Negotiations: A Disaster for Palestinians

By Ron Forthofer

The issue of a Palestinian state is back on the radar due to Palestinians taking their cause to the UN next week. Israel and the U.S. strongly oppose the Palestinian effort. In fact, on September 8th, the U.S. confirmed it would veto the Palestinian effort in the UN Security Council. Israel claims that the Palestinians can achieve statehood only through negotiations, not through the UN. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. dutifully supports Israel.

Perhaps Palestinians finally concluded that they could not achieve a just settlement with the Israelis through a U.S. brokered peace process, hence the move to the UN. Support for this belief about the futility of negotiations is found in the Palestinian papers that were released this January by al-Jazeera and the British Guardian newspaper. The Palestinian papers, obtained by al-Jazeera, contained over 1600 documents about the peace process from September 1999 through late 2010. According to the Guardian: "But as became clear even under the earlier, less hardline Israeli government of Ehud Olmert, the scale of concessions offered by Erekat and other Palestinian Authority negotiators — far beyond what the majority of the Palestinian public would be likely to accept — was insufficient for Israeli leaders."

Negotiations before 1999 showed Israel often used delaying tactics to avoid reaching a resolution. For example, re the 1991 Madrid negotiations, former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir said: "I would have conducted negotiations on autonomy for 10 years and in the meantime we would have reached half a million people" in the West Bank. Successive Israeli governments have essentially carried out Shamir’s policy.

The 1993 Oslo Accords led to a huge increase in Israeli settlers. In 2001 then former Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu claimed he stopped the accords. He recalled how he conditioned his signing of the 1997 Hebron agreement on American consent that there be no withdrawals from "specified military locations," and insisted he choose those same locations, such as the whole of the Jordan Valley, for example.

Casting doubt on the U.S.’s role as an honest broker, Aaron David Miller, one of the U.S. team at the 2000 Camp David debacle, wrote about negotiations: "The "no surprises" policy, under which we had to run everything by Israel first, stripped our policy of the independence and flexibility required for serious peacemaking."  Re the negotiations themselves, Shlomo Ben-Ami, then Israeli Foreign Minister and one of the Israeli negotiators added: "that Camp David was not the missed opportunity for the Palestinians, and if I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David, as well."

It was not only the Netanyahu government that put up barriers to a Palestinian state. For example, according to the Guardian, the Palestinian papers covered a November 2007 meeting that included Tzipi Livni, then Israeli Foreign Minister and Ahmed Qureia, a Palestinian negotiator. Livni told Qureia that she believed Palestinians saw settlement building as meaning "Israel takes more land [so] that the Palestinian state will be impossible"; that "the Israel policy is to take more and more land day after day and that at the end of the day we’ll say that is impossible, we already have the land and we cannot create the state". She conceded that it had been "the policy of the government for a really long time".

Netanyahu is again the Israeli Prime Minister. He now rejects another short-term freeze on Israel’s illegal building of settlements. Since the Palestinians require a freeze before continuing negotiations, Netanyahu is content with the current impasse. He doesn’t even have to raise Hamas as a reason for avoiding negotiations. Stalling continues unimpeded.

Considering Hamas, according to a 2007 article in Forward, hawkish Israelis such as retired Major General Shlomo Gazit, a former chief of military intelligence, and Ephraim Halevy, a former Mossad chief, support negotiating with Hamas. Gazit called the three conditions laid down by Israel and its Western allies for negotiating with Hamas "ridiculous, or an excuse not to negotiate." Halevy believes Israel should take up Hamas’s offer of a long-term truce and try negotiating, because the Islamic movement is respected by Palestinians and generally keeps its word.

Palestinian civil society has seen the continuation of the brutal Israeli occupation and Israel’s construction of more illegal settlements despite, or maybe as a result of, the negotiations. Palestinians also see the hypocrisy of the international community that has failed in its responsibility to support human rights and international law. Therefore Palestinian society has moved on from a flawed U.S. brokered negotiating process and turned to a nonviolent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign that is already having an impact.

– Ron Forthofer, Ph.D. is a retired professor of biostatistics. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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