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The experience of secret negotiations led to disastrous results

By Dr Anis Mustafa Qasim

This article addresses two problems facing the current negotiations: (I) the problem of what became known as the Palestinian division and (II) the problem of previous understandings with the Israeli side.

We do not want to discuss the subject of negotiations per se, as many have written on this topic, but we would like to emphasize one point, namely, that "Israel", America, and the vast majority of Arab regimes want Abu Mazen to sign up to some kind of a solution, and they are, for one reason or another, convinced that they will not find another Palestinian who is more "moderate" than him. It's their chance, in their opinion, and that is what they repeat always. Our observations about this are: (1) No one, neither Abu Mazen nor anyone else, has the power to dispose of any of the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people, and thus any such act becomes null and void. (2) An agreement concluded before the end of the occupation and the withdrawal of Israel from all occupied Palestinian territory could be gotten rid of in the future because it was concluded by the coercion of the occupation and is thus null and void. (3) The prosecution of Israeli criminals is a personal and national right that does not become obsolete over time. Every Palestinian who has been inflicted can exercise this right, and the Palestinian negotiator does not have the right to relinquish it or to absolve Israel of its responsibility for the crimes committed against the Palestinian people. (4) The Palestinian people refuses to give legitimacy to what is illegal under international law and international humanitarian law, and does not recognize it.


(I) The Palestinian division

The current Palestinian division has become the hanger on which all sins are hung, and there was the allegation that it weakens the Palestinian negotiator and shows the Palestinian people divided among themselves. This, in our opinion, is an erroneous view, especially in the current circumstances, and it is based on the theory of unilateralism prevailing in the Arab regimes, which led to numerous mistakes, tragedies and national disasters, and continues to deny any constructive role for opposition forces in the political life, and the extent to which they can be benefited from in times of calamities.

Israel uses the opposition, and even creates opportunities and conditions for an organized opposition to depend on it when necessary, to stand in the face of attempts to impose positions it does not want. The phenomenon of exploiting settlers as a means of popular resistance to its policies if pressure was put on it is an outstanding example. Successive Israeli governments built settlements and encouraged settlers to seize Palestinian land and establish settlements therein, it classified them as random, and besides that, it established other settlements it classified as legitimate, and here we are witnessing an artificial problem which is the problem of settlement freeze, not cancelling or stopping it completely, with a threat from settlers to continue expansion if the government relented. This is a truly unprecedented situation: The thief steals in broad daylight and insists not only to hold on to what it has stolen, but also to go on to steal more. Israeli governments are the ones that opened this door with procedures that are illegal and here it is exploiting it to put pressure on the Palestinians and the international community to get more concessions in return for a promise, yes only a promise, to freeze settlement activity after it ensures the survival of large settlements.

Israel benefits even from the very small opposition parties within the present coalition cabinet, or in the Knesset, to strengthen its negotiating position, and all countries, including the Palestinian negotiator, respond by trying to restrict their positions and search for exits that meet Israeli demands, to ensure the survival of the coalition and prevent the collapse of the government, or in fear of retaliation by the settlers, i.e., a reaction from the thieves. Our leaders, our systems, our politicians and our parties, indeed our whole society, does not realize the importance of a truly dissenting voice, and its role in elevating the nation, and the Palestinian Authority, thank God, refuses to depart from this semi-Arab consensus. If there had been an effective opposition in Egypt at the time of Camp David who's role the regime respected, certainly the conditions such as the diminution of sovereignty over the Egyptian Sinai as a whole, would not have been imposed and Sadat could have used that opposition to reject the conditions. But Sadat was busy "cutting off" the opposition, just as the Palestinian security forces in the occupied West Bank are today busy in liquidating the opposition. In Israel, there are groups that call for the expulsion of all Palestinians, and even religious men calling for the killing of Palestinian children because they will become enemies when they grow up. However, no one is harassing them and the American president and European Union are not condemning them. They constitute a lobby which the government cannot ignore. Of course, these are not "extremists", but rather a natural product of a democratic system. As for the Palestinian opposition, they are extremists and even if they come through democratic election, this does not qualify them for participation in the political process. National opposition is power to the nation, not a burden, which by nature should advocate different policies and prepare itself to implement them. The Palestinian political system is based on pluralism and the rotation of power, but the official Arab regimes along with the existing Palestinian Authority, the European Union and the United States want a superficial democratic system, in which they "elect" its members.

