By Dr. Clovis Maksoud
The meeting of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee last week was characterized by more than usual precision in its terminology, describing what is going on between the Palestinian Authority and Israel as mere "talks" rather than negotiations. This is closer to the truth and is a positive sign.
The transition from the use of the word "negotiations" to "talks" is an important correction as there haven't been what any reasonable person might call "negotiations" since Oslo. Negotiations assume a prior agreement between the parties on the desired result, and the negotiations are the process of identifying stages, conditions and mechanisms necessary to achieve the previously agreed outcome. In this case, that should be the existence of two states (Israel and Palestine), each with full sovereignty over their land, sea and air space.
Hence, the committee's recognition that what are "resuming" are "talks" and not negotiations means that the legal status of Israel in East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip has to be defined as "the occupying power". Occupation is temporary, no matter how long it is, and negotiation is a way to shorten it, but negotiations will not work until and unless Israel acknowledges that it is the occupying power in the Palestinian territories, including East Jerusalem. If that is achieved, then negotiations can actually be regarded as a means of resisting the occupation.
From this perspective, the statement of the ministerial level Arab Committee has corrected a mistake used by the Israelis to exempt themselves from the stigma of occupation and thus the need to comply with the Fourth Geneva Convention. It is necessary, therefore, for the Palestinian Authority to refrain from claiming that it negotiates with the Israelis and for the post of Chief Negotiator to be abolished. The PLO must back this up and not also claim that it is "negotiating", as this has created unprecedented confusion and false hopes among the Palestinians. The people of occupied Palestine have seen Israel "negotiate" with the PA while continuing to seize land through accelerated settlement expansion and the ongoing "Judaisation" of Jerusalem. All of this has taken place in addition to the separation wall, brutality and assassinations carried out by Israel.
When the Committee calls for a "full cessation of settlement, including in East Jerusalem", it is requiring Israel to "carry out its legal obligations". But it is clear that Israel does not believe that it has any legal obligations, and that is almost certainly because it does not consider itself to be an occupying power. The Palestinian territories occupied by Israel have been occupied by military means and are known to the Israelis as "Judea and Samaria", not the West Bank. Expansion of the state has been continuous since its creation in 1948, when it actually occupied more land than had been allocated by the UN partition plan. The Palestinians were driven from the land in an act of what has been called "ethnic cleansing" which included massacres and forced expulsions, creating the refugee problem that remains to this day.
Although the use of specific terminology is positive, shortcomings in the process remain. The actions of Israel since the launch of the Arab peace initiative in 2002 need to be considered and reviewed, as they pose serious challenges. This includes the murder of Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh in Dubai and the Israeli rejection of the UN's Goldstone Report (and the Palestinian Authority's strange attempt to distance itself from the report, as if it didn't concern the PA at all) and, in a related move, the PA's move to delay consideration of the UN's Falk report until July. All of this had to be considered when the Committee looked at the possibility of supporting "indirect negotiations" as brokered by the US.
If the US administration is determined to move forward, shouldn't the next Arab summit in Libya demand proposals from the USA that include an Israeli admission that it is an occupying power? If even that obvious fact is not admissible by Israel, then the idea of "negotiations" will fail and Israel will continue to get away with its expansion of settlements in the face of US presidential requests for a freeze on such activity.
According to the statement issued by the Ministerial Committee for the Arab Peace Initiative "the committee recalled it had already asked for written American guarantees before getting into the process of direct negotiations"; but what happened next? Did the United States agree to provide "written guarantees"? Or was this a new requirement, even though the committee says "it has already asked for it"?
What's important in this regard is that if this request was fulfilled, then getting into the negotiations process is possible, but if it was ignored, where are the guarantees? If they have not been given, what next?
According to the Ministerial Committee, in case of "the failure of the indirect talks", the next Arab summit in July will call for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council to consider the Arab -Israeli conflict from various angles (with a request that the US does not use its veto to block matters). This conclusion falls under the prevailing concept of "realism".
All things considered, didn't the Arab Committee take into account the unlikely possibility of the US actually making a stand against Israeli interests when it has a Congress and Senate which back Israel unconditionally? Or that the US mid-term election is due this year, which makes it unlikely that President Obama will do anything to upset the pro-Israel lobby in America?
The Secretariat of the Arab League must conduct many detailed studies in order to provide member states with proposals and information that will develop a united front on this important issue. Such committees need to be in a position to make efficient and inspirational policies for the Arab nation, stimulating support and empowerment and building bridges between the ruling classes and the people.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.