Sunday, May 29, 2011

'Resumption Of Peace Negotiations Is All But Impossible'

By Musa Keilani
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 29/05/2011 
There was a sense of expectation attached to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with US President Barack Obama, his appearance before the pro-Israeli lobby, the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and the joint session of the US Congress. The expectation was that something would be unveiled during Netanyahu’s visit to the US that would be positive to the quest for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

It proved to be hollow, since all Netanyahu did was to reiterate his known positions and firmed up his refusal to accept the legitimate rights of the Palestinians as the basis for peace negotiations. Moreover, the Israeli prime minister distorted facts and realities on the ground to support his argument that Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories and its policies towards the Palestinians living under its military occupation were not in violation of international law.

Of course, his audience at the AIPAC conference, an annual pilgrimage for US businessmen and politicians to reaffirm their pro-Israel credentials, and at the US Congress, cheered and applauded him.

Many observers praise Netanyahu for saying he would recognise an independent Palestinian state. But they overlook the fact that Netanyahu’s definition of “independence” remains as far as ever from the Palestinian dream of independent statehood after decades of struggle and heavy sacrifices.

Netanyahu’s talks with Obama and his statements changed little, except that every party involved in the elusive quest for peace knows where exactly it stands.

Of course, Obama deserves credit for clearly reaffirming that an Israeli-Palestinian peace accord should be based on the lines that Israel held at the outset of the 1967 war, with negotiated exchange of territory to accommodate the Jewish settlements in the occupied land. Obama was not exactly breaking new ground by referring to the 1967 lines, since it is obvious that they should indeed be the starting point for negotiations.

Instead of picking up where Obama left off, Netanyahu misrepresented what the US president said and went on to lecture him in public on how Israel found it impossible to “defend” the 1967 lines.

If anything, it should have been a humiliating experience for the US president to be told in public that he was pipe-dreaming in his vision of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement.

It is not the first time this happened. In their confrontation last year over the US demand for a total freeze of Israel’s settlement construction in the occupied territories, it was Obama who had to step down and accept defeat in the face of an uproar raised by the pro-Israeli political establishment in the US, including his own Democratic party.

As things stand now, a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations is all but impossible in view of Netanyahu’s rejectionist stand and the Palestinian refusal to accept Israel’s conditions for peace.

The US, whose support over the decades recreated Israel to what it is today, wants to help, but is told to go take a hike by its “strategic partner” in the Middle East.The US president has no independent options except those dictated by his political imperatives ahead of his bid for reelection next year.

The Palestinians have taken a step or two in asserting their freedom of action to serve their interests. Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas would have preferred to have found some opening that would have allowed him to go back to the negotiating table with Israel, but Netanyahu, wittingly or unwittingly, made sure there was none.

He says the Palestinians should not have any preconditions for talks, but attaches several of his own that are impossible to be met. He demands that Abbas should renounce the recently signed Palestinian reconciliation agreement that has allowed him to work on a united Palestinian platform to deal with all issues, including the continued struggle for liberation and statehood.

Netanyahu argues that Israel cannot negotiate with a group like Hamas, which refuses to recognise it. And Hamas is unlikely to meet his demands that it recognise Israel, give up armed resistance and accept past agreements signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel (one fails to see the relevance of the third demand since it was Israel that violated those agreements in the first place).

The bottom line is that Hamas has conditioned Palestinian recognition of Israel on the latter’s recognition of the former. And Netanyahu has no intention to do so. He has brushed aside Abbas’ assurance that it would not be Hamas that would conduct negotiations with Israel and that Abbas himself would be in charge in his capacity as the chairman of the PLO.

Adding insult to injury to the Palestinians were the warnings, issued by both Obama and Netanyahu this month, that the Palestinians not go ahead with their bid to secure international recognition of their token statehood by September, the same deadline set by Obama for a two-state solution in Palestine.

The only option before the Palestinian leadership today is to continue along its path for world recognition of statehood. In the meantime, the Palestinians should embrace the goal of absolute unity without reservation.

There is still the possibility that Hamas and Abbas’ Fateh could fall out over conflicting ideas about the unity government to be formed and how the Palestinian territories should be governed in the interim period during which the new government would prepare for parliamentary elections in one year. Unexpected developments in the occupied territories could also derail the Palestinian move towards unity for the common cause.

Paramount among the requisites today istrust among the Palestinian factions. Hamas and Fateh might have differences over the political shape of the sought-for Palestinian state, but they should not allow themselves to be turned into feuding parties by the Israelis.

Hizbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah described Netanyahu’s statements as a godsend gift to justify the annulment of the Arab League Initiative to make peace with Israel.

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