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Palestinians, think before you ‘agree to disagree’

Should the Palestinians wash their hands of the whole negotiation process, announcing to the world their utter despair?

Bakir Oweida

Published: Updated:

From the leaks of the “advice” given by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to Israeli leaders during a closed-door meeting, it has become clear that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas can do nothing to change Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions. This is because the Israeli prime minister is acting on the basis that he is the stronger party in the negotiations and the only one who can decide the course of dialogue and where it will lead.

Does this mean that the Palestinians should wash their hands of the whole negotiation process, announcing to the world their utter despair?

Logically, that decision seems acceptable. It is even being demanded by those who oppose the entire concept of negotiations, whether among the Palestinians or across the Arab world. These are voices that have grown accustomed to the failure of any new negotiation process even before it starts, which is, of course, precisely what Netanyahu and the Israeli hardliners want. This also applies to all those in Israel’s Zionist wing—an ideological movement which encompasses different approaches. But those different kinds of Zionists work together by “agreeing to disagree,” in a manner which guarantees the vital interests of the majority of Israelis, regardless of what they disagree on.

Let us overlook the similarity in the approaches of the hardliners on both sides—whether we are talking about the Palestinian Arab hardliners or the Israeli Zionist ones. These groups are supposed to be extremely hostile to one another, but ultimately they also rely on each other. I make this observation without presuming there is a “conspiracy” that explains their stances—which is a charge that some like to throw out against those who disagree with them.

Arrogance and intimidation

Let us overlook this and ask: Is it too much for Palestinians politicians and leaders to agree to disagree in a manner that ensures the vital interests of the majority of Palestinians? Are the 66 years that have passed since Israel was created not enough time for the Palestinian mind to invent logical ways to deal with reality? By reality, I am talking about the reality of the Palestinian–Israeli situation today, which will not change for the better—for either Palestinians or Israelis—unless there is a real change in approach? Or would that be too difficult?

Should the Palestinians wash their hands of the whole negotiation process, announcing to the world their utter despair?

Bakir Oweida

Of course, the Palestinian side’s answer to the principle of negotiation is always prompt. We are facing their most recent acquiescence to negotiations, but ultimately did it achieve anything? Did Netanyahu concede anything tangible? No, he did not concede anything tangible: his actions were characterized by arrogance and intimidation, and he imposed conditions that were ultimately obstructive to any real breakthrough.

However, it is exactly because he behaved in such a heavy-handed manner that the Palestinian side would not have lost anything if they had been patient and continued to hold on to peace as an approach and negotiations as a way forward. What would happen if the Palestinians adhered to a peaceful approach to achieve their legitimate rights? More Israeli settlement-building!

But isn’t this exactly what happens with or without negotiations? Given this, what is there to be gained? Only the opportunity to bring international attention to the Palestinian efforts to build a better reality on all levels.

This is not an easy task, but would represent a significant achievement. That is why it is important to adhere to the Hamas–Fatah reconciliation agreement signed in Gaza on April 23 and to move towards achieving the first of its aims on the ground, regardless of the failure of the Palestinian–Israeli negotiations. I am talking about forming a Palestinian national unity government—a technocratic government with a specific agenda aimed at improving the Palestinian situation.

Hamas now finds itself facing a difficult question: Should it facilitate the formation of such a government or obstruct it? It is facing a difficult political test, and this can be seen in the provocative comments issued by some parties casting doubt about the group’s patriotism for going ahead with the reconciliation agreement—even though it serves the interests of all Palestinians.

Fatah too is facing a similar problem. There are some parties within Fatah itself who are of the view that the reconciliation agreement has only delayed the battle to resolve the Palestinian people’s domestic situation.

There are also parties affiliated to Hamas within the wider Islamist resistance framework with known alliances with foreign governments, who could scupper the agreement. If these factions were to suddenly fire rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip, it could potentially deal the final blow to the agreement. Both sides would have to return to square one. In other words, it would be as if none of this had ever happened, no doubt to the delight of Netanyahu in Tel Aviv.

Is this a conspiracy? No, it is just a coincidental convergence of the interests of adversaries.

But when will those who wish for a better Palestinian reality—for those suffering in refugee camps and elsewhere—be greeted with such a coincidental convergence of events? Will we ever see this in response to Netanyahu’s arrogance and his hardline stances? When will they take decisions resulting in actions, not words, and a better future for all?

Abandon Netanyahu’s approach

Whether Kerry truly warned Netanyahu that Israel risks becoming an “apartheid state” or not—and Kerry denies the report—the fact of the matter is that unless the Israelis themselves do not take the decision to abandon Netanyahu’s approach, Tel Aviv will find itself being dealt with as a pariah state, just like Apartheid-era South Africa. At that point, the Zionist ideology will be of no use to Israel, particularly with those in the West abandoning it.

The more Palestinians commit to the peaceful approach, the more they will gain. The arrogant Netanyahu and those who back his hardline approach will not push the Palestinians to despair. They will compel our people to build and develop the land that we have liberated and wait for a better future to come.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on May 2, 2014.


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Bakir Oweida is a journalist who has worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant Editor-in-Chief of Asharq al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for the Opinions section, until December 2003. He can be reached on bakir@hotmail.co.uk and bakir@darbakir.com

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.