By James Gundun – Washington D.C.
The White House probably didn’t expect to cash its check so soon.
US envoy George Mitchell has landed in Jerusalem to oversee the Palestinian Authority’s final review before entering “indirect negotiations” with Israel. Set to begin next week, if the green light is given, Mitchell will shuttle between Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho in Jerusalem and the PA’s chief negotiator Saeb Erekat in Ramallah.
Vice President Joe Biden will reinforce him on Monday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu eagerly welcomed his arrival, calling Biden, “a friend of Israel for many years and a personal friend for almost three decades… I am convinced that this important visit to our region will contribute to advancing the diplomatic process, and there are indications to this effect.”
There are – if America and Israeli’s illusion had worked. "Indirect negotiations" have been ongoing for months, what we’re seeing is a re-branding to the frozen peace process. And to no surprise their facade has already cracked on the Temple Mount.
Negotiations have begun by the sound of Erekat, who said of the raid on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, “We see this aggression against our people and holy sites as the Israeli response. Today’s aggression is simply the conclusion of a week where Israel did everything possible to tell us they are not serious about peace.”
“Following Arab willingness to engage in proximity talks towards peace, the ball is now in the court of the international community and the United States to take action in response to Israeli aggression and ensure a conductive environment for peace negotiations. This can only be done if Israel is held accountable to international law and its obligations under the Road Map, including a full settlement freeze and end to violence.”
Erakat isn’t talking generically about international law or the “Road Map,” if it can be called that. In order to persuade President Abbas to agree to “indirection negotiations,” the White House was forced to include in its document, “We expect both parties to act seriously and in good faith. If one side, in our judgment, is not living up to our expectations, we will make our concerns clear and we will act accordingly to overcome that obstacle.”
Or in the Haartez’s words, “U.S. vows to assign blame if Israel-PA talks fail."
But such a feeble contract speaks to how low the peace process has fallen under President Obama’s watch. The Palestinians are unlikely to be the ones to hinder “indirection negotiations,” so this clause is designed for Israel at Abbas’ insistence, as he had refused to enter any agreement without some form of guarantee.
So the question becomes: what if Israel does scuttle the talks?
Will America renege or finally call out Israel on the world stage? This is immediately relevant since “red lines” have already been crossed. The day after America’s self-congratulatory effort to restart the peace process, Israeli security forces raided religious sites on the Temple Mount for the second time in a week. The circumstances are sketchy as both sides cry foul, but even if Palestinians did instigate the conflict by throwing rocks at Jewish worshipers, they were responding to two weeks of constant Israeli aggression in the West Bank.
Israel enjoys inflaming Palestinians and then dousing them. Despite its promise of “minimum force,” Israeli police also vowed a “firm hand” against Jerusalem protesters. Or as Israel calls them, "rioters." Seemingly clueless, Israel is trying to treat Jerusalem in a vacuum. But the Palestinians and their allies know that Israel knows exactly what it’s doing.
Abbas issued a special statement overnight, on the eve of Mitchell’s arrival and the Palestinian’s review, calling Israeli police “the occupation army.” He accused Israel’s “escapades” of aiming to provoke “a religious war in the region.”
“Israeli forces are crossing every red line in an attempt to avoid restarting peace negotiations,” Abbas warned, “especially following the decision by the Arab follow-up committee of the Arab League to resume the peace talks."
He has called on America and the international community to intervene, cool off rising tensions, and prevent violence from escalating beyond control.
Obama finds himself at a crossroads only days into the White House’s scheme, a clear sign that it wasn’t thought out to the end. Why wasn’t Israel told not to do anything provocative in the next 48 hours? Was that too much of a request? Does Mitchell say anything now? Does Biden stand up to Netanyahu as the Palestinians’ demand? Obama risks Netanyahu pulling out as soon as the White House comes down on Israel, and if not, he could get a red light from the Palestinians at the last second.
America would again be forced to assign blame or go silent, an unstable cycle.
In reality this may be the Palestinians’ strategy. Erekat has thrown the ball back to the international community, but he must achieve the realization of seizing the ball. Abbas and company have intentionally forced Israel and America into agreements they couldn’t hold. Having vouched for Israel’s actions, the blame falls on America this time. Staying static if Obama goes silent isn’t an option.
The Palestinians must call him out if he doesn’t call out Israel, then they should start talking unilateral statehood again. This will either pressure America to respond or independently advance the Palestinian cause.
“The peace process has almost reached a dead end,” Abbas declared from Ramallah on Saturday.
A US statement doesn’t appear likely at the moment (although, given the fluidity of this situation, one could appear in the near future). The UN Security Council passed a statement Friday urging Israel to restrain itself in the West Bank during this critical phase of negotiations. As America didn’t block the statement, Palestinian observer Riyad Mansour generously called the move “a signal that the United States wants this effort to succeed.”
But according to the Haaretz and Reuters, a U.S. official said the delegation, “had not agreed with the statement and said it was adopted due to what the official described as ‘procedural confusion.’” Apparently only through procedural confusion will America stand down in the international community’s attempt to restrain Israel. Today, amid a flurry of Palestinian protests, Mitchell made no public comment.
The future is full of uncertainty, but none of these signs bode well for next week let alone the next four months. Obama’s caught in his own illusion and moving in any direction may trap himself. The Palestinians must be ready to pounce in the UN and Arab League once they catch him.
– James Gundun is a political scientist and counterinsurgency analyst based in Washington D.C. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com. Contact him in The Trench, a realist newsletter, at www.hadalzone.blogspot.com.