The Illusion of Peace Negotiations
By Joseph Klein
Israeli and Palestinian negotiators are in Washington this week to meet face to face under State Department auspices. Although the talks are focusing initially on procedural issues rather than any substantive matters, Secretary of State John Kerry hailed their resumption as a major accomplishment.
In announcing the appointment of Martin Indyk, former U.S. Ambassador to Israel, as the U.S. Special Envoy for Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations during a press briefing Monday morning, Kerry praised “the courageous leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas” and “their willingness to make difficult decisions.”
The Monday evening “negotiation” session, hosted by Kerry, was attended by Israel’s justice minister, Tzipi Livni, Prime Minister Binjamin Netanyahu’s envoy Yitzhak Molcho, the Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, and Fatah official Muhammad Shtayyeh. They met over an Iftar dinner at the State Department, flanked by the American, Israeli and Palestinian flags. Before the dinner began, Kerry met with the Israelis and Palestinians separately.
After one more session on Tuesday, the negotiators head home, where further talks will be held at some undisclosed location in the Middle East.
Although details of what was said at the dinner have not yet been disclosed, Kerry was reportedly set to read a statement specifying the pre-1967 lines as the basis for negotiation on Palestinian statehood, with minor one-to-one land swaps. This is the Arab League-Obama administration proposal for a two-state solution, which ignores Israel’s legitimate security concerns. It also asks for no concessions from the Palestinians, who continue to insist on the right to re-locate millions of Palestinian refugees within pre-1967 Israel.
When Kerry visited the United Nations last week, he referred to both Israel and the Palestinians as two “countries” preparing to put into place procedures for resumed talks. He used the term “countries” again in referring to Israel and the Palestinian territories during his Monday morning remarks. In return for the Palestinians’ “difficult” decision to enter into procedural talks with Israel, has Kerry offered the Palestinians some sort of private assurance of tacit support for their quest for statehood recognition at the UN and elsewhere, as his repeated references to two “countries” would seem to suggest?
What exactly are the “difficult decisions” made by both sides to kick start the negotiations? The truth is that only Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu actually made a difficult decision. Against some opposition in his own party and over protests by families of victims of Palestinian terrorist attacks, Netanyahu has decided to release in stages as many as 104 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom have served prison terms of two decades or more for murdering Israelis in cold blood.
“This moment is not easy for me,” Netanyahu said. “It is not easy especially for the families, the bereaved families, whose heart I understand. But there are moments in which tough decisions must be made for the good of the country, and this is one of those moments.”
What tough decision did Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas make other than temporarily putting aside all of his preconditions that would have prejudged the final outcome of any meaningful final status negotiations? He merely promised, according to reports, to put off for a few months seeking expanded membership status at the United Nations and pursuing bogus legal action against Israel in the International Criminal Court.
Back in 2008, Abbas demonstrated his lack of interest in a negotiated peace fair to both sides when he rejected a peace proposal from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that would have given the Palestinians approximately 94% of the West Bank. The Palestinians rejected Israel’s offer because they did not get 100% of what they wanted, including the full “right of return” and every stone of East Jerusalem under Palestinian rule.
Here is what Saëb Erakat, the chief Palestinian negotiator then and now, himself said about the rejected offer during a television appearance in March 2009, as transcribed by MEMRI:
Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Abbas] could have accepted a proposal that talked about Jerusalem and almost 100% of the West Bank, but it is not our goal to score points against one another here. Our strategic goal, when we strive for peace, is not to do so at any price. We strive for peace on the basis of an Israeli withdrawal to the June 4, 1967 borders, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and with the West Bank and the Gaza Strip geographically connected… There will be no peace whatsoever unless East Jerusalem – with every single stone in it – becomes the capital of Palestine[.]
Nothing has changed on the Palestinian side. We have essentially the same cast of characters espousing the same take-it-or-leave it position that would undermine Israel’s future as a Jewish state. Moreover, Abbas is as incapable now, as he was in 2008, of delivering a unified Palestinian proposal for peace. Hamas, which controls Gaza, declared that it “considers the Palestinian Authority’s return to negotiations with the occupation to be at odds with the national consensus.” As if to prove Hamas to be right, hundreds of Palestinians marched on Sunday in the West Bank city of Ramallah to protest the resumption of talks.
Even if a deal could somehow be reached between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, the Palestinian Authority sees negotiations as a mere tactic on the way to reaching their eventual goal of eliminating the Jewish state from the river to sea.
On July 19, 2013, the Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs, Mahmoud Al-Habbash, invoked the actions of Prophet Mohammed as justification for breaking a treaty. He said in a sermon in front of Mahmoud Abbas on Palestinian Authority TV that reaching an agreement with Israel was “exactly like the Prophet [Muhammad] did in the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah, even though some opposed it.” Mohammed entered into this treaty with the Quraish Tribe of Mecca, but broke it two years later when his forces attacked and conquered Mecca.
“This is the example, this is the model,” the Palestinian Authority Minister of Religious Affairs proclaimed.
In September 2011, on Al-Jazeera TV, Fatah Central Committee member Abbas Zaki was even more explicit on the Palestinians’ true intentions:
The agreement is based on the borders of June 4 . While the agreement is on the borders of June 4, the President [Mahmoud Abbas] understands, we understand, and everyone knows that it is impossible to realize the inspiring idea, or the great goal in one stroke. If Israel withdraws from Jerusalem, if Israel uproots the settlements, 650,000 settlers, if Israel removes the (security) fence – what will be with Israel? Israel will come to an end. If I say that I want to remove it from existence, this will be great, great, [but] it is hard. This is not a [stated] policy. You can’t say it to the world. You can say it to yourself.
The only possible good sign in all of this is Kerry’s appointment of former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as his Special Envoy to manage U.S. interests in further talks. At least he will bring an understanding of Israel’s hot button issues while at the same time having some credibility with Palestinian negotiators. However, without a president who can tell the difference between our only true ally in the Middle East and a deceptive Palestinian negotiating team that is not committed to a genuine peace and that does not speak for all Palestinians in any case, these talks will only move forward to a conclusion if Israel is forced to sacrifice its security and future as a Jewish state. Barack Obama is not that president.