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Palestinian negotiators multitask

Peace talks are the only channel that Palestinians are committed to, but this voluntary commitment must not be seen as a source of weakness

Daoud Kuttab

Published: Updated:

Modern technological development has brought with it the term multitasking, a term that replaced the popular “Can you chew and walk at the same time?"

Palestinian negotiators are now facing the tough challenge of applying to join various U.N. agencies while, at the same time, agreeing, in theory, to continue peace talks until the end of April.

The action was publicly demonstrated by President Mahmoud Abbas who signed a document on Tuesday allowing the state of Palestine to join 15 different U.N. agencies.Until recently, it was believed that Palestinians had to choose between joining international agencies and participating in the negotiations.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry had extracted a commitment from Palestinians to refrain from such actions in return for Israel’s release of 104 Palestinian prisoners who have spent more than 20 years in Israeli jails.The release of those prisoners, held since before the start of the Oslo peace process, was agreed to during the Sharm El Sheikh agreement signed in September 1999.

Talks stall over prisoner release

Instead of releasing all the prisoners at one time, the Israelis decided on four stages, the last of which was due to take place at the end of March. However, Israel chose not to release of the final batch, insisting that they be released only if Palestinians agree to extend the talks that are due to conclude at the end of April.

Israel has complained that unilateral Palestinian action is against the text and spirit of the peace process. Palestinians scoff at such statements when Israel fails to honor major clauses in existing peace agreements and continues to violate international law that aims to regulate long-term occupation.

Daoud Kuttab

Various efforts to make symbolic offers, such as releasing prisoners who have one month left to their term, to convince Palestinian negotiators, have failed to change their mind, as they insisted Israel deliver as per the agreement.

The Palestinians had much more practical requests at the start of the peace talks: an agreement to what the talks aim to produce and a commitment by Israel to suspend all settlement activities.

Palestinians had asked that talks should aim at reaching the internationally accepted two-state solution based on the 1967 borders, as a reference.

The Arab peace plan that offered Israel normalization of relations with 57 Arab and majority Muslim countries in return for Israeli troops withdrawal from Arab areas occupied in 1967, and an agreed resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem was offered as one such basis for the talks.

Israel rejected all attempts to have a reference for the talks. They also refused to suspend settlement activities and, in fact, accelerated landgrabs, building exclusive Jewish colonies and demolishing Palestinian houses, especially in occupied East Jerusalem.

Pointing fingers

Israel has complained that unilateral Palestinian action is against the text and spirit of the peace process.

Palestinians scoff at such statements when Israel fails to honor major clauses in existing peace agreements and continues to violate international law that aims to regulate long-term occupation.

The Fourth Geneva Convention clearly states the illegality of an occupying power moving its people to occupied areas. The International Court of Justice has given an advisory statement regarding the Israeli wall built deep on Palestinian land. The advisory ruling in 2007 states clearly that as an occupying power, Israel is forbidden to settle in Arab areas captured during the 1967 war.

Actions and refusal to respect agreed-to commitments have consequences.

By joining U.N. agencies, Palestinians are not rejecting the negotiating track. Explaining his decision, the Palestinian president reiterated that Palestinians will only use political and nonviolent means to refuse occupation and to attempt to translate the U.N. recognition of the state of Palestine into a sovereign state.

The current round of talks appears to be coming to an unsuccessful end.

Using the U.N.

The U.S.-sponsored peace process cannot produce the coveted peace if one side is interested only in the process and does not have the aim of achieving peace.

The Palestinian action does not necessarily replace the talks. But joining U.N. agencies, especially the International Court of Justice, will strengthen the Palestinian negotiating hand.

Israel needs to understand that it cannot continue violating international law, occupying a people by sheer military power and colonialising its land without any consequences.

Peace talks are the only channel that Palestinians are committed to, but this voluntary commitment must not be seen as a source of weakness.

Israel prides itself on having occupied Palestinian lands in six days. The month of April is a long enough period to come to the table with acceptance of the price needed for a breakthrough.

Land for peace based on the two-state solution is what the world declared as a fair solution to this conflict. The sooner Israel shows seriousness in talks the sooner the process can produce real peace.

This article was first published in The Jordan Times on April 2, 2014.

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Daoud Kuttab, an award winning Palestinian journalist who resides in Jerusalem and Amman. Mr. Kuttab is the director general of Community Media Network a media NGO that runs a radio station in Amman (al balad radio 92.4fm) a newsweb site ammannet.net and a TV production operation in Palestine Penmedia (penmedia.ps) which is producing the Palestinian version of Sesame street. You can read his blogs on DaoudKuttab.com and find him on Twitter @DaoudKuttab.

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