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What is behind the resumption of negotiations in Washington?

January 24, 2014 at 6:44 am

US Secretary of State John Kerry has worked hard on the Israel-Palestine portfolio since he came into office earlier this year. He has made six tours to the region, the most recent ending in the announcement of the resumption of negotiations. It would be foolish to say that Kerry’s tours were solely an American initiative, as the US only intervenes in the Middle East based on the demands of Israel as Washington is now more concerned about the rise of China.

It is worth reminding ourselves that the Palestinian demand for a freeze on settlement activity was not the reason behind the deadlock in negotiations; it was, after all, just one of the Palestinian Authority’s conditions over which it negotiated for 3 years with ex-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, whose government was the most determined to escalate settlement activity.

It was Obama who put Mahmoud Abbas on the spot when the US president told current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stop all settlement activity in order to create an atmosphere suitable for negotiations. Ever since, Abbas has insisted on an end to settlement growth before resuming talks with the Israelis. Netanyahu has refused and stood his ground, leaving Abbas and Obama to give in to his conditions. They are now talking despite settlements still being built on land supposedly earmarked for a Palestinian state. An insistence on the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations replaced the settlement condition but has also been rebuffed. The only gain from going back to talks is the release of 104 veteran Palestinian prisoners who have been in prison since before the Oslo Accords and are deemed to be no longer a threat to Israel’s security.

Of course we must be happy about their release, but it should not be a reason to give up on the cause for which so many have spent lifetimes behind bars.

Hence, Israel’s illegal settlement expansion continues and the 1967 borders are not acknowledged as a reference for negotiations; and the people are expected to believe that Abbas is committed to the Palestinian national constants which include a sovereign state within the 1967 borders, including East Jerusalem, and a light land-swap of land with the same area and significance. We are also expected to believe that Netanyahu is foolish for intensifying settlement activity in areas he will be surrendering in 6 to 9 months, the time scale agreed in Amman for the talks to produce tangible results.

Looking at Kerry’s promises to Abbas in the Amman meetings, which the PA president communicated to members of the PLO Executive Committee, the secretary of state was generous with his guarantees; that’s the usual manner in which the Americans deal with the Palestinian file. It is as if any American leader can force Netanyahu into doing anything he doesn’t want to even though the Israeli prime minister is well aware that he has more support in the US Congress than any US president has, Republican or Democrat.

I used the term “generous” metaphorically because we are aware of the truth behind the Israeli position, and the US is actually far from generous. Kerry made a number of promises and guarantees in order to lure Abbas back into negotiations, or at least for him to be able to tell Fatah and the PLO that he was able to secure promises of the following: a state within the 1967 borders with some land-swaps and East Jerusalem as the capital while keeping Jerusalem united; and a dignified solution for the refugees, one that does not threaten Israel’s Judaisation plans. This, we are led to believe, will result in the end of the occupation, and thus the end of the conflict, while ensuring Israel’s security.

In addition, Kerry proposed an economic package to Abbas during the Dafus Economic Forum at the Dead Sea, but he did not link it to economic peace (Netanyahu’s project) as he did at the Dead Sea. Instead, he spoke about multiplying the national income in the West Bank and decreasing the unemployment rate from 23 per cent to 8 per cent over the next 3 years, explaining that he has important commitments from Saudi Arabia and the UAE in this regard.

While most of the leaders of Fatah and the PLO Executive committee were not convinced by Kerry’s proposal and guarantees, this was overlooked, especially since no one could go against Abbas, the leader of both groups. There is no doubt that the Arab references, which quickly communicated the orders to Amman, contributed towards the enhancement of Abbas’s position.

Of course, Kerry can tell Mahmoud Abbas whatever he wants, but his ability to impose anything on Netanyahu is almost non- -existent. If Obama was unable to convince him to freeze settlement activity in order to resume negotiations, how will he be able to convince him to make concessions in East Jerusalem?

Remember the leaked documents exposed by Al Jazeera which revealed the extent of the concessions the PA is willing to agree to? They also revealed Israel’s inflexibility, especially regarding the refugees and Jerusalem.

Israel’s Justice Minister and lead negotiator Tzipi Livni told her Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erekat that the number of refugees who will be allowed to return to what is now Israel will be “zero”. As for the matter of East Jerusalem, when Erekat told her that he was proposing “the largest Jerusalem in Jewish history”, Livni replied arrogantly that the matter was beyond the context of negotiations. Everyone knows that the Jerusalem issue is what caused the Camp David negotiations to fail in 2000, and not the refugees. Everyone, that is, except the Palestinian negotiators, it seems.

It is also important to remind ourselves that one of the reasons behind the Israeli-American keenness to resume negotiations is the fear of a new Intifada in the West Bank; Kerry was frank about this during his meeting with Abbas in Amman. These fears cannot be downplayed, as the occurrence of an Intifada would mean the collapse of all of Israel’s security achievements over the last 7 years, in addition to imposing a serious threat to the Zionist state in the context of the Arab Spring.

Of course, the new round of negotiations may not achieve anything at all due to the issue of Jerusalem and borders. Arab League approval for land swaps will see the major settlement blocs annexed to Israel, fragmenting a Palestinian state permanently. The Jordan Valley will also prove to be a difficult matter to resolve, and it is a massive part of the occupied West Bank.

If a final agreement is not achieved, no problem; the Israeli army will simply be deployed into new areas and more money will be thrown at the conflict. Negotiations will be replaced by another attempt to get full membership of the UN, leading to the establishment of a temporary state within the confines of Israel’s “Separation Wall” in a constant battle over borders without Abbas or anyone else ever having to admit that they have surrendered over the constants. This situation will last for years until “temporary” turns into de facto “permanent”. In the end, the Palestinian cause will be wiped out and a “confederation” with Jordan will most probably emerge.

The other possibility is that negotiations will continue in secret, and will end in Mahmoud Abbas accepting much less than what he accepted from Olmert, with a final deal which sees the PA getting a share of the areas surrounding Jerusalem which the Israelis have added to “Greater Jerusalem” since 1967 to use as the capital of Palestine. Meanwhile, historic Jerusalem will indeed remain “united” as the capital of Israel. This will include Al-Aqsa Mosque, which will be subject to special arrangements for worshippers but the sovereignty of the area in which it is located will be Israel’s. Moreover, the Jordan Valley will be leased to Israel for 30 years as per the old Camp David proposal plus security arrangements in the spirit of the annex of the Geneva Accords.

The end result will be a fragmented entity whose constituent parts are linked by bridges, tunnels and bypass roads, without the return of the refugees to their land in Israel; they will receive compensation paid for by the Arab states. This is if the Israelis do not demand greater compensation for Jews’ property in Arab countries, with a possibility of this compensation being accompanied by security and political arrangements with Jordan, also in the form of a confederation.

The first possibility seems to be the most likely but the second scenario cannot be ruled out. It is all quite easy for Mahmoud Abbas as he will be ruling over the West Bank alone, and so will be easy to manipulate. As for the Gaza Strip, that will be dealt with separately based on the development of the Palestinian situation in the region in general.

All that is left to say is that this is what they are considering, but the Palestinian people may have other ideas; it is quite likely that they do, as around 78 per cent of all Palestinians are excluded from the discussions and equation. They will not accept their cause being wiped out by the emergence of a temporary state, nor a distorted solution. They will rise up against the PA and its partner in a new struggle that will be different in terms of its ability to realise achievements for the people and the cause.

The author is a Jordanian writer. This article is a translation from the Arabic text first published on Al Jazeera Net, 31 July 2013

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