Osama Al Sharif ARABNEWS
Published — Wednesday 9 April 2014
It has been more than a year since US Secretary of State John Kerry launched his Middle East shuttle diplomacy in an effort to restart stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Last July he convinced both parties to engage in serious nine-month-long negotiations aimed at reaching a deal on final status issues that should deliver a permanent peace agreement. Few details are known about Kerry’s framework agreement — which had now been postponed — and what the two parties agreed on. But it now appears that the gap separating the two is wider than ever. In a last ditch attempt Kerry pressed the Palestinians to accept a new extension to the talks. But as Israel balked on a commitment to release a fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners, until the Palestinians commit to an extension first, President Mahmoud Abbas said he had enough!
In a surprise and bold move Abbas signed on to 15 treaties and conventions related to the United Nations in defiance of Israeli threats and warnings. By reneging on its commitment to release prisoners, the Palestinian leader felt that he too was free to take action. The move infuriated the Israelis. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to respond by taking unspecified unilateral steps on his side. The peace process was on the brink of total collapse. A penultimate attempt by US envoy Martin Indyk on Sunday to salvage the talks failed. Another attempt may take place soon.
Kerry blamed both sides. Netanyahu blamed the Palestinians and as expected the Palestinians poured blame on Israel. Kerry said the peace process needs a “reality check” and that US efforts and time are not without limits. He needed time to consult with the Obama administration. Things did not look good.
But in reality this has always been the case. Since the signing of the Oslo accords in 1993, Israel has always found excuses to renege on previously agreed commitments and delay reaching a final status agreement that will decide the fate of cumbersome issues such as Jerusalem, West Bank settlements, refugees, borders and others. After the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, Israel’s right-wing leaders decided that Oslo was a big mistake. Successive governments slowly and deliberately dismantled the Oslo Accords and the Palestinians could do nothing.
Blaming the Palestinians is not new. The late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was often accused of failing to grab “generous” offers by Israel and missing opportunities. That happened in Camp David in 2000 under President Bill Clinton. By refusing Ehud Barak’s offer he was made “irrelevant” and spent the final days of his life besieged in his Ramallah compound until his mysterious death in 2004.
The reality check that Kerry is asking for should focus on US failures as a peace broker during the last two decades. Historically, Washington embraced the ever- changing Israeli positions, and refused to admonish Israel for its unilateral actions such as continuing to build settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. As the two sides negotiated intermittently and unsuccessfully, Israel accelerated the pace of its colonization of Palestinian lands.
In fact what Israel is offering today is much less than what was delivered in the past, not that the Palestinians could accept previous offerings. What Kerry hoped to achieve was a last minute deal that would rescue the two-state solution. Many Palestinians believe it is already too late for that.
Most Israeli leaders would prefer to negotiate indefinitely while pursuing unilateral actions on the ground and creating an irreversible reality. This has always been the case in spite of US efforts to revive negotiations by proposing new road maps and new understandings.
President Abbas, who some Israelis say is not a partner for peace, has been committed to a peaceful settlement since the late 1980s. But his patience is wearing thin. His actions this week underline his belief that a just peace deal is no longer possible.
He will be punished, both politically and economically, and his Palestinian Authority (PA) will come under pressure and may even implode. But this time it seems he is willing to take the risk. What is at stake here is the US role as a peace broker and a sponsor of the PA and Abbas. But that may prove to be a blessing in disguise. For more than two decades the US has failed to address the core issues and bring pressure to bear on the Israelis to adhere to their earlier commitments. President Obama, who confronted Netanyahu and failed, knows too well the bitter taste of failure from his first term experience.
But Israel’s intransigence will not help it find peace either. The Palestinians are here to stay and no force on earth can remove them. If the two-state solution is over then Israel should consider the consequences of its actions. The Palestinians will go to international organizations to plead their case and Israel knows that it has few friends in the international community. They will make occupation a costly affair for Israel.
Any unilateral action by Israel will come at a hefty price. Kerry is right to call for a reality check. For the Palestinians the reality is that conditions are worse today than they were 20 years ago. For the US its failure to pressure Israel has brought years of peace mediation to a dead end. And for Israel its refusal to treat the Palestinians as equals with legitimate rights has destroyed the two-state solution and will trigger discussions about the future and nature of Israel itself.