Whatever the circumstances, there should be among the Arab and Palestinian peoples a higher voice that refuses to cut off any part of Palestine, their homeland, for the establishment of a foreign country on it and loss of its sovereignty. The historic, cultural and existential home of the Palestinian people is the whole of Palestine, and not just what this generation could keep so far, or what the negotiations, which take place under duress, can achieve. This voice must be heard and must reach future generations so they keep the flame of liberation and return burning. This dissenting voice is what's consistent with the nature of all peoples suffering from alien occupation, or the seizure of their homelands.

 

The Zionist movement realized this from its inception and is still aware of it, because this is the nature of things, according to the Zionist leader Jabotinsky, whose theory of settlement has been adopted by his successors. As men of law would say, this is a fundamental; the basic principle is to reject the settlement of any part of Palestine, and to reject any division of its sovereignty, not to mention the handover of sovereignty on it. This is what Jabotinsky says. All movements of national liberation have been based on this principle; in the past, now and in the future. The leaders of Israel, especially Netanyahu, know this, as every student of history with eyes to see and a mind think knows. Jabotinsky says that you can bribe a person to sell his land but you cannot bribe a people to sell their home. And the Palestinian people, individuals and as a people, refused and refuse to sell their home country or abandon it. This is the meaning of the decolonization revolutions that swept the world after the Second World War in particular, and eradicated occupation as a source of legitimacy to justify colonialism. And here the just Palestinian cause, which is in line with the nature of things, has started to reach the world stage and gain more supporters in various parts of it. The boycott campaign waged by Palestinian civil society organizations has begun to bear fruit, demonstrated most recently in the announcement by trade unions in Britain on 16 September 2010 of a boycott of Israeli goods. Similarly, major institutions are withdrawing their investments in Israel; a case in point is Harvard University which decided to withdraw its investments in August 2010.

So the presence of the opposition, especially in these circumstances, is a healthy phenomenon and a national, regional and international necessity. Its absence is a historical shame on the Palestinian people, and its presence is an essential element of actors that bring about the desired change in the Arab world, which is inevitable. It is also, from the Israeli perspective, solid proof that the Palestinian people have not given up on the possibility of defeating the Zionist project, and this is weakening it, especially as they witness the beginning of a serious change in international public opinion which questions the legitimacy of the existence of Israel. The strength and spread of this trend is on the rise. This is the measure Jabotinsky puts forward for  the success of the Zionist project and which we called "the battle between making someone lose hope, and countering these attempts." This project, Jabotinsky notes, will not succeed as long as there is a "spark of hope" in the possibility of overcoming it. This spark must not be extinguished, and in any case, it cannot be put out by agreements that are contrary to the nature of things. Israel realizes that it is an unnatural sequestering entity, and as any occupier, it does not feel reassured as long as the rightful owners of the land, the Palestinian people, are "alive." And according to Jabotinsky, the Palestinian people are alive, even though "scruffy and backward" in his view, "but Palestine is their homeland." For these reasons, Israel will continue to feel insecure, no matter how many conciliation agreements or termination of claims it signs, and that Israeli concern would be an essential factor in keeping the conflict continuous until it gets resolved in favour of the indigenous owners of the land, not outsiders.

