Palestinian damage control

Khairallah Khairallah

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The Palestinian authority had no other choice than to accept the mediation of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. There is nothing in the proposal that allows the Palestinian authority to do otherwise, which is clear to everyone, except perhaps an insane Palestinian who thinks that the pendulum is swinging in favor of their cause and not of occupation.

The Palestinian authority can’t bear the consequences that would have emerged if Washington had had to announce that the Palestinians were responsible for the failure of Kerry’s efforts to bring the Palestinians and the Israelis back to the negotiating table.

There’s no guarantee that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, if held, will achieve any progress. But the Palestinian decision to respond to American persuasion was the best choice given the current circumstances.

Khairallah Khairallah

All that can be said now is that the Palestinians avoided severance of relations with the American administration. That alone is an achievement despite the lack of any indications that negotiations may yield results. The agreement still lacks a clear reference to confirm that the goal of peace talks is to establish a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders, along with both parties’ consent to exchange lands within specific borders.

What is certain is that at some point the negotiations cannot help but face very complicated issues like Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the future of East Jerusalem - supposed to be capital of the Palestinian state - and the right of return. But what is also certain is that there are solutions that both parties can reach if Israeli intentions are pure and if Benjamin Netanyahu’s concern is no longer to hold negotiations for the sake of wasting time while he imposes a new reality on the ground.

Wasting time

Netanyahu was the official spokesperson of the Israeli delegation at the Madrid conference formally held under American-Soviet auspices at the end of 1991, a few weeks before the official collapse of the Soviet Union. Back then, the administration of George Bush Senior wanted to exploit the aftermath of the war which liberated Kuwait in order to reach a settlement on the Middle East after it became apparent beyond any doubt that the U.S. was the only remaining superpower.

The U.S. was the only power capable of dragging Israel to the Madrid Conference. Then-Secretary of State James Baker played a major role in convincing then-Israeli premier Yitzhak Shamir to get involved in the settlement game that he rejected on the basis of believing until his death (June 30, 2012) in “Greater Israel” which includes all the West Bank lands including East Jerusalem.

Shamir’s response to American pressures was that he would negotiate just for the sake of negotiating. Benjamin Netanyahu still believes in this option. Clearly, Netanyahu wishes the Palestinians had rejected the return to the talks. All of this would represent to him the best gift to the Israeli right-wing which considers the West Bank “a disputed territory” and not an occupied one. It’s a land that Israel took by force of arms from Jordan in 1967. Resolution 242 applies to it. The interpretation of the resolution can be vague, but the principle of land in exchange for peace is within the resolution’s basis.

Playing the Israeli game

What the Palestinian side has done so far is to limit damage. Briefly, this side at the current phase cannot allow itself to engage in any confrontation whatsoever with the U.S. In addition, the Palestinians can benefit from the Israel’s dependence on the American administration to deal with Iran and its regional aspirations and nuclear program. Israel in general benefits from the Iranian role in the region - a role that serves to inflame sectarian instincts in every Arab country. But at the same time, Israel fears adventurous policies that in the end serve all extremist parties, whether Sunni or Shiite ones.

Perhaps what should make the Palestinian side most comfortable is Hamas’s criticism of the decision to return to negotiations. Both previously and now Hamas only showed the desire to serve the Israeli occupation and aid it in order to justify its own policies. Is there any better justification for the terrorism of the state practiced by consecutive Israeli governments than Hamas’ practices in the Gaza Strip, particularly since the 2005 Israeli withdrawal?

Instead of Hamas’ help to establish a model of what a peaceful Palestinian state could be, starting from Gaza, Hamas began making empty slogans and launching weak rockets that only brought misery to the people of Gaza. At a later phase, Hamas turned into a sponsor of chaos in Sinai. It’s as if what it had done to Gaza and its people wasn’t enough.

There’s no guarantee that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, if held, will achieve any progress. But the Palestinian decision to respond to American persuasion was the best choice given the current circumstances. What matters in the near future is that the Palestinians organize themselves, and avoiding betting on the illusory possibility of reconciliation with Hamas. This begins with undoing the mistake represented with pushing Doctor Salam Fayyad to resign.

Salam Fayyad was the best thing that happened to the Palestinians in a very long time. It’s true that returning to negotiations leads to rebuilding bridges with Washington - something that Israel always fights - but what is also true is that a cabinet headed by Fayyad is the only guarantee to restore international trust in Palestinian institutions that may represent the core of an independent state.

Is an independent state a Palestinian aim? Or is what is required at this phase to just limit damage by playing the Israeli game, of negotiating for the sake of negotiating, but under American auspices?

This article was first published in Middle East Online on July 24, 2013.


Khairallah Khairallah is a Lebanese writer who has previously worked at Lebanon’s Annahar newspaper, he then moved to London and began writing political columns in Arabic language newspapers, including Al-Mustaqbal and Rosa El-Youssef.

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