On Peace and Palestinian Unity
1 May 2014
By Emily Gian
Some weeks ago I wrote about the peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians, which had then been meandering along with little progress for eight months.
From the outset of the talks, US Secretary State John Kerry had set a nine-month deadline, which expired earlier this week on 29 April but as that date neared the focus turned away from consummating a successful outcome to one of attributing blame for its imminent failure.
The original concept of these talks was to have a nine-month timetable which would resolve the final status issues.
As a precondition of entering the talks, the Israelis were required (and agreed) to release a certain number of Palestinian prisoners in stages over the term of the negotiations.
Normally, one would not expect a party to such delicate negotiations to make such a painful concession (given that some of the prisoners had the blood of Israel citizens on their hands) with no benefit in return but this is precisely what was expected of Israel. It could be argued that the benefit was the prospect of peace at the end of another round of what seems to be an endless number of talks but without the participation of those ostensibly representing a substantial number of Palestinians living in Gaza. However, this was the expected outcome of this peace negotiation and not a concession by one party or the other.
The only apparent requirement on the Palestinian side was that they had to attend talks and refrain from seeking the status of statehood outside the peace process.
Early in the piece, the Palestinians refused to recognise Israel for what it is – a state for the Jewish people with a minority of others – which is the basis of United Nations resolutions going back to 1947 which called for the creation of two states, one Jewish and the other Arab and which was the basis of the Oslo Peace Accords.
Israel continued to release prisoners until late March, at which time the final batch of prisoners were not released. Seeing the collapse of the talks nearing, John Kerry noted that both sides “wound out in a position of unhelpful moves”, but he then placed the blame squarely on Israel saying, “the prisoners were not released by Israel on the day they were supposed to be released and then another day passed, and another day, and then 700 units were approved in Jerusalem and then poof – that was sort of the moment”.
One wonders whether, at the time when Kerry was blaming the Israelis, that he could envisage that just a few weeks later, another “moment” would arise that would draw a final blow to the peace negotiations?
On 23 April, less than a week before the expiration of the deadline, rivals Fatah and Hamas announced the signing of a reconciliation deal, seven years after Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a bloody coup. The groups have tried to reconcile before, but this deal seemed to come through fairly quickly. They agreed to form an interim government in the next five weeks with the goal of holding elections in six months.
An Israeli cabinet met and decided that “Israel will not conduct negotiations with a Palestinian government backed by Hamas, a terrorist organisation that calls for Israel’s destruction”. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Netanyahu declared, “instead of choosing peace, Abu Mazen formed an alliance with a murderous terrorist organisation that calls for the destruction of Israel… whoever chooses the terrorism of Hamas does not want peace”.
PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas tried to play down the enormity of signing a deal with an organisation whose main goal is the destruction of the State of Israel but saying that the unity pact would not contradict peace talks with Israel. Clearly in damage control, he said, “I recognise Israel, and it [the unity government] would recognise Israel. I reject violence and terrorism”.
Given the harshness of the dressings down that Israel has been given over the years for various decisions, one would expect the American response to be tough. However, the State Department response seemed mild and watered down, with spokesperson Jen Psaki declaring that “the timing was troubling and we were certainly disappointed in the announcement… This could seriously complicate our efforts. Not just our efforts, but the efforts of the parties to extend their negotiations”. Psaki was equally unclear on the issue of what concessions or benefits had been provided by the Palestinians other than a flimsy offering that “the benefit is talking about what the end game would be for a peace process where two parties are living side by side in peace and security.”
This is utter nonsense. Are we really expected to believe that a Palestinian unity government will be serious about sitting down at the negotiating table with Israel? One does not have to wonder whether Hamas would come to the party or not because Mahmoud al-Zahar, one of Hamas’ most senior officials has come out with a definitive answer denying that Abbas’ promise that a unity government would honour all past agreements with Israel and that Abbas is only saying so because “he is seeking a guarantee that US financial support will continue”. As far as Hamas is concerned, there will be no recognition of Israel.
Notwithstanding, the International Community does not in the main, allow this to get in the way of condemning Israel for being an obstacle to peace.
This Monday was Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day. On that day, comments were published from a meeting the week earlier between Abbas and an American rabbi. Abbas said that “what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era”. Many have praised Abbas for his statements, though there seems to be more to it than just a well-timed statement in political terms. In 1984, Abbas released a book entitled “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism where he not only argued that the numbers of Jews murdered by the Nazis had been extremely exaggerated, but that the Jews had collaborated with the Nazis in order to speed up emigration to what was then Palestine. While commentators have seen his most recent comments as a departure from his earlier views, this does not necessarily seem to be the case.
Meanwhile, John Kerry has been forced to issue a statement in support of Israel after he warned that Israel could become an apartheid state. In a closed door meeting last week he stated that “a two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens – or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state”.
He then issued an official statement where he declared that he would not allow his commitment to Israel to be question by anyone that that “Israel is a vibrant democracy and I do not believe, nor have I ever stated, publicly or privately, that Israel is an apartheid state or that it intends to become one”. He continued, “I have been around long enough to also know the power of words to create a misimpression, even when unintentional, and if I could rewind the tape, I would have chosen a different word to describe my firm belief that the only way in the long term to have a Jewish state and two nations and two peoples living side by side in peace and security is through a two state solution”.
The settlements remained a vexed question throughout and whilst it remained subject to heated debate, the changes on the ground during the nine months remained minimal and do not appear to have upset the conventional scenario that a future peace deal will involve land swaps incorporating the major settlement blocks into Israel.
Kerry’s thoughts on a two-state solution are nothing new but with what we have seen in the past week between Fatah and Hamas, one has to wonder how he can still think that the success or failure of a two-state solution is dependent on what Israel does. And in the meantime, his irresponsible use of the word “apartheid” have given Israel’s detractors additional legitimacy.
The final say for the time being is with Israel’s UN Ambassador, Mr. Ron Prosor who spoke on the date which was the final date for the completion of the talks –
“When I think about the negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, there is a predictable pattern on the part of the Palestinians — demand, delay and desert.”
And that has been very much the story of the peace process that was in all likelihood destined never to succeed and which now lies shattered.