals some strange goings-on. Fayyad insists on the need to lift the Israeli blockade on Gaza fully. Even though this is conditional on the basis of the 2005 Crossings Agreement, it is a plus point for Fayyad. It gives rise to three discussion points: The presidential guard is to control the crossings (to ensure the exclusion of Hamas, the de facto government in Gaza); Israel is to manage to the crossings via surveillance cameras; and all crossings are to be observed by European Union monitors.
Putting these issues to one side, another list has been drawn up by Salam Fayyad and put before the Israeli negotiator:
- An end to Israeli military incursions into West Bank cities
- To allow a Palestinian security presence outside the Palestinian cities, to be able to move from zone "A" to zone "B". [This is something that Israel" refuses, even though the Israeli newspapers are full of articles praising the Palestinian security forces for their prominent role, as they say in Israeli terms, in tackling Palestinian "terrorism", which means in Palestinian terms tackling those who resist the occupation.]
- An end to settlement growth, particularly in Jerusalem, and stopping the planned evacuation of Jerusalem residents (house demolitions, the expulsion of the population, the expulsion of the citizens of Gaza).
- Lifting Israeli checkpoints (approximately 400), so that the PA can extended its institutions outside the cities.
These points highlight a very clear fact, the elephant in the room which no one talks about; Israel's blockade of the West Bank. It is – as is made apparent by Fayyad's demands a siege that is no less cruel than the siege of Gaza, and yet while (almost) everyone is demanding the blockade on Gaza to be lifted, no one is calling for the siege on the West Bank to be removed likewise.
Salam Fayyad's dilemma is that holding this position may attract global convoys of solidarity with the West Bank, which will bring its own raft of problems for the PA, not least because such convoys would have to go by land.
While George Mitchell's chances of success are fading, in the Fayyad-Barak talks we see Israel active on other levels, bypassing the government and going straight to departments and other parties. Three Israeli decisions in particular have serious implications:
- Military Order No. 1650, which allows for the expulsion of any citizen of the Gaza Strip living in the West Bank. Israel is now implementing this resolution, with the number of deportees now more than a thousand people.
- The decision of the Likud Party, which is the main party in Israel's coalition government, to resume settlement activity in September, upon the expiry of the temporary freeze agreed by Netanyahu "in secret" with Obama.
- The undertaking by the Jerusalem municipality to develop the broadest structural map of the city, which has not been done in fifty years.
These three decisions are examples of the political decisions we see made between Mitchell and Netanyahu, between Mitchell and Abbas, and between Fayyad and Barak. They are a practical translation of the challenges posed by the smaller country's representative to the representative of the superpower. We Palestinians and Arabs find that the great USA has no choice but to bow down to the demands of the small country, Israel. The Americans don't see it this way, of course, and they would have us believe that Washington mediates with a fully-fledged democracy and without any pressure on any party. This is patently untrue, but although American democracy does not mind imposing conditions of the Quartet, or on the Palestinian negotiators or, indeed, on any other party, it seems strangely reluctant to impose anything at all on the Israelis. And that is the biggest absurdity of all.
Source: Al Sharq Al Awsat Newspaper
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.