Israeli-Palestinian final status talks will be renewed because the international community--particularly the United States but also the moderate Arab states--wants this to happen. Probably sooner rather than later a formula will be found for sitting the two sides' negotiating teams down with US envoy George Mitchell.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, currently the reluctant partner, will bow to the American and Arab will once he has extracted maximum preliminary concessions from Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama. And Netanyahu obviously concluded some time ago that entering final status negotiations was the best way to avoid isolation: to maintain close Israeli-American strategic coordination regarding Iran as well as a modicum of coordination with Egypt and the moderate Arab bloc while keeping most of the Israeli public behind him.
The real question should be not whether the talks will be renewed, but rather, why? Why do the US, Egypt and Saudi Arabia want negotiations to resume when they are doomed to failure and when failure, meaning a new crisis, could significantly worsen the situation? Why insist on negotiations rather than face up to the strategic realities?
The first and most obvious of these is the three-state reality. There is little near-term prospect that Abbas will succeed in bringing Gaza and Hamas back into the fold of a single Palestinian partner for Israel. Hence he can negotiate only on behalf of the West Bank. But Gaza won't go away: Hamas can easily sabotage an Abbas-Netanyahu peace process with a few sustained rocket barrages, while neither Egypt nor Israel appears to have a viable strategy for dealing with it.
The second reality is that, when he does negotiate, Abbas is certain to table a set of demands on issues like refugees, Jerusalem and borders that Netanyahu cannot and will not meet. Back in late 2008, then-PM Ehud Olmert's very far-reaching proposals for final status were turned down by Abbas; Netanyahu is hardly likely to match even that abortive peace plan.
The third reality is that the Palestinians are currently embarked on their most, indeed only, successful state-building enterprise since the Oslo process began in 1993, and it is largely a unilateral process: building, with international help, security, economic and governance institutions on the West Bank. In the course of the past year, we have seen that negotiations--particularly frustrating and fruitless negotiations--are not necessary to sustain a positive state-building process that in fact dovetails to some extent with Netanyahu's "economic peace" approach. This is especially so, given that the state-building process is spearheaded by PM Salam Fayyad, an independent, while negotiations would be with the PLO, which doesn't represent Fayyad.
The fourth reality is that Netanyahu is hardly an enthusiastic candidate for negotiating a two-state solution. Ehud Olmert was eager and generous in his proposals, for all the good it did him. Netanyahu has grudgingly embraced the two-state solution and will offer no concessions on Jerusalem. His governing coalition has numerous strong ties to the settler movement. And he is offering little of substance to persuade Kadima to join him in a more moderate coalition. He seems to be counting on the Palestinians to disappoint everyone; or on the Americans to become so deeply embroiled elsewhere in the region that they'll abandon the process; or on his own limitless aspiration to manipulate everyone all of the time. Netanyahu is the quintessential politician who lives from day to day: every day celebrated without getting hopelessly entangled in a peace process that damages his welcome in Washington and with his own constituency is a victory; nothing else is important.
So if final status talks, once renewed, have little prospect of success, where might the efforts of supporters of the process be invested with a better chance of success? Certainly, backing the state-building efforts of PM Fayyad is one area of endeavor. Regardless of whether the end-result is a unilateral, bilateral or multilateral process, without a functioning Palestinian state apparatus there can be no two-state solution. Another worthwhile direction is to work out a better form of coexistence between Gaza and its neighbors, Egypt and Israel, one that generates enough stability to reduce the likelihood that Hamas will spoil the emergence of a state on the West Bank.
Finally, renewal of the peace process between Israel and Syria deserves more and better attention from the US and the moderate Arab states. Unlike in the Palestinian arena, here the parameters of a process are clear, most of the negotiating has already been done and Syrian President Bashar Assad is able to deliver. Obviously, success in the Israeli-Syrian arena is not guaranteed. But if achieved it would reduce Iran's regional influence and weaken Hamas, thereby improving the chances for fruitful Israeli-Palestinian negotiations--when circumstances are more favorable than today.- Published 18/1/2010 © bitterlemons.org
The long experience of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations has taught us that the question is not whether to negotiate. If they are to resume, negotiations cannot be an objective in themselves, they are a means to achieve certain ends.
And though different parties to negotiations may have different objectives, they have to make sure that the conditions in which negotiations are held are conducive for them to move forward. This, of course, assumes that reaching agreement is the common aim for both sides. If it is not, the history of Palestinian-Israeli negotiations also shows that negotiations with little chance of success may be counter-productive because they create expectations that are not met and therefore affect the domestic balance of power.
There are certain conditions that will contribute to the likelihood of successful negotiations. One is to establish clear and agreed terms of reference. The absence of such terms of reference can lead talks in endless circles that will only reduce confidence in the approach and increase the search for alternatives.
