By Dr Ahmed Yusuf Ahmed
The US administration has decided to commence direct negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians on 2nd September. The Palestinian Authority accepted the invitation on the basis that there will be American assurances regarding the negotiations. A question, however, arises about the development of the issue of direct negotiations since the Follow-up Committee of the Arab Peace Initiative at its last meeting gave the green light to the Palestinian Authority to enter into direct negotiations, and left the timing to it.
After that, we have seen a political row within the ranks of the Palestinian Authority, not to mention the refusal of "Hamas" and other factions to enter into direct negotiations. This controversy continued right until the eve of the American decision, which resolved the situation as indicated. Was all of this a theatrical play where roles were distributed perfectly? I think not, as the Palestinian Authority was looking for Arab cover in order to display some "stubbornness" in accepting direct negotiations as a result of their lengthy experiences with Israeli conduct, and particularly in the phase of indirect negotiations. But it did not find this cover, on the contrary it was subjected to extreme U.S. pressure mixed with "assurances" from the U.S. administration, according to the reports on the September negotiations.
The core of the U.S "assurances," is the "carrot" or illusion thereof that persuaded the Authority into the negotiations, which requires our special attention from two perspectives: first, our experience with such assurances, which have been offered for at least three decades, and the second is the contents of these assurances. As for the experience, the U.S. assurances often go unheeded in the face of Israeli intransigence under various pretexts. On one occasion we are told the President is heading towards the renewal of his term, and therefore cannot challenge the Zionist lobby, and on another occasion they talk about the midterm elections of the U.S. Congress which could be lost by the President's party if he stood up to the Israeli inflexibility, and yet in a third instance, they urge us to understand the "sensitive" internal situation in Israel, not to mention other arguments for justifying their retreat. Thus these "reassurances" evaporated after the signing of a Framework for Peace in the Middle East at Camp David 1978, and the assurances given before the Madrid Conference in 1991 faced the same fate, followed by assurances of the Road Map in 2003 and the Annapolis Conference in 2007. What was most interesting however is that the only detailed agreement reached between the Israelis and the Palestinians – regardless of how we view it – was the "Oslo Agreement" which was in the absence of the U.S. administration.
Moving on to consider the contents of such assurances, one does not know whether to supress his anger or wallow in the midst of more frustration because of what is done by the present U.S. administration in the name of the so-called process of political settlement of the Arab – Israeli conflict, following as it does the example all previous administrations since the 1967. This administration expects to complete the negotiations within one year, and that they will discuss all final status issues. The issue of the "one year" takes us back to what I have previously asserted; that all time tables have been violated by Israel and, unfortunately, those tables were not based on any proper understanding of the reality of the conflict or the balance of power in it. The 1978 Camp David settlement was supposed to be implemented within five years after the signing of the Framework for Peace in the Middle East in September of that year, and the "Oslo Agreement" was supposed to end the conflict in 1999, and the Road Map envisioned the establishment of Palestinian statehood in 2005, then came Annapolis 2007 to postpone the creation of this state to 2008, and nothing happened in all cases. So why would anything happen this time? Actually, the negotiations of next September could be the exception to all of the above if there was something new, but in our case, what's new is the drift towards further Israeli inflexible positions, which rules out the possibility of reaching a balance settlement, let alone fair one. The American President – despite the hopes he raised at the beginning of his term – has proved, as any other American president, capable of a rapid retreat from all that he says. As for the Arabs, they are either deluded by these "negotiating shows" or opposed to it, without making any effort to develop an alternative to these negotiations. Meanwhile, Israel remains governed by one of the most extreme governments in its entire history, and the Palestinians are divided between Gaza "Hamas" and the West Bank "Fatah". Indeed "Fatah" is by no means united on the question of entering direct negotiations. So, where will anything new come from?
What's left is that the U.S. administration points out, as an "important" part of its assurances of a Palestinian state within the 4th June 1967 borders, a "push" towards a settlement freeze and an effective American role in these negotiations, as well as its vision of the final results of the peace process. George Mitchell, the U.S. President's envoy to the Middle East, confirms that Washington will provide proposals "to bridge the gaps in views", yet gives us no reason to be overwhelmingly happy with this "dramatic shift" in the American position, which has deceived the Arabs for a long time, as he reminds us that the negotiations by all means are "bilateral". In other words, do not expect the U.S. administration to be able to make progress unless the two parties of the negotiations are able and willing to do so. It is interesting that some reports have spoken in this context (ie, putting forward proposals to bring the views closer) noting that the U.S. administration has worked to develop a formula regarding the issue of settlements which does not include a reference to freezing them in order to avoid the "embarrassment" of Netanyahu! One wonders how the real embarrassment would be when it comes to the legitimate Palestinian demand to dismantle the settlements themselves, or other demands? The U.S. administration has cleared its name in this context, where Mitchell continues to reiterate "his call" for Israel not to resume construction in the settlements.
What remains then is that the Palestinian side had demanded, as a condition to enter the negotiations, that the Quartet's statement in March of this year be a reference for the negotiations. Alas, Israel has rejected this by its extremist conduct. Thus in order to save face, the Quartet have issued a statement supporting direct negotiations, and calling for "the two parties" to exercise restraint, however, it makes no reference to its March 2010 statement which supports the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on the geographically contiguous land occupied in 1967. It also called for a freeze in settlement activity including natural growth of settlements, and dismantlement of the illegal outposts (as if any of these settlements are legal). The statement of March 2010 says that East Jerusalem will be the subject for negotiations, noting that "the international community does not recognize its annexation to Israel." The comparison between the view of the recent Quartet statement which "justified" direct negotiations and the March 2010 statement with its previous content demonstrates how this Quartet could be used as a tool in the hands of the United States, which manipulates it as it pleases.
Last but not least, the Party sponsoring the negotiations, which is the U.S. administration, was keen on emphasizing that there is no role for "Hamas" in these negotiations, which is obvious, but what these people do not pay attention to is that this is a major cause of the predictable failure of the negotiations, in addition to other familiar reasons, such as the Israeli stubbornness and the imbalance of power. Even assuming that the negotiations could be fruitful in this direction or that, it should be clear in all cases that these are talks about the future of the West Bank, and not the future of Palestine as a whole. As for us, we have no other option but to watch this boring movie for the tenth time while knowing the details and end in advance.
Source: Al-Ittihad Emirates Newspaper
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.