What is strange in the position of the Palestinian and Arab sides, who have agreed to enter into direct negotiations, and which has a significance that was no doubt realized by the Israeli negotiator and his U.S. supporter, is that the Palestinian Authority and the Arab regimes agreed to enter into negotiations without adhering to the necessity of lifting the illegal blockade. This on-going blockade affects every aspect of the lives of one and a half million Palestinian people who "live" in the Gaza Strip and from whom the Palestinian Authority demands loyalty and claims that it represents them and speaks on their behalf. While they dither and show indifference Turks have given their lives attempting to break the embargo, women from proud Lebanon are preparing to ride the sea for the same purpose, and preparations for a fifth international fleet for the same goal are underway. There should have been no negotiations until after a full lifting of the siege and an obligation not to return to it, whether by the Israeli side or the Egyptian side. Insisting on direct negotiations was an opportunity for the Palestinian side and the Arab Monitoring Committee to take a decisive stand on this matter, but unfortunately they've lost this opportunity.

(II) Bumps and previous understandings

(A) The problem

Palestinian negotiators are demanding commitment to previous understandings reached by the parties. The Palestinian people, the Palestinian National Council and the Arab nation do not know what these understandings are, as the Palestinian negotiators are keeping them a secret, and all that the people, who own the issue and the homeland, know is what has been officially announced of these unfair agreements that have not been first discussed in the National Assembly and then popularly discussed prior to their conclusion. We therefore hope to be forgiven if we rely on other sources to identify some of these earlier understandings, and the primary source, regretfully remains to be the Israeli press. The Palestinian President has on several occasions alluded to understandings with previous Israeli governments, especially the two previous governments, but he has not let the Palestinian people in on these understandings, even though press leaks on the Israeli side and others do. The experience of secret negotiations has taught us to be very cautious and very pessimistic with regard to these understandings and previous agreements. As such we are sceptical about insisting on them, as it is unlikely to correct inherent mistakes, which are certainly based on precedents, especially that those who are negotiating now are the same ones who have negotiated in previous agreements and understandings all too often deceived by words, delusions and a lack of clear vision.

(B) The right of return

We do not want to return to Oslo, especially as what followed Oslo was another way to confirm the Israeli demands. In this regard, specific understandings appeared, all of which affect the heart of the Palestinian cause. We begin by recalling what has become known as the Geneva document, a document signed in a quasi-official ceremony in the Swiss city of Geneva by the Secretary of the Executive Committee, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin, the veteran Israeli politician. Beilin had no official status, either to negotiate or sign, but Abed Rabbo was and still is the Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization and, therefore, what was approved and signed by him is considered to be agreed upon by the Executive Committee. In this agreement, it was explained that the right of return is the right to return back to the Palestinian state that is supposed to be established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and not to their homes and land as stated in the United Nations resolutions. That means that this document abrogated the right of return which the General Assembly of the United Nations sought to reaffirm time and again. The Palestinian people rejected this document as a whole, but Mr Abed Rabbo is still the Secretary of the Executive Committee and participates in the Palestinian political leadership and speaks on their behalf. More than this, the Executive Committee as a whole bears responsibility for what happened; it proved not to be trustworthy with the rights of the people which it claims to represent, and thus should have resigned after the resounding popular rejection of that document. However, the damage has been done, and calling for abandoning the right of return has an echo now. Indeed, circumventing it has become acceptable to the official Palestinian side.

(C)  Abu Dis is Jerusalem; is the capital

Prior to this, and also in further negotiations with the "leftist" Beilin, while he also is not a part of the government, it was agreed between him and Mahmoud Abbas that the village of Abu Dis near Jerusalem would be the "Jerusalem" or the capital of the State of Palestine. This was confirmed by the Israeli press and Beilin, and it was said that the late Yasser Arafat rejected it. However, it appears that the agreement continued to be in effect. A large building was built in the village, which I saw with my own eyes. Citizens said that it will be the headquarters of the Palestinian Legislative Council. They also report that "Israel" protested against a window in the building through which the view of Al-Aqsa Mosque can be seen and called for it to be closed. The resignation of Hatem Abdel Qader, a Fatah Minister who was responsible for the Jerusalem file, revealed that the authority has already neglected the city as he said his resignation was in protest against the non-allocation of funds necessary to protect Jerusalem from Judaisation. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad then issued a statement saying that there is no special budget for the city of Jerusalem. (It must be noted that Abdel Qader has continued to struggle for the city even after giving up all his government posts).

