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Here we go again - another round of futile negotiations

The bad news from Israel keeps coming thick and fast. If the report by European embassies in Tel Aviv on Israel's discrimination against Palestinian Arabs was bad, then surely the internal EU report on the West Bank was shocking. One only needs to scan the two to realise why the Amman talks between Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat and Yitzhak Molko, the advisor to the Israeli prime minister, are doomed to fail.

Faced with an international Quartet deadline of 26 January to resume negotiations, both parties have started to meet under the auspices of Jordan's King Abdullah II. Palestinian factions, including members of Fatah, were appalled by Abbas's decision to get involved, given that the Israeli government has refused yet again to meet their minimum demand of an end to illegal settlement expansion in the occupied territories. Clearly, the Palestinian Authority leadership in Ramallah has succumbed to pressure and returned to the negotiating table after 15 months of no contact.


In the Independent this week, Donald Macintyre wrote about the EU being "on verge of abandoning hope for a viable Palestinian state". He described vividly European dismay at Israel's racism and arrogance. Last year, 2011, Israel's illegal settlements grew by a record 20%. A total of 3,500 housing units were constructed during the year. The country's Peace Now movement has reported that many of the settlements which were previously classed as "illegal" even under Israeli law have now become legal in the eyes of the occupation authorities. What on earth possessed Abbas to have any degree of optimism that these talks might lead somewhere positive?

It is no secret that the Netanyahu government views the settlement-colonisation of the West Bank as a national priority. Hence, even if he gives verbal undertakings to stop settlement growth, everyone knows that he would not adhere to or fulfil such a pledge. After all, the settlements always have been, and will remain, a cornerstone of the "Greater Israel" project.

Accordingly, President Abbas's decision to participate in the Amman meetings, at a time when Israel's illegal land grab continues, can only result in losses on two fronts. First, it will take the wind out of the sails of Palestinian diplomatic efforts, which have won overwhelming support from the community of nations for recognition of the State of Palestine and membership of the UN. The second loss will be on the domestic front, as the resumption of talks in Amman has widened the fault-line between Fatah and several other factions in the national movement.

After agreeing with the other factions in Cairo to reform the Palestinian Liberation Organisation and coordinate its approach to future negotiations, Fatah, led by Abbas, has reneged on the undertaking. The entire reconciliation process, particularly with Hamas, is back to square one; with recriminations flying in every direction. There is now growing disquiet within the PLO's executive council; many members are asking exactly who makes the decisions on behalf of the Palestinian people and how those decisions are made. Clearly, the Arab spring has yet to reach Palestine.

As is their transparently absurd habit, Palestinian officials have made a routine denial that any negotiations are taking place in Amman; they are simply "exploratory" talks. To all intents and purposes, it matters little as to whether the talks are described as "indirect", "proximity" or "exploratory". The fact is that the two parties have exchanged papers and visions about specific issues, namely borders and security. The Israelis have, on their part, disclosed their intention to take confidence-building measures, such as the removal of military check-points and allowing greater freedom of movement for people and goods. If this is not a result of a negotiations process, then what is it?

Furthermore, what is the value of these "confidence-building measures" when Palestinian homes and farmland are still being seized by foreign settlers? What produce will Palestinians be able to produce and trade when their crops are burnt regularly by the settlers?

After two decades of negotiations it beggars belief that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is still in need of "exploratory meetings" to determine whether Israel is really committed to peace.

By attending the Amman meetings Abbas may appear to be flexible to his American and European benefactors. They may even, as a goodwill gesture, grant him much-needed funds to prop up his fiefdom in Ramallah. In the context of the wider conflict, however, the talks are counterproductive because they only give the Israelis more time to pursue their dream of "Greater Israel" by establishing yet more "facts on the ground". Not surprisingly, there is growing consensus that the only time Israel will take the Palestine Liberation Organisation seriously is when it confronts Israeli expansionism with a programme to liberate historic Palestine, which is the PLO's raison d'être.

Thus far, none of the press statements from those involved in the Amman talks have impressed the Palestinian people, despite the fact that they have been issued primarily for public consumption. The negotiators, Israeli and Palestinian alike, will remain in business as long as they continue to parrot the mantra of the "peace process" and "two states living side by side", although as Macintyre wrote in the Independent, at least one key member of the international Quartet, the EU, is fast losing faith in that ever becoming a reality.

January 26th will no doubt come and go and the Israelis and Palestinians will announce the failure of the Amman "talks". Only the naïve and disillusioned – or the very stupid   would expect the parties to achieve in just under two weeks what they have failed miserably to do in two decades, and yet Mahmoud Abbas expects his people to believe that they will. The Palestinian victims of this charade are neither naïve nor stupid and they have had more than enough of the woolly statements and promises that do little to conceal the failure and deception. Nevertheless, it is they who will pay the price in their miserable refugee camps as Abbas dances to Israel's tune and the Americans and Europeans applaud on the sidelines.

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Commentary & AnalysisIsraelMiddle EastPalestine
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