By Hasan Afif El-Hasan
For two decades of futile negotiations and three years of secret contacts with the Israelis, the Ramallah Palestinian Authority (PA) has been repeatedly declaring its refusal to engage in direct negotiations with Israel on the future of their lands occupied by Israel in the 1967 war unless Israel freezes settlement expansion. In the meantime, Israel shifted the attention to Iran’s threat and continued to defiantly announce fresh construction plans to build and expand illegal settlements in Palestinian lands. Israel took notice only when 138 nations voted for a General Assembly resolution to upgrade Palestine’s status to a non-member observer state and the European Union (EU) decided to stop subsidies to any Israeli entity operating in the occupied West Bank.
Passage of the UN resolution gave the Palestinians some standing to seek prosecutions in the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Israel for alleged violations of international law. But when engaging in ‘peace talks’, the Palestinians cannot use their newly acquired status to put pressure on Israel in the ICC; and the ‘peace talks’ encourage the EU to suspend or even cancel its latest decision to defund projects in the settlements.
After some shuttle diplomacy by the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and threats to cut the US financial support, the PA leadership caved in and agreed to have direct face-to-face negotiations with the Israelis under the patronage of the US without any pre-conditions. By bringing the Palestinians to the negotiating table, John Kerry came to shield Israel’s continued aggression and violations of international law from any accountability or punitive action.
Because the negotiation process is a vital strategic interest for the Israelis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel would gradually release 104 Palestinian prisoners who had been in its jails before the 1993 Oslo agreements as a ‘good will gesture’. This is a rational decision by Natanyahu since it is the least costly price Israel can make to the Palestinians for returning to the negotiating table. It also enhances the Palestinian leaders’ image among their people who are skeptical about the benefit of the negotiations. If these prisoners are freed after being incarcerated for decades, they will be too old to pose threat to Israel anyway. Israel holds thousands of Palestinian activists in its jails and 1.6 million are besieged and starved in Gaza Strip. Haaretz newspaper wrote: ‘Natanyahu preferred releasing prisoners over two other possible concessions, which would have been much more logical: committing to a settlement freeze, or making a public declaration on a border compromise based on 1967 lines. Natanyahu preferred releasing the prisoners because he understood from the fanatical right-wingers in his government that the other two options wouldn’t fly.’
The Palestinians are hopelessly weak, financially dependent on hand-outs and they are divided between two quarreling powerless entities; the Arab countries are pre-occupied with their people’s unrest and demands for freedom and social justice; civil war is raging in Syria and Egypt is at the edge of civil war; anarchy, sectarian violence and lawlessness have overtaken the daily life in Iraq; and the 2002 Arab League initiative has been watered down to allow Israel annex parts of the West Bank and Jerusalem in exchange for some unspecified Israeli land.
All indications suggest the odds of success of the negotiations to produce an agreement that meets the minimum legitimate aspirations of the Palestinians are slim. Since the parties to the conflict have very different concepts of the negotiations’ purpose, the US cannot be counted on as honest broker to help bridge the gap between the two parties when they are incapable of doing so on their own. The US has always been the defender of Israel’s aggression against the Palestinians’ legitimate rights. Since 1989, the UN General Assembly has been voting on resolutions for ‘Peaceful Settlement of the Palestine Question’ and in every year, only the US with Israel, Canada, and a handful of states such as the Dominican Republic and South Sea mini states vote against the resolution. The US voted in the UN General assembly against giving the Palestinian people the right to have even a non-member observer state.
Secretary of State John Kerry announced the appointment of Martin Indyk as the United State’s special envoy to oversee the negotiations. Mr. Indyk, a dual Israeli-American citizen and a former U.S ambassador to Israel, can hardly be considered impartial on the Palestinian issues. He has been an active Zionist since he was a young international relations student by his own admission. He volunteered to work in an Israeli kibbutz replacing workers who were called upon to join their military reserve units during the 1973 Yom Kippur war. He worked in the 1980s as a deputy research director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group in Washington that has big influence on American foreign policy; and he was a member of the New Israel Fund Board in 2010. Indyk was the advocate for the US policy of ‘dual containment’ that sought to ‘contain’ Iraq and Iran, Israel’s most strategic adversaries at the time before Iraq’s invasion. Indyk was the first US ambassador to be stripped of security clearance because he allegedly passed sensitive US material to the Israelis. His clearance was restored by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in October 2000. Norman Gary Finkelstein, an American political scientist and activist said: ‘[Martin Indyk] is considered by some to be the arch-Zionist Israeli super-spy.’
The present conditions have created an atmosphere that Israeli leaders may perceive it as more conducive to finally realize Israel’s plans for resolving the Palestinian issues that include annexing illegally built settlements and the surrounding lands with nearly 600,000 settlers. Netanyahu told his Cabinet that “resuming the political process at this time is important for Israel,” adding that any deal would be submitted to a national referendum. The colonialists want the referendum among themselves to approve the size of the loot!
The Palestinian people were down this road too many times and this time the results are not going to be any different.
Yasser Arafat, the undisputed leader of the Palestinians then, could not sign on President Clinton’s Camp David offer in the year2000. Mahmoud Abbas, the self-appointed President of the PA is no Yasser Arafat. He has no mandate from his people to reach a comprehensive peace agreement. Many Palestinians including the refugees do not trust Abbas to negotiate on their behalf since he relinquished his own ‘right of return’ to his birth town in an interview given to an Israeli TV station. Hamas that controls Gaza and many factions in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) believe the talks will not produce a viable agreement. The Palestinian people have a shared grim view of the potential for success in these negotiations. The Palestinian leadership is too weak to say ‘no’ when asked by the US to have direct face-to-face ‘peace talks’ with the Israelis, but the leadership has no power to say ‘yes’ to accept a Palestinian state designed by the Israeli colonialists.
– Hasan Afif El-Hasan is a political analyst. His latest book, Is The Two-State Solution Already Dead? (Algora Publishing, New York), now available on Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.