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Negotiations and reconciliation

May 31, 2014 at 6:08 pm

After the US president announced the need to stop the Palestine-Israel negotiations for a while in order to reflect on what has happened and study the alternatives suggested by both parties, which would, according to American predictions, push both sides back into negotiations because the alternatives are far worse than negotiations, the picture remains unclear. This is because there are several scenarios, including Netanyahu’s threat to resort to taking unilateral measures in the West Bank, the agreement on a new formula to resume negotiations, or keeping the current situation the way it is.

Stopping negotiations represents an indirect recognition of the failure of the efforts made by Secretary of State John Kerry over the past nine months. Kerry began his efforts by seeking a final agreement over the conflict; then, after Israeli inflexibility, along with an unprecedented increase in settlement expansion, he began working towards reaching a “framework agreement”, which is considered more than a declaration of principles but less than a peace treaty. After his second attempt failed, he focused all his efforts on agreeing a formula that would allow the extension of negotiations so that the end result would not be a vacuum filled with options, alternatives and other parties, causing the decline of America’s role, which has dominated the so-called “peace process” since its inception.

Kerry also failed to achieve such a formula amid unconfirmed reports that he will not seek to continue his efforts and will leave the matter to his successor because the extension of the negotiations requires an agreement dictating a freeze in settlement expansion. The Israeli government is refusing to do this, fearing that if it agrees it will lead to its collapse.

Despite the cessation of negotiations, the US administration confirmed that it will not quit in its efforts towards reaching a peace treaty because doing so would harm American interests and influence in the region, as well as Israel’s. Ending negotiations would open the door to Palestinian reconciliation and the restoration of national unity. This could be achieved on the basis of adopting alternative strategies to those in place at the moment that would strengthen the Palestinians’ position against Israel, whether or not the negotiations are resumed, in the event of a Palestine-Israel flare-up.

The negotiations are not expected to make any substantial breakthrough in the coming months, as the current Israeli coalition government is taking an extreme and inflexible position that prevents the resumption of talks and thus any progress. In addition to this, it is unlikely from now until the midterm US Congressional elections scheduled for early November that Washington will announce its vision for resolving the conflict, nor will any pressure be put on either side. Instead, the US administration may decide to manage the conflict and prevent the situation from deteriorating into an all-out war. However, if, and it’s a big if, it wants to take serious action, it will not do so until after the November elections because the influence of the pro-Israel lobby will be less on the administration during the second half of the final term in office of the president.

Obama has appeared to be unimpressed by Netanyahu on more than one occasion, and this could drive him to impose an agreement if things do blow up in the already explosive region, or if the potential is there for a popular uprising once the Palestinian position at the UN is complete or a boycott of Israel grows. However, if this does not happen, then Obama will think twice before putting any real pressure on the Israeli government.

The recent “Shati refugee camp declaration” was a very important step because it opened the door to Palestinian reconciliation, but the question that this poses is simple: is it merely a bridge to overcome the growing crisis experienced by Fatah and Hamas that will end once the crisis ends, or is it the beginning of the path towards adopting new strategies after reviewing past experiences, learning lessons from history, and taking local, Arab, regional and international variables into account?

It is imperative to review the strategies that have been adopted so far and which have not realised the Palestinian goals of independence, refugees’ return, self-determination and equality. They have instead led to the deepening of the occupation, the expansion of settlements, construction of the Apartheid Wall, aggression, the blockade (especially in the Gaza Strip), division and the marginalisation of the Palestinian cause. This is all despite strong indicators of its presence, such as the steadfastness and unity of the people in the country, multiple forms of resistance, right of return conferences, the protection and development of national identity, and the growth of the boycott of Israel. To this must be added solidarity with the Palestinian cause from the international community, which passed the UN resolution to recognise the Palestinian state with the approval of 138 countries.

If the Palestinian reconciliation was placed within the context of adopting a new path it could combine all strong cards and pressure by re-structuring all wings of the national movement and rebuilding the Palestine Liberation Organisation institutions to include the full political spectrum. This has to be built on national and democratic foundations, as well as real partnership in what can be called “the pillars of the ultimate national interests”. In ending the bilateral negotiations under the auspices of the US without any references or time limits, and without Israel’s commitment to stop all forms of creating “facts on the ground”, not just stopping settlement expansion, as well as making the occupation costly for Israel and its supporters, then the world will not be able to make any moves. If the US did take unilateral steps, they would undoubtedly be in Israel’s favour, as we noticed in the “framework agreement” Kerry tried to promote. However, the Israeli government sabotaged the agreement because it wants even more, and preferred settlement expansion over everything else.

Palestinian reconciliation, which has finally started after seven years of division, is under the umbrella of the “Oslo Accords” as the national reconciliation government will be sticking to the president’s programme. This includes a clear commitment to the Middle East Quartet’s conditions, which are unfair to the Palestinians, without Israel’s commitment to any of them, despite the fact that it is a colonialist, settler, occupation state.

As such, the reconciliation did not close the door to bilateral negotiations, and we may witness a resumption of the talks if the Israeli government shows some flexibility by releasing the fourth batch of prisoners imprisoned before the Oslo Accords as agreed. This could be either with or without another new batch of prisoners. In addition, if the Israeli government agrees to some form of settlement freeze, it could open the door for the Palestinians to go back to the negotiation table. However, this will be difficult, as I have mentioned earlier, since the current Israeli government is the most extremist government since the founding of the state, and its extremism prevents it from taking positions that serve its own interests because of the belief that it will achieve more by being inflexible.

If the situation continues in this way, the Palestinians will depend on the Israeli government’s extremism and patriotism to achieve anything. This will be the worst possible scenario because they should rely first and foremost on their own efforts, rallying all Palestinian energy with a joint vision capable of changing the balance of power. This will put Palestinians in a position where we can force Israel and its supporters to fulfil our national and individual rights.

If the Palestinians are united by one vision and one programme, they will be able to unite the Arabs, the free people of the world and all those keen on keeping the region from even further conflict; the current unrest is surely more than enough.

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