While Fayyad's statement was very strange and significant, coming from the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Government, it was in line with the commitment to leave the city and its Palestinian people under the absolute disposal of Israel. Consequently, they were not provided by "their government" with any serious help to keep them in the city, which the Prime Minister and the Chairman of the Authority continue to announce as the capital of the future State of Palestine. All this confirms the belief that "Israel" and the PNA are acting according to the agreement with Beilin.

The route of the Wall being built by Israel in the vicinity of Jerusalem annexed part of the village of Abu Dis but left most of the village outside, maybe in "respect" for this agreement according to all indicators. There is no doubt that Israel had notified the United States of this agreement and that its settlement activities in Jerusalem are based on it. We have written much on this topic, but it is clear that the Authority does not care much about what is happening in the city, hence the suffering of its people from neglect seems to be deliberate, and its disastrous consequences are on the rise continuously. It is clear that "Israel" is implementing the parts of these understandings that are in its favour, even though they were not formally adopted, but the Palestinian side remains in the open screaming while no one responds.

(D) A Jewish "Israel" and other issues

Israeli manoeuvres to seize what it can from the Palestinian side, step by step, and does not stop to wait for final negotiations, but is keen to dispossess the Palestinian people of what rights it can, while installing its sites and ensuring recognition of its Zionist ideology at any moment a glimpse of hope for such outcomes appear. The Israeli newspaper "Maariv" published on 23 April 2007, an article that revealed "the existence of an agreement for the final resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict signed by the Palestinian National Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), and Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh." This article was translated and published by "Al Quds Al Arabi". The Israeli newspaper said that it had obtained a copy of the agreement and that "President Abbas agreed to the proposition that the State of Israel "is the state of the Jewish people and that in no way could this definition could be waivered." According to the news, the Israeli journalist "stressed that the agreement was ready and present for discussions, but due to the conduct of the Palestinian legislative elections, the failure of Fatah and the rise of Hamas to power, consideration of the scheme between Sneh and Abbas was postponed."

When we read this news story published in an article in "Al Quds Al Arabi" on 10 May 2007, we questioned the extent of its accuracy, as the items that were said to have been agreed upon were very serious and indicated that the Palestinian negotiators are still, and at least as usual, show a lack of understanding of texts before them and a failure to analyse and understand their immediate and long-term consequences.  We asked for denial or confirmation of the news. And we waited, but no denial or confirmation was issued. On this issue we also published in "Al Quds Al Arabi" an analysis of what the Israeli newspaper said was agreed upon. The title of the article was "Is there an agreement on a final solution to the Palestinian cause"?

We do not want to re-publish the article, or even summarize it, and we leave this for "Al Quds Al-Arabi" – it will suffice to point out its main points. In addition to the recognition of the Jewish identity of "Israel", the agreement addressed other issues such as that "The historical home of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples is located between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean". What relevance does this have to an agreement to end an illegal occupation? But so was the recognition of the historic right claimed by the Zionist movement and rejected by the Palestinians since the beginning of its claim. Since the project began in the late nineteenth century until today, no scientific evidence of value has been found in favour of a temple or even the State of Solomon or David. Modern Israeli historians, who have studied all that is being said, say that all that is talked about are legends. However, according to the claim of the Israeli journalist, the Palestinian side in these negotiations agreed to this proposal, and also to the Israeli proposal regarding the Jewish identity of the State of Israel referred to earlier, in order to be given Palestinian legitimacy, which is the only legitimacy needed by Israel to reassure itself that it is on track to realize the Zionist project. It is noted that they avoided mentioning the name of Palestine, and the reason is that the Old Testament calls it "the land of Canaan," and they do not want to call it Palestine, because the name is linked to the indigenous population, the Palestinians, not Jews or Hebrews. They also avoided the phrase "the land of Israel" because this expression is one of the innovations of the Zionist movement and were not mentioned in history at all. Inducement with these texts to the Palestinian negotiators, who we do not know what to describe as, is that they establish that Palestinians, apparently, have rights such as those of the Jews in Palestine, and those who treat you as equal would do you no wrong.  We do not rule out that the Israeli negotiator has used this Arab proverb, while playing the same game regarding Jerusalem as well.

