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Don't just resign, withdraw from the negotiations altogether

January 24, 2014 at 3:21 am

The resignation of the Palestinian negotiating team reflects the crisis of the talks between the Palestinian Authority and the Israelis. Close to twenty sessions since 30 July concentrated mainly on Israel’s security needs; it knows how to run negotiations for its own best interests and is capable of blackmailing Palestinians, especially given that they agreed to return to the talks even without a halt to settlement expansion, which has actually increased since the end of July. The negotiations are supposed to last for nine months according to the agenda proposed by the US.

Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to freeze the latest intended settlement building in response to international disquiet doesn’t mean that he is going to cancel it. He will let the storm die down and then give the go-ahead yet again. For the negotiations, this will be business as usual.

The issue does not lie in the resignation of the negotiations team, because President Abbas can replace them with a new team if he actually accepts their resignation, which I doubt. The senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, once said, “Life is negotiations”. The real issue lies in the option of choosing negotiations in the first place despite Israel’s refusal to accept the Palestinian refugees’ right of return, self-determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital. The principle of negotiations was not based on the UN resolutions in these regards and was not based on stopping settlements and the 1967 borders, or negotiating the essential issues related to the essence of Palestinian rights. Unfortunately, Palestinian negotiators gave concessions gradually, until they got to the point where Israel has full control of the agenda and outcomes, which are not what the Palestinians want. However, the PA agreed to return to talks under pressure from the Americans. What’s more important, though, is that the Palestinian Authority set negotiations as the main option for itself; this was a strategic error.

The Palestinian Authority does not learn from its mistakes and has not taken on board any of the lessons to be learnt from other national liberation movements in Asia, Africa or Latin America; to be more accurate, it does not want to take these lessons into consideration. Abbas regards resistance as “terrorism” or “illegitimate violence”; he does not even want another intifada as the stones thrown would be “unjustified violence”. He wants passive popular resistance, similar to that of M. K. Gandhi and his disobedient resistance in India against the British occupation; Abbas forgets the huge differences in the nature of the two enemies. The British occupied India only to leave later on, but the Zionists came to settle in Palestine forever and to expel its people. There is also the difference in the nature of the violence used by the British and Israeli occupations.

Abbas does not realise the nature of the Israeli enemy and that is a disaster (it would be an even greater disaster if we find out that he does). The late Yasser Arafat thought that by signing the fateful Oslo agreement he would be on the threshold of the Palestinian state but he did not understand that Israel’s goal in agreeing to the gathering of the Palestinian fighters in one place was to limit their movement as revolutionaries and liberators. Unfortunately, neither Mahmoud Abbas, nor those in power in Gaza comprehend fully that the Palestinian political split undermines national unity which is regarded as the main pillar in the fight against the enemy. Hence, the PA in Ramallah pursues and arrests resistance fighters and so does the government in Gaza after agreeing a truce with Israel through the Egyptians. National unity is one of the conditions for victory and the centre of gravity for the Palestinian people on their revolutionary path towards freedom.

The PA’s security coordination with the Israelis bolsters the occupation. Indeed, through the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, Israel relieved itself of the economic and administrative burden of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. The PA has acted in Israel’s favour to dissuade active resistance against the occupation, and tied the Palestinian economy to that of Israel when the Paris Economic Convention was signed.

It looks as if the PA has forgotten its responsibilities towards Palestinians living in the diaspora by ignoring and deactivating PLO institutions. It has come to believe that the PA itself is a replacement for the PLO, but this is a big mistake. In doing so it has undermined its own case and negotiating tools with the Israelis.

Has the PA done a full audit of what has happened since Oslo was signed? It seems not. It is astonishing that it has agreed to forego its right to join the International Criminal Court, through which it could take legal action against Israel, in return for the release of relatively few long-term prisoners. The Israelis are stalling on the release of the balance of the agreed number of prisoners, but is this an effective way to get these men and women set free? Experience shows that those who are released by the Israelis with one hand can be, and often are, re-arrested soon after with the other.

It also looks as if the PA has downgraded the importance of working cohesively with the Arab world, where the Palestinian issue has slipped from the list of priorities. Its approach towards settlements and negotiations has pushed back the Arab people for whom Jerusalem and Palestine have long been important issues.

It is now feared that the Palestinian leadership will buckle under American pressure in the proposed end result of the negotiations even though it is clear that the US is not an honest broker for peace. The Americans are 100 per cent beside Israel despite occasional blips which sees harsh words exchanged between Washington and Tel Aviv; that’s all they are – words.

What’s left to say is that negotiating with Israel is the wrong choice, full stop. Never mind the resignation of the negotiating team, the PA must withdraw from negotiations completely. Only that will make the Israelis and their supporters understand that the Palestinians are serious.

This article is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Quds Al Arabi on 20 November, 2013

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.