Categorized | Middle East




According to one cable in the latest WikiLeaks batch, the powerful Israeli security official Amos Gilad believes Palestinian Authority (PA) head Mahmoud Abbas won’t survive politically beyond 2011.

Abbas is certainly at a crossroads. Will he go down in history as the great liberator or a big loser? The United States appears intent on making him a loser, pushing him to restart direct talks with Israel even though there is no indication that this time would be any different than the past 19 years.

Worse, the incentives America is reportedly offering Israel to freeze a settlement enterprise that is illegal under international law further frays Abbas’ credibility. Abbas insists that East Jerusalem be included in any new freeze. The United States, which has yet to formally spell out its incentives, seemingly supports Abbas’ position, but it has often turned a blind eye so long as the settlers build quietly.

Judging by their statements during the last short-lived round of direct talks, the American administration wants a deal today, with the messy business of implementation pushed into a distant, post-Obama future.

We have been here before. The 1993 Declaration of Principles was followed by a dozen agreements. However, implementation was held hostage to Israeli security considerations and its insatiable appetite for Palestinian land. This ensured the failure of the Oslo peace accords and led to the second Palestinian Intifada in 2000. The main “progress” throughout was the relentless settlement construction.

There is a way out for Abbas — and the Palestinian people — of the trap of endless negotiations as the ground is pulled out from under their feet: To work for an end to the occupation before going into negotiations. What would this involve? The Palestinians would state that they are committed to living in peace and security with Israel, but will not negotiate until it withdraws its soldiers and settlers from the occupied territories, finally applying the principle that underpins United Nations Security Council resolution 242 of 1967 — “the inadmissibility of the acquisition of territory by war.”

Thereafter, Palestinians and Israelis would negotiate final status issues, including a just resolution for Palestinian refugees, security and water. International peacekeepers would be placed between the two sides, including around Gaza, to maintain security for both sides until a final status agreement is signed.

This approach is gaining strength with Palestinian analysts. Amman-based analyst Mouin Rabbani recently wrote for the congressional newspaper The Hill that Palestinians should “agree to negotiate only the mechanisms of a permanent end to the Israeli occupation” before turning to final status issues. Ramallah-based businessman Sam Bahour, who blogs at e-palestine, says that trying to solve final-status issues “while the boot of occupation is still on our necks is hallucination at best and a crime at worst.”

The proposal to end the occupation first and then negotiate final status may sound like a pipe dream. Surely, however, the failure to reach a settlement since the 1991 Madrid conference is evidence that negotiating under occupation doesn’t work.

It would be hard for Abbas to go this route and flout the Obama administration’s will. The United States could curtail its annual aid package to the PA or even reimpose sanctions on the West Bank, as happened after Hamas won the 2006 parliamentary elections. Israel could withhold the revenues it collects on “behalf” of the Palestinians and escalate arrests, closures and other repressive measures.

But what are the options? For the PA to continue to provide Israel with a political cover for its land grab? Palestinians are close to forcing Abbas to stop negotiating under these conditions. If that happens, either the struggle to liberate the occupied territories will be ramped up or there will be a concerted push for a one-state solution of “Israel-Palestine” with equal rights for all citizens (or both). The United States would have left itself without a role to play; even its U.N. veto would not be particularly effective in such circumstances.

The Palestinian people know they are not without power. The boycott movement is picking up steam, world public opinion is increasingly supportive and the Europeans, living in the same neighborhood, may offer some help. Most importantly, ending the PA’s dependency on America would help rebuild the Palestinian national movement, the biggest source of power of all.

In the final analysis, Abbas is the only person who can politically save himself. Pulling out of negotiations until there is an end to occupation is not an easy course to take, but if Abbas chooses it he will leave behind a far better record for the history books.

Nadia Hijab is co-director of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network.

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