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Is the negotiations stage over?

Israel refuses to release the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners arrested prior to the Oslo agreement. Mahmoud Abbas signed 15 agreements to join international organisations, and the Palestinian side will begin to work on an international level to register its membership in these UN affiliated institutions. Both sides have shown anger towards US Secretary of State John Kerry, but he kept Martin Indyk in the area to meet with the two sides, the Palestinians and the Israelis, to look for compromises that can bring things back to normal and then resume negotiations.

Indyk in return brings heads of the negotiations teams Tzipi Livni and Saeb Erekat together in a number of rounds of negotiations easing the impasse which the talks seem to be going through. Observers are confused. Some believe that the negotiations stage is over, while others believe that all obstacles standing in the way will be overcome and that negotiations will go for another round. We are with the second opinion which says that the threats of stopping negotiations are nothing but a passing wave and that they will be resumed soon, for many reasons which we'll mention soon. We'd like to add that negotiations are a persistent Israeli, Palestinian and American need.

It is an Israeli need in order to give an impression that there is political activity going on between Palestinians and Israelis and providing a response to the idea that Israel is the one standing in the way of peace, especially as it refuses to freeze settlement construction.

Negotiations are also a Palestinian need because Abbas has no alternative. Compromises such as tempting Palestinians that the Israeli side will release even more prisoners in addition to the fourth group in exchange for Palestinian agreement to go back to negotiations and to extend them will be agreeable to both sides.

The Americans are also concerned with negotiations; Kerry has exerted extensive efforts over the past eight months and that it is important for both sides to reach an agreement that relieves America from the annoying issue of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This does not mean that that the American administration would put pressure on Israel just like it's doing with the Palestinian side, as this is prohibited as per the strategic agreement signed between the US and its ally, Israel. It is also prohibited in the guarantee letter sent by George Bush Junior to Ariel Sharon in 2004. This comes in addition to historic relations between the two countries and the effect the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has on America as well as other reasons.

As for pressures exerted against the Palestinian side, they will continue and most likely increase, as the financing of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is partly provided for by the US and Europe and stopping it will lead to more problems for the PA which is keen to maintain its own survival. Therefore, the Palestinian side will go back to negotiations for the following reasons:

  • The only option the PA is sticking to is negotiations, then negotiations and negotiations. Mahmoud Abbas relieved himself and the PA from any other options. To him resistance is considered violence and terror and resistance fighters are pursued and continue to be arrested. The PA recently arrested a number of active members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and from Islamic Jihad amongst other groups. Also, security coordination with the Israeli side is still ongoing and it is getting wider and deeper and, of course, it is taking place under the direct supervision of America. Someone who'd like to stop negotiations with Israel would start with stopping security coordination with it, bring back the glory of resistance with all its methods and would follow it. However, resistance through an armed Intifada is prohibited by the Palestinian president. Popular resistance is the only form taking place and in a few locations only, it is not a popular activity in all parts of the West Bank.
  • The division on the Palestinian arena is weakening both parties. Someone who is keen on stopping negotiations with the enemy would work on reuniting the Palestinian arena, and implementing Palestinian unity based on national principles. Abbas intends to send a delegation to Gaza to negotiate with Hamas, but he realises that it is impossible to overcome the current division because the two authorities whether in Gaza or in Ramallah fight for the keys to the prisons where followers of each are arrested by the other, and each one is comfortable this way, exerting their own administrative powers over their living conditions. Israel knows the PA's dilemma in this regard and it realises that Abbas, no matter how much he shows that he does not want negotiations, will go back to it as it is his only option. Abbas also knows that the majority of Palestinians in the occupied territories and in the diaspora are calling for an end to the useless negotiations with the Zionist enemy. Through his latest position, he may regain some of his popularity which has been wearing away since the beginning of the negotiations in July last year, especially in light of the Israeli settlements which have increased and also in light of frequent Israeli attacks against Al-Aqsa Mosque and Judaising Jerusalem and its surroundings.
  • Some of the agreements Abbas signed can only be implemented with support of the American side, like the ones relating to registering to UN affiliated organisations, the US will try to obstruct this step through convincing its allies to vote against the PA's will. In addition to this, Israel has threatened "sanctions" against the PA and against Abbas personally whether through withholding tax revenues or other sanctions. In its issue of Friday April 4, Haaretz newspaper mentioned some of these sanctions: freezing funds, suing Abbas in international courts, freezing the permit Israel granted the Wataniya mobile telecoms company, which operates in the West Bank, for the transportation of equipment to the Gaza Strip to start working there, restricting the activities of the PA in area C in the West Bank among other sanctions.
  • Pressure will be directly exerted by the US against the PA, or through its European and other allies, in indirect ways, to force the PA to agree to go back to negotiations. We've tested Abbas' boycott of negotiations for a few years during which negotiations had not been stopped but were going on through diplomatic messages or "exploratory negotiations" which took place in the Jordanian capital Amman, or secretly or in other ways.
  • President Abbas gave a free concession, as part of a series of allowances, in his meeting with 300 Israeli students at his headquarters in Ramallah when he said: "We will not burden Israel with millions of refugees," and when he gave up his town of Safad. Someone who gives one after concession after the other to the Israelis will have no problem giving more concessions later on, and this is what Israel realises in Abbas' personality just like when he went back to negotiations in light of Israeli settlement expansion.

Someone who wants to boycott negotiations would bring back the glory of armed resistance and the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which Abbas has been neglecting for years, and would reunite the Palestinian arena, which Abbas has not done. For these reasons and others, the negotiations stage is not over yet.

Translated from Al Quds Al Arabi, 9 April, 2014

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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