Peace negotiations: Commended for some, yet denounced for others

US Secretary of State John Kerry talks with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, right, in Vienna, Jan. 16, 2016. (AP)

Perhaps one of the key reasons behind current tensions is the prevalent misconception of the word negotiation. Negotiation between opponents is not a cession, negotiation is a dialogue between two or more parties intended to reach a beneficial outcome that is satisfactory for all parties involved and it can either end in success or failure.

A settlement agreement is a tool that is used to resolve disputes and conflicts, and it does not represent a stance in itself. For this reason, when a party refuses to enter into negotiations with its opponent, then this party is rejecting the principle of reaching a settlement. This is a clear political position that reveals this party’s unwillingness to reach a solution, thus intentionally keeping the issue unresolved.

In the Middle East, there have been several examples of negotiation attempts over the years, some of which succeeded, and others failed. Even the negotiation attempts that proved unsuccessful can be resumed as long as the end goal is reaching an agreement.

The most famous negotiations that led to a tangible solution was what the late Egyptian President Mohamed Anwar Sadat undertook, through which he recognized Israel as a state in exchange for returning the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel occupied in the 1967 War.

Late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat seen addressing parliament on Nov. 9, 1977. (Reuters)

Late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat seen addressing parliament on Nov. 9, 1977. (Reuters)

Needless to say, Israel gave up the land it occupied by force in exchange for getting political recognition by a major Arab country.

These were the first serious negotiations that resulted in satisfactory outcomes for both parties.

Another example of successful negotiations can be seen during the time of the nuclear deal between the P5+1 countries, led by the United States of America during the era of former President Barack Obama. Talks to reach an agreement took only a year and a half.

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei allowed his Foreign Minister, Mohammed Javad Zarif, to sit directly with US Secretary of State John Kerry, in Geneva, Vienna, New York and Lausanne. During that period, the Supreme Leader used to make aggressive statements about the US being the “Great Satan” and the root of all evil that undermines the security of the Middle East.

These proved to be mere flashy slogans, since at the same time Zarif was seen smiling in conferences with John Kerry and the Europeans after each session.

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks to the media as he meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Friday, April 22, 2016, in New York. (AP)

US Secretary of State John Kerry, left, speaks to the media as he meets with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif Friday, April 22, 2016, in New York. (AP)

Iran was able to forge an agreement in its favor with the United States and the Europeans within 18 months, through direct negotiations. Iran celebrated this deal and considered it a significant victory. Zarif even waved the agreement paper from the balcony of his hotel in Lausanne, looking like a little child on Christmas day.

As for the upcoming negotiations, they will be between Israel and Lebanon, yes, Hezbollah-ruled Lebanon. The negotiations aim to demarcate the maritime borders, after the discovery of potential gas reserves in the disputed waters between the two parties.

Read more: US welcomes Lebanon-Israel decision to begin mediated border talks: Pompeo

The first round of negotiations will start at the end of this month, with US mediation and UN supervision. How and why did Lebanese Hezbollah agree to sit at the table with the Israelis? How and why did they ask for US mediation? Hezbollah is under tremendous pressure from the United States, and its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah eagerly awaits Donald Trump’s defeat in the upcoming elections, thinking that Joe Biden will ease the pressure on Iran.

But personally, I don't think that this is the main reason. The reason is simply that Hezbollah needs the money, and Lebanon needs to have energy resources, all of which will ultimately be in the interest of Hezbollah since it is the direct beneficiary of any state income. So, theoretically, and practically, Iran and its Supreme Leader do not see anything wrong with entering into negotiations with Washington or with Washington's mediation as long as these negotiations will be in the best interest of Iran or its militias. In this case, Iran has chosen to follow a pragmatic strategy and turned a blind eye to America and the great ‘evil’ it brings.

Two boys carry pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, left, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, right, as thousands of Hezbollah supporters gather in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon on Oct. 14, 2010. (AP)

Two boys carry pictures of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, left, and Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, right, as thousands of Hezbollah supporters gather in Bint Jbeil, Lebanon on Oct. 14, 2010. (AP)

The real question here; why do Iran and Hezbollah have the right to negotiate their interests with Israel and the United States, while Palestinians are denied the same right? Ismail Haniyeh refuses to enter into negotiations as per the directions of the Supreme Leader, and Mahmoud Abbas says that he refuses to start negotiations before Israel ceases its settlement activities.

I would like to remind our brothers in Palestine that Iran agreed to negotiate with major powers over its nuclear deal without conditions. Even with all the sanctions that were enforced, Iran moved forward with the negotiations, and it was rewarded with a hundred billion dollars as an initial payment to raise the spirits of the Iranian leadership. Tehran did not impose any conditions; it did not stipulate lifting the sanctions imposed on it or the liquidation of its frozen funds, and it went through the negotiation process with ease.

On the other hand, Palestinians rejected American mediation, and stipulated ceasing settlement activities before agreeing to join the Israelis at the negotiating table. I do not know if the Palestinian leadership or factions think that this intransigence will lead to a satisfactory outcome; however, as much as it pains me to admit, I believe they should learn from Iran and its realistic approach.

In conclusion, some would have you believe that negotiations and agreements between countries like Iran, Qatar and Israel, are permissible and even commendable, yet the same actions are forbidden and denounced when taken by the Palestinians, Emiratis or Bahrainis. It is safe to say that Iran simply does not want others to reap the benefits of peace and this is a flagrant reflection of the region’s double standards and unjust dissonance.

This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi Arabian outlet Asharq Al-Awsat.

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