The other important condition is to establish a clear and definitive role for third parties. The great imbalance of power between the Palestinians and Israelis can prevent a positive dynamic because the powerful party is always tempted to wield its might to impose its terms. This will only provoke a backlash from the weaker side and thus lead to a cycle of deterioration.
In the current context of the Palestinian-Israeli peace process, however, Israel is trying to ignore both these requirements and the lessons learned from long years of failed talks. The Israeli demand for a resumption of negotiations "without pre-conditions" is disingenuous since it renders talks at the mercy of the pre-conditions that Israel is itself establishing on the ground. Israel insists on continuing to build settlements, thereby prejudicing the outcome of any process and undermining in particular the internationally accepted aim of a two-state solution.
Negotiations without pre-conditions ought to mean that Israel refrains from imposing any changes on the ground, whether settlement building, home demolitions or any other practices that pre-determine in fact, unilaterally and by force, the future of the occupied territories.
Hence it makes sense that the sponsors and mediators of this process should follow the logic and letter of the documents that are agreed on by everybody as the main terms of reference for negotiations, particularly the roadmap which was proposed by the Quartet and later enshrined in a UN Security Council resolution.
The logical sequence stipulated in that document expects the two parties to refrain from activities and behavior that are harmful to future negotiations, namely settlement expansion and violence, as a first step. There should be concurrent increases in activities and behavior that enhance chances of success. On the Israeli side these would include the re-opening of Palestinian institutions in East Jerusalem, the removal of restrictions on Palestinian movement and reversing the re-occupation of Palestinian Authority territories. On the Palestinian side, there should be security sector reform and enhanced governance capabilities.
The international community, which has been instrumental in encouraging and facilitating the Palestinian side to fulfill its obligations under the roadmap, is now required to do the same with the Israeli side. That will be the shortest route to resuming meaningful and fruitful negotiations between the two sides.- Published 18/1/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.
AN ISRAELI VIEW
Negotiations? No thanks
by Mordechai Kedar
Since the Netanyahu government was elected in late March 2009, negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians have been frozen. It looks like the two sides prefer it that way. Of course in addressing the international community, and particularly the United States, each side has to pretend to be interested in renewing talks. But beneath the surface, both are afraid to proceed.
The government of Israel fears the moment when the core issues are put on the table since it is incapable of selling its constituents any concessions concerning Jerusalem, settlements and borders. In this sense, merely commencing negotiations is liable to end the government's term. PM Binyamin Netanyahu apparently does not want to follow in Ariel Sharon's footsteps: the latter will be remembered in the national consciousness as the leader who gave the Palestinians the Qatif bloc, removed the Jews from Gaza and got Qassam rocket attacks in return.
Netanyahu knows that any concession in East Jerusalem is unacceptable to his voters and that he would forever be remembered as the man who gave Israel's enemies the holy city. Another concern for Netanyahu is his inability to ensure that a Palestinian state would not at some point become a Hamas state. For all these reasons, he prefers not to even enter into discussions with the Palestinians regarding core issues.
The Palestinians have also become enamored of the status quo, particularly insofar as they can obtain without negotiations what they cannot obtain by talking. The president of the United States repeatedly pronounces on the need to establish a Palestinian state with territorial continuity. The Europeans--and perhaps a few State Department and White House officials as well--support a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence, without negotiations, with borders along the green line and territory that includes the areas Israel annexed to Jerusalem in 1967, even those that have become Jewish neighborhoods. So why would the Palestinians need negotiations if they can get what they want without them?
Another problem the Palestinians can avoid by evading negotiations is the quarrel between the PLO/Ramallah and Hamas/Gaza. There is no certainty that Palestinian peace negotiators can prove that they control what goes on in Gaza or could compel the Haniyeh government there to honor whatever agreement Israel and the Palestinians reach. Negotiations held in the shadow of the Palestinian schism are liable to perpetuate a situation of two Palestinian entities: Ramallah, by negotiating, might advance toward a solution, whereas Gaza would remain willfully stuck with positions that cannot possibly enable negotiations to begin. Palestinians are not yet prepared emotionally, publicly and politically to admit that the split is permanent, hence they cannot commence negotiations on final status in which Ramallah participates without Gaza.
Worse, the very fact of negotiations would provide Hamas with ammunition against the Palestinian Authority. Hamas could spread rumors regarding Palestinian concessions; even if the rumors are baseless they could deprive the PA leaders of what little public legitimacy they currently enjoy. Besides, the Ramallah leadership knows that through negotiations it cannot obtain all its demands, particularly regarding the refugee issue, insofar as the refusal to permit refugee return is supported by a broad consensus of the Israeli public. Hence it doesn't want to enter into a negotiating situation in which it will have to offer concessions. Better to let the world pressure Israel to make more and more concessions even before talks have commenced.
