Some good decisions at last in Middle East talks crisis
As the doomed-from-the-start Israel-Palestinian talks finally crumble into dust, some good decisions have finally come from all sides, from Israel and, strangely and perversely, the Palestinians too
As the doomed-from-the-start Israel-Palestinian talks finally crumble into dust, some good decisions have finally come from all sides. None of them will salvage the unsalvageable, but all show signs of reality taking precedence over fantasy.
Just over a week ago, on the eve of releasing the last scheduled batch of Palestinian terrorists (sorry, “gallant freedom-fighters”), the Israeli government cancelled the move unless they received a guarantee that the Palestinians would extend the peace talks to the end of this year.
“Not fair!” screamed the Palestinian leadership. “Oh, no!” sighed John Kerry and his team, “not more obstacles.” Despite the resulting accusations, this was a good decision by Israel. It is almost a certainty that the Palestinians would have scuttled away from the talks once they got their last promised prisoner release; no doubt to acclamation from the Palestinian “street”.
In a scenario so oft-repeated it gets boring, Israel has again been pressured to make more and more painful concessions while Mr Abbas has got away again with a total lack of compromise, offering only more and more demands that he knows Mr Netanyahu cannot meet.
Abbas has shown clearly in the past months that he does not want to end the decades-long conflict. He will never recognise Israel as a Jewish state and he is not about to destroy the fantastical dreams of the refugees and Palestinian diaspora to return to the homes they left in 1948 or 1967. Of course this is at least in part because he wants to end his life in retirement and not in a pool of blood.
The rise in diplomatic temperature has caused what may prove to be the last round of frantic shuttle diplomacy by John Kerry as he rushed back to the region last week to try by any means possible to stop his peace bid from exploding in his face.
And here we come to another good decision.
Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard has gone on record as not wanting any potential early release from prison if it is a political sop to Israel in peace negotiations with the Palestinians. But this was what was on offer last week. John Kerry offered Pollard’s release in return for Israeli concessions on settlement construction and the release of even more prisoners.
Once again, pressure was being put on Israel to make big concessions and bow to increased Palestinian demands -- including 400 more prisoners to be released than previously agreed. The deal allegedly including Pollard’s release was supposedly being considered by the Palestinians when Mr Abbas made his “good” decision.
No doubt emboldened by his refusal to bow to US pressure at his meeting with President Obama, Mr Abbas carried through with his threat to “go to the UN” if Israel did not cave in to his demands. The fact that the Palestinians have probably breached most of the treaties he signed is, of course, beside the point.
While claiming to negotiate as “the independent state of Palestine”, Mr Abbas and his leaders are hampered by an inconvenient fact -- it is not an independent state. Even though the UN only recognised “Palestine" as a non-member observer (the same status as the Vatican City), he continues to pose as something he probably never will be. Very much the emperor’s new clothes.
Why was Mr Abbas’s decision to sign up to all those UN treaties “good”? Simply because it finally reveals his hand. As many maintain, his very public actions shout out loud that the Palestinians do not want peace, they do not want an end to the conflict with Israel.
There is not the space here for an in-depth analysis of why this is so, but the alacrity with which Abbas put pen to UN paper last week, consciously breaking both recent understandings and the principles outlined in the Oslo Accords (only to alter the status of the territories under dispute through negotiation), reveals that his heart has never been in a round of peace talks forced on him by the US and which his own people never wanted to happen.
Any more “good decisions” in the last week or so? Well yes, maybe the best decision of all!
The international media reported over the weekend that John Kerry is taking a “reality check” over the peace talks and considering dropping US involvement. This may be the best decision he has taken in the last nine months.
Until a long and acrimonious meeting last week between Tzipi Livni and Saab Erekat, presided over by US envoy Martin Indyk, the Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have not met face-to-face since last November. Since then, the peace talks have consisted of each side talking to the US instead of to each other -- not a recipe for mutual understanding and co-existence.
According to last Sunday’s Sunday Times (“Exasperated Kerry may drop Middle East talks” by Tony Harnden), White House officials are frustrated with Kerry’s “indefatigable optimism” and an apparent unwillingness to face reality. And, let’s face it, there are bigger things going on in the world right now than an unsolvable scrap in the corner of the school yard.
So, let’s see what we have: no more Palestinian terrorists released from prison, the Palestinians starting their unilateral approaches to the UN and a US Secretary of State taking a reality check. And all this before the nine months of talks is up.
Last July, I asked in this magazine if there would be a “baby” after nine months (see “Nine months of talks, but will there be a baby?”). Well, the baby looks pretty much still-born right now and peace is, if anything, further away than ever. Red lines on both sides have been thickened and official incitement on the Palestinian side has alienated their own people even further from ideas of peace with Israel.
Where do we go from here?
A few weeks ago, I met a prominent Palestinian journalist who longed for the days before “peace” came along. He’s quite right. Between 1967 and the first intifada in 1987, relations between Palestinians and Israelis were far, far better than they are today.
According to an Israeli official quoted in a BICOM report on Monday, “Israel is preparing to return to routine dealings with the Palestinians as they were before the negotiations started nine months ago.”
I would suggest a step further still - returning to “routine dealings with the Palestinians” as they were before Oslo, before the rest of the world poked it’s collective finger into the hornets’ nest.
Nick Gray is Director, Christian Middle East Watch, a British organisation dedicated to objective and factual discussion of Middle Eastern issues, especially of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Nick, who is a regular contributor to The Commentator, blogs at cmewonline.com
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