– As for Jerusalem, the text of the agreement, as stated in the Israeli newspaper, reads as follows "the city of all of Jerusalem, with both its east and west sections, must be a city of peace so as to be the capital for Israel and also the capital of a Palestinian state, and political control of the different neighbourhoods is in accordance with the composition of the population". Also, a tempting text where Israel has easily accepted for Jerusalem, all of Jerusalem, to be the capital of Palestine as it had also accepted that the land between river and sea is a common homeland meaning that it recognized the historic right of Palestinians. It seemed that the story of Abu Dis being the capital had ended. But the Palestinian negotiator missed the fact that all of Jerusalem is under Israeli control and that it had changed its demographic and urban nature and it continues to do so relentlessly, with the purpose of emptying the Arab neighbourhoods of the population and removing all Arab, Muslim or Christian traces from the city so that the whole city looks as if it was always Jewish in terms of population and will remain so forever. The Palestinian negotiators at the signing of this agreement did not realize that there would not remain in Jerusalem any Arab neighbourhoods for the Palestinian state to have political control over. They ignored, or did not know that the Security Council adopted resolutions for Jerusalem and considered it Occupied Territory that must be evacuated and called upon Israel to annul its annexation and end all demographic or other changes to the city. The Palestinian Authority and its representatives are calling for the application of international legitimacy, but they forget this legitimacy when negotiating and signing.  Once again we ask whether this agreement by its terms as set out in the Israeli newspaper were among the understandings that took place and which obliges the Palestinian negotiator to adhere to it?

(E) Land exchange

We used to hear about "minor" changes in the borders and we continue to hear so especially from the Egyptian Foreign Minister Aboul Gheit, without anyone defining the word "minor" or answering the question: when are amendments considered "minor" and when are they not? And, has there been a specific definition agreed to or have things, as usual, been left floating to be exploited to the Israeli advantage as has been done with the itinerary of the Wall it is constructing, whereby it annexes land it claims as "minor". Could matters on the ground be settled this way? Then we started to hear the words "land swap" with the emphasis that the exchange will be of the same size and value. Aboul Gheit then said that the process will bring to the Palestinians billions of dollars. The question that needs to be answered is whether the Palestinian cause has entered the real estate market, and we forgot that we are talking about the fate of a country and a homeland?

