After a brief visit to Ramallah John Kerry announced, from Amman, that negotiations would resume early next week. The announcement came 24 hours after the Palestinian Authority had announced its refusal to resume negotiations. The Palestinian Authority’s conditions that all negotiations be based on 1967 borders with concessions made on both sides, the implementation of a settlement freeze and the release of political prisoners were exchanged for American economic support. The negotiations are expected to take between six to nine months.
The collapse of the Palestinian position happened quickly and without a clear explanation. The Palestinian leadership spokesmen deny Kerry’s announcement that negotiations will resume and claim that what will take place in Washington is the finalising of conditions for resuming negotiations. The decision to resume negotiations occurred despite a lack of agreement on all the reference points for the negotiations.
Why has President Abbas (Abu Mazen) agreed to resume negotiations and halt the United Nations bid without reaching a national consensus and without Israel committing to any Palestinian conditions? Israel has authority over the release of all political prisoners (both pre-Oslo prisoners and others) the first group will be released in four stages, beginning in the second month of negotiations.
Abu-Mazen has agreed to this because he knows he has no other option; negotiations give the Palestinian Authority its legitimacy. Without negotiations Palestine will begin to break into an uprising much like its Arab neighbours resulting in the Palestinian Authority losing its legitimacy and its justifications as to why it should continue to be a source of power. The ‘Palestinian negotiator’ returns time and again to the negotiating table, each time making new concessions and causing more harm than good in order to preserve the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority has become the end and not the means through which to achieve national goals.
Another explanation as to why the Palestinian Authority mysteriously agreed to return to the negotiating table is the fear that the U.S. administration could blame them for the failure of Kerry’s efforts, resulting in American and Israeli imposed sanctions on the Palestinian Authority and perhaps the suspension of all relations. Such a move could lead to its collapse. Representatives of the Palestinian Authority claim that the damage that will come from a round or two of negotiations would be less than not having them at all and that Palestinian rights will not be traded for anything. This includes the political prisoners whose freedom should not be a reference point for negotiations but should come from the development of a strategy that would ensure their liberation while still preserving the cause for which they fought.
The third issue is that the Palestinian Authority is waiting to see what the United States will promise. Yet, they do not learn from their past experiences. They have gained nothing from the United States’ written and unwritten promises from the Oslo Accords (and its 34 failed commitments) to the Wye agreements and Camp David Summit. Not to mention the Taba talks, the Road Map, the promises of George Bush and Condoleeza Rice and Obama’s promises in his first term; there is no reason to believe that the fate of Kerry’s promises will be any different this time.
The fourth issue is that the American administration may be exerting pressure on Israel to take a more lenient position in their perceptions of Arabs and Palestinians so that an Arab-Israeli settlement can be reached. This would allow them to take advantage of the changes that are occurring in the Arab world or at least weaken the Arab opposition groups and strengthen the moderate camp. Syria is currently in a state of civil war, the Muslim Brotherhood have reached the peak of their ability to win in Tunis and in the parliamentary and presidential elections in Egypt and due to the isolation of Morsi, they are experiencing a thunderous decline in power. In addition, Hezbollah is engaged in the Syrian war while Iran is preparing to defend itself against the threat of sanctions if it does not end its nuclear program.
The fifth issue that may have prompted the Palestinian Authority to resume negotiations is their desire to access the four billion dollars promised to them by Secretary Kerry, especially in light of their recent financial crisis. This could explain why when public negations are suspended secret talks are taking place instead. These ‘exploratory’ talks are often in the form of meetings between the Palestinian President and leaders and Shimon Peres, Tzipi Livni or members of the Knesset.
It would have been much better had the negotiations resumed without preconditions and had the Palestinian Authority continued to address the United Nations. One of the biggest mistakes made by the Palestinian leadership is that they continue to make concessions and continuously agree to neutralise international law and the international community, especially when it comes to distinguishing between settlements in Jerusalem and settlements in the rest of the occupied West Bank. These actions legitimise the settlements and set a precedent for the formation of future settlements.
The constant return to the negotiating table can be explained by the need to preserve the Palestinian Authority. Without negotiations, the Palestinian Authority would collapse. The authority is constrained by the restrictions set by Oslo. It is not representative of an identity or an entity. It is there for the benefit and influence of individuals who are increasing in wealth and fortune. The authority has become a burden on the Palestinian people and we must think of a new policy against it if we want to move forward.
Kerry ambitiously seeks to employ different Arab, regional and international measures to ‘liquidate’ the Palestinian cause. This goal will be difficult to achieve. Yet, there is a possibility that it could succeed if Israel cooperates and sees the tremendous benefits it could reap by keeping Kerry on its side and not waiting for another opportunity. This is of course in the hope that the situation for Palestinians and Arabs continues to decline.
The Palestinian people will pay the price for Kerry’s dream of winning the Nobel Peace Prize. Israel’s value to the United States has increased exponentially in the wake of the Arab Spring because it has shown that it can be a stable, secure and permanent ally to the United States in the region. There is no room for optimism for what these bilateral negotiations will accomplish because Kerry has failed to ensure that they would resume under the appropriate conditions. Negotiations were resumed without the proper foundation and without any references or balance of powers. These negotiations resumed in the wake of Palestinian division and weakness and a lack of political legitimacy as well as the absence of the Arab world and international indifference. The only thing that could come out of this, aside from time wasted, is more legitimacy for the Israeli occupation and settlement project. The most that could come out of this is a transitional or final solution to the Palestinian cause.
What will add insult to injury is the increasing possibility that the Palestinian leadership will undergo spontaneous elections in the West Bank without a national consensus- in order to reinforce their legitimacy.. Elections under the current circumstances would not increase the Palestinian Authority’s legitimacy because Hamas, Islamic Jihad and possibly other factions and personalities would boycott the elections. Without national reconciliation, Hamas will continue to run Gaza exclusively, turning this division into a permanent situation. What is needed is a way for Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to come together under the ‘umbrella’ of national unity. Any other solution will be harmful to everyone.
The elected legislative council is in the West Bank only and even if it included representatives from the Gaza strip, this would not renew the lost sense of legitimacy. The next President-elect from some part of the West Bank will become the President of all Palestinians. Therefore, I must warn against taking a blind leap into the unknown in a meagre attempt to attain legitimacy through elections and strengthen negotiations that lack any legitimacy.
Elections cannot be a step forward without being part of a larger national plan for liberation and the right of return and national unity and independence. Elections cannot be free and fair unless they are conducted in a suitable atmosphere that allows people to freely nominate and elect their candidates. Palestinian legitimacy in occupied Palestine is not derived exclusively from the ballot box, but by holding on to the goals, rights, interests and the struggle associated with achieving legitimacy and by the national consensus and popular acceptance of it.
The author is a Palestinian writer. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared in As Safir newspaper on 23 July, 2013