RASHEED ABOU-ALSAMH ARABNEWS.COM
Published — Sunday 6 April 2014
The interruption of the peace negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians this week happened when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas — frustrated with the non-release of a last group of Palestinian prisoners by Israel — signed the accession papers asking that the state of Palestine be admitted to 15 UN agencies and international treaties, including the Vienna and Geneva conventions. With that the mediator of the negotiations, US Secretary of State John Kerry, canceled his trip to Ramallah and flew off to Brussels.
But it was also the announcement by Israel that it had reissued a tender for the construction of 708 homes in a neighborhood of East Jerusalem, which is considered occupied and annexed, that forced the Palestinian reaction. The Palestinians had agreed to defer asking for admission to these international bodies for nine months, following Israeli fears that they would criticize them in these forums, but Abbas said the Palestinians had to react to the Israeli announcement.
With this latest round of exchange of accusations and unilateral actions, many are already ringing the death knell of this last period of negotiations that only began in July 2013 after being stopped for five years. I think it’s too early to announce the end of attempts to negotiate a final agreement for the establishment of a state of Palestine, free and independent within the West Bank, an occupied territory by Israel since 1967, and the Gaza Strip. The biggest obstacle is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his coalition of ultraconservative and nationalist parties who insist that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state; renounce their historical claim to the east and Arab part of Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, and that Israel will be able to leave troops in the West Bank indefinitely.
These Israeli demands leave no doubt that the current Israeli government does not want to see a viable Palestinian state alongside Israel. The uprisings of the Arab Spring over the past three years, and the West’s confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program, have taken the world’s attention away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. How, I wonder, can the Jews of Israel, who endlessly evoke the atrocities committed against them by the Nazis in World War II in Europe, treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as second-class citizens with few civil, political, or economic rights?
US President Barack Obama allegedly gave Kerry the green light to put the possible release of US spy Jonathan Pollard on the negotiating table with the Israelis. The thought is that with his release Netanyahu could release even more Palestinian prisoners, including 400 women and children, without being criticized too much by Israeli public opinion, which has not seen the release of Palestinian prisoners in Israel favorably. But it is a mistake to offer Pollard to the Israelis. He will be able to request conditional parole in 2015, and the entire US intelligence community has been adamant that no American president since the late 1980s has pardoned Pollard because of the thousands of pages of military secrets he sold to Israel and other countries. In any case, Netanyahu has always greedily requested much more when Americans have offered him a reward for an act to advance the negotiations.
I think Abbas and Kerry are sincere in wanting to advance negotiations for a final agreement that would see Israel’s borders with a Palestinian state defined. Unfortunately Obama does not seem to have much patience with both sides, and Netanyahu does not take the peace process seriously. Still, we cannot allow ourselves to be taken by despair. A fair solution for both sides is the only way for a safer Middle East that is equitable for all. But we cannot be stuck in endless negotiations and keep talking just for the sake of talking. Perhaps it is time to introduce a negotiator other than the US, which never hid its fondness for Israel. A European interlocutor could very well be the needed solution.
– The writer is a Saudi journalist based in Brazil.