By Abdel Bari Atwan
The Palestinian scene is full of paradoxes and strange situations which are difficult to understand, but the past few days have witnessed two major issues that cannot be ignored: the first is Palestinian Prime Minister Dr. Salam Fayyad's speech at the Herzliya Conference in Israel; the second is the move by the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah to accept the US offer of holding indirect negotiations with the Israelis.
Views differ about Dr. Fayyad's speech; the majority opposed it, while a small minority were supportive. What's noteworthy, though, is that some of the latter praised Fayyad's "courage" and agreed with the Israeli President's description of him as the "Ben-Gurion" of Palestine. It is hard to see what courage is needed for a Palestinian Prime Minister to speak at a Zionist Conference looking at the strategic and security issues that can keep Israel strong, stable and superior in its Arab and Islamic setting as a regional nuclear superpower.
Those who supported Dr. Fayyad and his speech said it was necessary in order to present the Palestinian viewpoint before a distinguished Zionist crowd, not all of whom were Jews and Israelis, but this is a naïve over-simplification. Are Israelis like Shimon Peres and Benjamin Netanyahu, who also spoke at the conference, ignorant of the Palestinian point of view? Do they need Dr. Fayyad to remind them of it? Haven't they been "negotiating" with the Palestinians for more than seventeen years, during which they discussed all of the issues, including borders, refugees, water, settlements and occupied Jerusalem? What could be new that could be added in this regard by Dr. Fayyad's "courageous" speech?
There is a serious attempt to circumvent the Palestinian pre-condition for the Palestinian Authority and its President to return to the negotiation table, namely a total freeze on Israeli settlements in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank. Dr. Fayyad went to the conference and met with Netanyahu, Peres and other officials, at a time when negotiations and political meetings with Israelis are supposed to be in abeyance.
By taking such a step, and talking about building Palestinian state institutions and infrastructure, Dr. Fayyad has reaffirmed his commitment to the "economic peace" draft demanded by Netanyahu and overseen by Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy of the Quartet. He is also the former British Prime Minister, don't forget, who participated in the destruction of Iraq and killing of hundreds of thousands of its citizens to serve Israeli objectives. Economic peace is the total opposite of resistance to the illegal occupation, because it comforts and reassures that occupation, and relieves it of its international and legal obligations, distracting the Palestinian people from their basic and fundamental issues in the process, the same issues that were the reasons for the revolutionary intifada.
The point is, the occupation should not be allowed to rest. It should pay the price for its occupation; and for the confiscation and seizure of people's rights; and the looting of their wealth. Sadly, Dr. Fayyad's efforts did not serve such a purpose, which is why he was showered with praise by Netanyahu and Peres, encouraging him to proceed with the same scheme. All the while, of course, he controls the three most important symbols of power: security (the "Dayton" police), money (all funds from donor countries go through his office) and the media (Palestine's official TV and most newspapers are under his ultimate control and financial support).
No one would argue about the importance of security and stimulating the economy in the Palestinian Authority areas in order to improve living conditions for its citizens. The proviso must be that this is done alongside legitimate resistance to the illegitimate occupation. What we are seeing, though, is the eradication of military resistance and a squeeze on all kinds of civil resistance, with some limited protests around the villages of Bil'in and Ni'lin just to throw sand in the eyes of the occupiers.
In the same context, the Palestinian Authority and its president are looking for ways to return to negotiations again, in response to US and Arab pressure, the latest of which is to engage in "proximity" talks the Palestinians and Israelis sit in separate rooms and the American envoy moves between them.
However, the issue has never been about the format of the negotiations, but the important reasons which led to their suspension, the most prominent of which are the growth of Israel's illegal settlements on occupied land, the Israeli insistence on holding on to Jerusalem as a "united and eternal capital" and the elimination of Palestinian refugees' right of return to their land.
That is why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas suspended negotiations – with the support in theory of the Obama administration at the time by refusing to participate in further negotiations until the Israelis implemented a full freeze of settlement activity in Jerusalem and the West Bank. As long as the Netanyahu government does not comply with this reasonable and logical pre-condition, which is consistent with the Quartet's resolutions and the Road Map obligations, Abbas should not go resume negotiations at all, whether direct or indirect.
It is understandable if the Syrians ask for indirect negotiations through a Turkish mediator, because their situation is different, with no contacts with the Israelis. But the Palestinians are heading for negotiations with an Authority that emerged from the occupation womb and which has to deal with the Israelis on a daily basis, including full security coordination. This is a joke that isn't making anyone laugh.
Arab regimes, the "moderates" in particular, are putting pressure on the Palestinian Authority's president to resume negotiations without conditions, at the behest of the US. Consulting such regimes about any US offer on "proximity" talks is pointless, for the results are known in advance; one does not need to be a fortune teller to know what the "moderate" Arab response will be.
The bottom line is money: the US carrot to get the PA back to the negotiating table is worth $900m per annum. Obviously, this cannot be underestimated but it is worth considering what would happen if the bluff was called and the US and other donor countries stopped all financial aid to the Palestinian Authority. Would Dr. Fayyad continue with his economic peace efforts? And would Israeli settlements and settlers continue to enjoy security and prosperity as they do now?
Stopping such aid would lead to the breakdown of authority and the return of Hamas as a force to be reckoned with in the West Bank, and maybe the growth of Al-Qaeda too. What would then stop the West Bank, and the surrounding area, from turning into another Yemen, or another Baghdad". If this is what the Americans want, then let them precipitate it.
Shimon Peres pleaded to the Palestinians to halt the "funerals" for a week, during the second intifada, so that the Israelis could implement the Road Map and make progress in negotiations towards a state. Most of the funerals stopped in the West Bank two and a half years ago, but Israel did not commit to the Road Map or anything else. Instead, the occupation forces carried on killing fugitives in Nablus and Qalqiliya, in collusion with the Palestinian Authority security forces, and raiding Ramallah itself, the capital of the Palestinian Authority, to arrest members of Fatah, the Authority's main party.
If Mahmoud Abbas wants to return to negotiations without a freeze of the settlements in Jerusalem, that's his business, but he should credit the Palestinians with some intelligence and not ignore the wishes of his people. He should also be in direct negotiations, not hiding behind US tricks. He would be wise to remember that this could lead to his downfall and the destruction of what little credibility he has left.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.