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On Kerry’s talks and beyond

October 29, 2015 at 10:30 am

Under John Kerry’s mediation, once again, there are have talks between Jordan and Israel regarding the issue of Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jordanian guardianship of the holy sites. Benjamin Netanyahu is a dishonest politician, a view shared by most Israelis, but this is not the first time that the Jordanian government appears to have tried to reach an understanding with the Israeli prime minister and his government.

This will not be the time, though, when the Israeli leader will reach an agreement and understanding with Jordan; he was responsible for trying to assassinate Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal during his first term in office in the mid-nineties, and he chose the Jordanian capital in which to do it. The two consecutive governments that he has formed over the past four or five years did not leave a single draft treaty on the table without him expressing his dislike for it.

Netanyahu did the same thing yesterday in response to Kerry’s suggestions and I would not be surprised if tomorrow he came back to express similar sentiments yet again. The discussion between Jordan and Israel, under Kerry’s mediation, was limited to questions about Al-Aqsa Mosque and the recent violations committed by the Israelis. It sought to guarantee a sense of safety and security in light of recent events and the maintenance of the status quo without any surprising changes from Israel. However, these “understandings” were not only public but also pertained loosely to the current status of the Noble Sanctuary; that is, to allow Muslims to pray in the mosque and Jews to visit it. In reality, there is very little difference between what many have called “visits” and others have considered violations on the part of the Israeli army. How can a “visit” truly be an innocent visit if it is presented as a fait accompli enforced by the Israeli army and police? How can we share a cup of coffee with strangers if they are coming into our home with all their expansionist dreams in mind? How can we consider them to be innocent visitors?

What about the Palestinian perspective in regards to these talks and how is it being addressed by numerous factions? Is it enough that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas felt the need to address his people and ask them to remain calm and return to their houses? Is it sufficient to say that we must return to the status quo as it was before the recent uprising in the Palestinian territories? Was it not the status quo that motivated the Palestinians to rebel against the reality of the situation and the iron grips of the occupation and the Palestinian Authority? What is it that Abbas thinks he can present to the Oslo generation, the third generation since the 1948 Nakba, in his effort to maintain peace and quiet, so that he can go back to his daily routine? The PA will suggest that the bilateral negotiations between Jordan and Israel are in regards to the Jordanian custodianship of Al-Aqsa and the rest of the holy sites and this is true to a certain extent.

However, what is also true is that the popular uprising that is taking place in the territories is not limited to the question of what is happening in Al-Aqsa or the limitations on the right to Friday prayer, per se, but all of the limitations imposed by the occupation that have rendered normal Palestinian life impossible. Moreover, the settlement expansions have not stopped and the wall has continued to grow thanks to Israel’s increasingly racist policies. The path to political progress is closed and the possibility for a future viable state continues to slip through the Palestinian negotiators’ fingers. Economic limitations continue to suffocate the country and the people living there. These are the main reasons behind the popular uprising, and without the alleviation of this suffering no understanding between Jordan and Israel can appease the anger of the West Bank and restore a sense of calm to the streets.

The events of Al-Aqsa were the straw that broke the camel’s back in a volatile environment that can explode at any given moment. Both Jordan and the PA have their own agendas and priorities when it comes to restoring a sense of calm to the Palestinian streets. Jordan is concerned first and foremost with its role as the custodian and sponsor of Al-Aqsa and the holy sites and this is an important issue. However, the Palestinian Authority is concerned with representing and encompassing the Palestinian issue in its entirety. This is what John Kerry fails to realise and acknowledge. The US is concerned mainly with preventing guns from being drawn; with containing the crisis, but Washington is ultimately not able to re-open the Palestinian file once again, nor does it have the desire or the will to do so.

On the Jordanian level, Kerry’s current tour of the Middle East may be successful within certain limits; the PA, though, will remain concerned with whatever outcome that will make Abbas’s job easier and for that reason alone it will be virtually impossible to calm the growing sense of anger and frustration on the street. I suppose that the clashes in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza suggest that many do not believe that reaching an understanding with Jordan would justify a sense of calm and acceptance on the part of the Palestinians.

I believe that the Palestinians have assumed, and we have assumed with them, that their cause has taken the back seat and been forgotten in light of events on the regional and international stage and have therefore taken the opportunity to re-develop their national cause after a long hiatus. They will not stop here. They have had enough, and no trick that John Kerry has up his sleeve will work on them. Unless Mahmoud Abbas can provide a “valuable commodity” or alternative to his people, I do not think his meeting with Kerry will provide him with what he needs to appease them.

Translated from Addustour, 26 October 2015