By Mamoon Alabbasi – London
A debate over the seriousness of the Middle East peace process was held in London, where six analysts argued for and against the motion that the current Israeli-Palestinian negotiations were merely a charade.
Shlomo Ben-Ami, historian and former Israeli minister, expressed "serious doubts" on the validity of the negotiations, where both sides were in a "sate of indifference" and not ready to make any significant commitments.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ben-Ami argued, does not have the political power and right-wing backing to make peace, and all that he is willing to offer clashes with the concept of a "sovereign Palestinian state."
On the other side, Ben-Ami continued, Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas does not have a real mandate to negotiate a lasting deal on behalf of all Palestinians in the absence of a national unity government with Hamas, expressing astonishment on how a "democratically elected majority was marginalised" in a peace process.
Ben-Ami said US efforts must focus first on bringing about a national Palestinian reconciliation, especially between Fatah and Hamas.
However, his views were challenged by Manuel Hassassian, Palestinian Ambassador to the UK, who insisted that the Israelis and the Palestinians were "still earnest on the peace process."
Hassassian said he sees "no alternative" to these negations, where both sides cannot afford to have the talks fail, but he also urged the Israelis not miss the opportunity to make the process succeed and forge peace.
"We Palestinians are the only ones who can give Israel a birth certificate", he said, in a reference to the legitimacy Israel is expected to acquire once it ends its occupation and allow an independent Palestinian state to exist.
But for the two-state solution to materialize, Hassassian argued, the weaker side in these negotiations – i.e. the Palestinians – must have the support of the US administration, in addition to American civil society to protect Palestinian human right and uphold international law with regards to the Mideast conflict.
Meanwhile, Hassassian’s compatriot Mustafa Barghouthi, Palestinian democracy activist and presidential candidate in 2005, took a different view on the sincerity of these talks, saying that the "peace process has become a substitute to peace" – aiming to silence protest against the suffering of Palestinians, who are now living under the longest military occupation in modern history.
Barghouthi explained that the peace process was based on a historical compromise, where the Palestinians would get less than half of what they were entitled to under the original UN partition plan, but thanks to the illegal Israeli settlements built on occupied territories even that "compromise is being compromised."
"The expansion of settlements is killing the possibility of a Palestinian state, killing the possibility of a two-state solution," warned Barghouthi, pointing to maps that compare the effects of the Jewish settlements to land segregation under apartheid South Africa.
Barghouthi added that the problem was not just with these settlements but also with the resulting "closed areas, apartheid walls and endless number of checkpoints."
Among the factors that damage the credibility of the peace talks, Barghouthi noted, is the "lack of a frame of reference" during negotiations where Israel "can determine what can be discussed" and dismiss international law.
Barghouthi also cited the problems arising from the thorny issue of Jerusalem, where Israeli officials cannot publically endorse the division of the Holy City between Palestinians and Israelis, adding that no Palestinian official could give up the right to occupied East Jerusalem without being regarded as a traitor, making his decision invalid.
Peace negotiations are more feasible if Palestinian democracy was allowed to continue, noted Barghouthi, citing a US-Israeli assault on Palestinian unity and democracy, and pointing to the current weakness of the Palestinian Authority which is expected to comply with the wishes of Tel Aviv.
"This is the first time in human history where the occupied people are asked to provide security for the occupiers," said Barghouthi with astonishment.
Barghouthi added that the Israeli have and will continue to look for excuses not to make a peace deal, citing examples of Tel Aviv’s rhetoric against Egypt, then Iraq and now Iran, to divert attention from its policies.
For his part, Jonathan Paris, author and Middle East analyst, defended the current talks, which he said were in the interest of both sides.
Paris said he was "cautiously optimistic", hailing the efforts of the Palestinian Authority’s security forces, and praising a "slowing down" of Israelis settlements, which he attributed to personally to "Bibi" (Netanyahu).
If Netanyahu opts for peace, Paris argued, the other Israeli parties will follow.
Paris stressed that US President Barak Obama is committed to the peace process, which he says also enjoys the popular support of Palestinians and Israelis, adding that the success of these talks would also result in a "containment" of Iran.
Since expectations for the success of these talks are very low, noted Paris, "we have less to lose," in a hint that the negotiations outcome would be more positive than initially thought.
Edward Luttwak, historian and military strategist, voiced strong objection to holding peace talks under the auspice of the United States and with the involvement of foreign diplomats, stressing that for the negotiations to succeed they must be conducted by Palestinians and Israelis alone, where the terms would be in favour of the "victorious" side, which he said was the common practice following a "war".
"Peace is not a charade. The charade is the peace process," said Luttwak, who mocked all the non-Israeli and non-Palestinian players involved in setting up the negotiations.
Luttwak sought to portray the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as one of war alone, making almost no reference to occupation and population dispossession.
"It was war itself that brought peace," he argued, adding that to achieve peace "you must make a deal" and not ask for "rights and justice."
In contrast, Martin Indyk, former US ambassador to Israel, appeared upbeat on the progress of the negotiations.
He laid the blame for the failure of past Mideast talks squarely on the Palestinian side, but expressed optimism that this round would be different because "Abbas is committed to making peace."
Indyk also saw in Netanyahu’s comment to Abbas – "you are my partner" – an unusual but positive shift in the choice of words by a right-wing Israeli PM with regard to a Palestinian leader.
Like Paris, Indyk expressed confidence in "Bibi", echoing the same sentiment, that if Netanyahu makes a deal then the rest of Israelis will support him.
– Mamoon Alabbasi is an Iraqi journalist based in London. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him at: email@example.com.