Palestinian negotiator Saeb Eraket and his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni have sat down for “talks to begin talks”, a process which US State of Secretary John Kerry has spent four months incubating. In Washington the keen Kerry is watching over the embryonic process in the hope that Israel and Palestine are taking the first baby-like steps towards a “peace deal”.
Whilst Kerry has been commended for bringing the two sides closest to reconciliation since talks broke down three years ago, the developments seem to be splintering further Palestine’s already fractured political terrain.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will resume the talks without agreement from the Israeli side on pre-conditions that he has always maintained they would need to meet before any resumption; the basis for negotiations has always been the June 1967 borders or the freezing of settlement building according to Abbas. As a result, Palestine’s political factions including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) have been united in a mutual condemnation of what is seen as a unilateral decision by Abbas to return to the negotiating table.
Ghazi Hamad of the Hamas-led Palestinian Foreign Affairs Ministry in Gaza said, “The [PA] is not consulting with the other factions to get their opinions with regard to the political file. It thinks that it has a monopoly on that and that no one else is entitled to get involved.”
The fragile 2011 Egypt-brokered reconciliation deal between Hamas and Fatah, who have been at odds since their 2007 split, may be the first causality of the resumed talks. Immediately after the announcement that Abbas would return to the negotiating table with Israel, Hamas expressed its disapproval, condemning the PA leader for his decision and warning that the resumption of talks would foil reconciliation efforts. The two factions are already teetering on the brink, with Fatah accused of orchestrating a smear campaign against Hamas in Cairo following the coup against Mohamed Morsi. Many inside Palestine feel that before Abbas can talk of reconciliation between Palestine and Israel, Palestine itself must be reconciled, and this means Hamas and Fatah unity.
The recent discussions about peace have barely mentioned Gaza. The relationship between Israel and Hamas, the Islamist political party that runs Gaza, is fraught. Israel rejects any engagement with Hamas until it recognises Israel and renounces violence. However, negotiating a peace deal between Israel and Palestine will be meaningless if it fails to address Gaza.
Hamas official Osama Hamdan has called the PA decision to resume to talks as not only political stupidity but “political suicide”, claiming that Abba’s experience with negotiations have all been at the expense of the Palestinian cause and the people’s rights. His colleague Hossam Badran called the return to negotiations “the path of compromise and concessions”.
Last Sunday PFLP supporters who took to Ramallah’s streets to protest against the return to negotiations were met with violence from PA police, which led to Human Rights Watch releasing a statement calling for an impartial investigation into the incident. The action was a response to the PFLP’s call to the Palestinian people expressing an “urgent need for continued rallies and demonstrations condemning the return to these futile negotiations”.
Abu Ahmed Fouad, a member of the PFLP Political Bureau said, “Negotiations beginning in Washington do not represent the will of the people or the Palestinian liberation movement and should end immediately.”
According to another bureau member, Khalida Jarra, the Palestinians must stop the negotiations. “It is clear that the Oslo approach has proved over 20 years that these bilateral negotiations do not lead to results and instead give the [Israeli] occupation cover to continue its policy of occupation and aggression on the ground through building settlements.”
The talks have further shattered national unity at the time when Palestine and Palestinians need to be in harmony. Without a united national platform behind Abbas, he risks entering talks in a very weak position. At the same time the Palestinian cause will not have the undivided support of its Arab neighbours who are embroiled in their own conflicts, leaving Abbas to face Israel and the US alone.
“When Palestinians are united around one political programme, it will strengthen their position, and we will have more leverage to negotiate from a stronger position,” asserted Islamic Jihad leader Khader Habib.
The path of negotiations with Israel is well tread in Palestine, and for the Palestinians, who have borne the brunt of earlier attempts, has led to little gain, if not placed them in a weaker position. Some of the objecting political factions who have condemned the commencement of talks are advocating alternative solutions which would unite Palestinians instead of divide them.
PFLP officials have called on Abbas to pursue alternatives such as lobbying the Palestinian cause in the United Nations (UN) and holding Israel to account through the International Criminal Court. However, with the resumption of talks the Palestinian leadership has already agreed to freeze efforts to appeal to UN and international bodies. The internationalisation of the Palestinian cause has been increasingly successful. The international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign is applying pressure on Israel, with a recent directive issued by the European Union insisting that all future agreements between the EU and Israel must exclude Jewish colonies in the West Bank or East Jerusalem. Negotiations seem to assume two equal parties facing one another, whilst alternative strategies, aside from the returning to the negotiating table, may reflect more aptly Palestine’s reality.
“The Front will continue its opposition to the negotiations and its struggle for an alternative national strategy that rejects the path of the Oslo Accords and the subsequent harmful agreements,” a senior PFLP official insisted.”
While Abbas may return to talks which after 9 months are expected to produce a peace deal, this “peace” will have a very high price. Abbas will have traded concessions at the expense of a continued and deepened rift with Hamas, further fragmentation of Palestinian national unity and the destruction of any support from the Palestinian people. This will be symptomatic of the widening gap between the PA and the people it is supposed to govern and represent. While new Israeli settlements continue to pop up as he shakes hands with Netanyahu and says goodbye to alternative strategies that may unite Palestine, the PA and Israel will have their “peace”.
In Washington, meanwhile, Erekat continues to insist, “Palestinians have suffered enough, and no one benefits from the success of this endeavour more than the Palestinians.” Peace there may be, but justice there will be none.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.