The perception that negotiations are not worthwhile and that if entered into they will not yield significant achievements has been spreading of late among Palestinian intellectuals. Again and again, the one-state alternative is broached. This solution seeks to perpetuate the existing situation by means of Palestinian withdrawal from the concept of an independent state, coupled with the demand for citizenship and voting rights in a single state.
Let demography win: Palestinian birth rates would rise and there might be a certain return of refugees, as against widespread Jewish emigration reflecting Jewish refusal to live in a bi-national state that comprises a large proportion of Arabs. Thus, through demographic changes, the single state would within a few years become a Palestinian state stretching from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. So why should Palestinians enter into negotiations over a state in only part of the land? This approach is supported by a growing number of Israelis who fear that even a final status agreement won't end the conflict because many Palestinians here and abroad would not suffice with a Palestinian state only in the West Bank and Gaza.
Therefore, I don't think serious negotiations will be resumed in the near future. There might be a photo-op or two, primarily for the White House picture album--but little more.- Published 18/1/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Dr. Mordechai Kedar is a lecturer in the Department of Arabic and a research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, Bar-Ilan University.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
The PA will have to yield to pressure
by Sami Abdel-Shafi
It seems ever more evident that while the US-led international community is urging a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Palestinians increasingly feel the exercise is fruitless. More and more Palestinians are questioning the use of what has become a perpetual on-again off-again process. Moreover, the credibility of any negotiations process will always fare badly when set against the monumental difficulties Palestinians are made to endure in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, not to mention the increasingly prejudiced policies against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship in northern Israel.
Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority will eventually have no option but to resume negotiations for it has entirely relied on what is largely political funding from abroad. One of the ironies of Palestinian politics is the difference between how the PA started off and how it operates now. After the PA was first established in 1994, it received substantial funding that allowed it plenty of space to govern and run Palestinian affairs as it saw fit. However, several of its key figures at that time allegedly misused this latitude and the PA grew to typify a corrupt regime. Today, the PA is in much better position to govern with integrity but has, unfortunately, weakened its ability to decide its own affairs because it allowed itself to depend on political funding from abroad.
Thus the PA will not be able to resist pressure to return to a process that will lead nowhere as long as Israeli policy remains unchanged and the international community continues to be a shy spectator. In addition, as settlement building in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza continue, Israel is successfully raising the ceiling of Palestinian tolerance. The West Bank's separation wall is now seldom protested and East Jerusalem is disappearing, one neighborhood at a time, without any challenge to speak of.
It is no surprise therefore that the government of Binyamin Netanyahu does not mind resuming negotiations even while the PA finds itself resisting such fruitless talks. Near permanent facts on the ground provide enough comfort to the Israeli government that any upcoming negotiations will lead nowhere near any kind of approximation of justice. Netanyahu's hawkish coalition is savvy enough to just sit by and wait. Pressured Palestinians, meanwhile, will be left with no option but to halt negotiations once they reach inevitable deadlock.
Israel has not only cornered the Palestinians. Israel has exhausted the international community by setting it in perpetual pursuit of constantly changing targets. A pertinent example is the settlement construction freeze issue, where Israel busied the US so much and ended up not compromising at all. Regrettably, by the time the US administration realizes it has failed to curb Israeli settlement building it will also have allowed Israel to advance its policy against Palestinians in all occupied territory in other ways.
It remains to be seen how Israel will conduct negotiations with the Palestinians. It will not escape observers that Israel may soon choose to consummate a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, an entity it vowed not to negotiate with, while prolonging endless negotiations with the PA, an entity it and the world recognizes. But perhaps this paradox could signal something positive. No matter the avowed positions of Israel and Hamas, successful negotiations over prisoners could signal how political advances are possible as long as both sides see one another as an entity that can deliver.
To those of us in favor of credible peace negotiations, it seems obvious that Palestinians must set their own house in order prior to any resumption of talks with Israel. Ending the Palestinian division and achieving reconciliation will, apart from presenting a united front, pull the carpet from under Israel's argument that the Palestinian leadership does not represent all Palestinians, an argument that, without unity, will be trotted out whenever convenient.
Just as Palestinians long for a just peace that delivers them a state, they must realize that they also possess what Israel desperately and finally needs, i.e., Palestinian authentication of the Israeli state as a peaceful neighbor rather than the belligerent occupier it is at present. But Palestinians will never realize statehood or deliver this authentication if they do not negotiate and remain divided.
For the time being, Israel is led by the anti-peace camp and Israel's hawks are likely to want to continue to drag the US and the international community to consent in practice to Israel's methodical strategy of gradually erasing Palestinians from their lands. The international community must, therefore, be more than just a broker at the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating table.- Published 18/1/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Sami Abdel-Shafi is an independent political analyst and co-founder and senior partner at Emerge Consulting Group, LLC, a management consultancy in Gaza City.
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