This story of land swap is very dangerous precedent. It is true that in the demarcation of borders between two countries, there are understandings that are put in place, but the subject is not a commercial deal. Selection is based principally on legal considerations to determine who has sovereignty over the disputed region and gets that sovereignty back. This is done when borders are drawn, no one argues about that and no land "exchange" takes place. Each side takes what is right for it and no one takes any land from its neighbour as an exchange for land it ceded to it. So often disputes over borders are settled through international arbitration. But the situation we are facing is not a controversy over borders. As the borders of 4th June 1967, which are the borders of the 1949 armistice, are documented by the United Nations and the parties to the conflict. The goal of land swap is to legalize what is illegal which is the settlements, and set a precedent that is very dangerous.  What if Israel, based on this precedent, offered the population of Bab Khan El-Zeit or Bab El Amoud or Christians neighbourhoods or Bab Hetta, which are all entirely Palestinian neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem, what if Israeli offered these people to swap their homes, houses and shops and with other homes, houses and shops, of the same size and value, but outside of Jerusalem? What if they accepted this offer on the basis of this dangerous precedent which was promoted and Jerusalem, and other areas, were evacuated by the same method, with the approval of the Palestinians population, and Israel then replaced them by Israeli citizens? Is the value of these neighbourhoods of Jerusalem materialistic and only estimated in dollars? Our people in Jerusalem and places other than Jerusalem have been offered millions in return for resettlement and they refused, then comes the "national" Authority to apply business standards in dollars to the homeland. Our Orthodox Christian people, so far have not calmed down after the Greek Patriarch, who sold part of church property to the Jews without the knowledge of the community. Don't you think it is very easy for Israel and its supporters to plan the next deadly step which is the acquisition of land in different ways in exchange for very generous financial compensation where money substitutes for real estate of any kind, and the complete emptying of Palestine of its Palestinian citizens? Not for the exchange of land because the homeland is not land bought and sold with money or barter. This is a game for traders, and yes to refuse to give legitimacy to the settlements, even if that angered America and its allies. Borders at this stage of the Palestinian struggle are the borders of the armistice agreements of 1949; they are the borders which are always referred to by the International Court of Justice. As for settlement, let them stay as they would remain illegal no matter how long it took, and the crime of their establishment cannot be erased with time, and the day will come for accountability. As for being paid the price and giving Israel legitimacy, no.

(IV) The referendum

In conclusion, we warn of a theatrical Sadat-style referendum which is misleading, and we believe that this is what is being concocted, not just today, but for years in the Israeli-American political kitchen. We are not against a referendum that fulfils rightful conditions. But we are certainly against referendums that are made to pass what cannot or may not be passed.

We have dealt with this subject in two articles we published in "Al Quds Al-Arabi" on 13 and 14 of May 2008. We are also not against negotiations that are prepared for properly and handled by those who are capable and under conditions that permit chances of achieving Palestinian goals without neglecting any fixed principles.

Conclusion

These are positions the Palestinian negotiators would be held accountable for and we do not know what other understandings have been agreed which the Palestinian people know nothing about. Certain positions have started to change somewhat in statements issued by the negotiating team. We hope that they have realized the magnitude of errors that have been made, and that they are no match for the Israeli negotiator, regardless of the legitimacy of their representation of the Palestinian people. Errors they have committed so far raise serious concerns about their performance and the resultant commitments. The Israelis will try to get the Palestinian people to honour these, especially at this critical juncture where it seems that the American President is determined to end the conflict for reasons relating to America's interests. In these circumstances, it is the right of the Palestinian people to insist on the invitation of the Palestinian National Council to meet outside the Occupied Palestinian Territories in order to (i) complete the membership of the Council and to choose new members in accordance with its rules of procedure (ii) discuss the current Palestinian, Arab and international positions and adopt the appropriate political program (iii) elect a new executive committee, a new Council, and new permanent central committees and (iv) consider new elections for the Council and take necessary decisions in this regard. At the same time to end the disabling of the Legislative Council and allow it to perform its role in holding officials accountable for what is happening in the Palestinian territories. Until that happens, everyone is required to exercise vigilance over what is happening in the arena and what the Palestinian delegation and the Arab Monitoring Committee in particular are carrying out. Awareness, awareness and awareness.

The time has come for those knights to step off their horses before they implicate the people and cause additional bottlenecks by signing agreements or understandings shifting the cause into more mazes created by a new class of its citizens.  America, Israel and the Arab regimes want this signature, each for its own purposes, and after the signing, they do not care about what is happening to the Palestinian people or to those who negotiated and signed. Everyone wants to get rid of this issue, and the signature, and signature only, is the end, and the Palestinian negotiator is the only person who will bear full responsibility according to the rule that says we agree to what the Palestinians accept, we will not be more royal than the king himself.

*The author is a founding member of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

This article was originally written in Arabic and published in the London-based newspaper Al Quds Al Arabi on 30/09/2010

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

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