Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Surprise, surprise!

Today it was announced that Israeli and Palestine Authority representatives will meet tomorrow in Amman, Jordan, under the auspices of King Abdullah, to discuss restarting direct negotiations. That is after 16 months on no negotiations, as a result of PA Pres. Abbas refusing to negotiate unless Israel accepted his preconditions, namely stopping all settlement building on the West Bank and accepting the pre-June 1967 ceasefire lines as the borders of a putative Palestinian State. So what then was there to negotiate? Now that the PA has agreed to meet and talk about talking, without preconditions, then the fact that PM Netanyahu stuck to his guns and refused to accept any preconditions to talk has proven to have been the right policy. Those who criticized Netanyahu and the Israeli Government for not making further concessions to the Palestinians prior to actual talks have been proven wrong.

Why now? There are many potenial answers to this question. First there have been ongoing secret talks between Israel, the PA, Jordan and the representatives of the Quartet (US, EU, UN and Russia). No doubt pressure was put on by the western powers, but with an election looming in the US, the Obama Administration is unable to take any strong immediate action, but may have told the sides that the President needs some progress so that he has something to show for all the time and effort the US has expended on the "Palestine problem." Second, with the chaos going on in the Arab world, King Abdullah needed to take some action to show that he is still there and still engaged in important activities. There is no doubt that PM Netanyahu wanted to show some progress in the talks.

But, why the Palestinians? Only recently the PA, run by Fatah, was talking unity with Hamas, which is totally opposed to any peace talks with Israel. Pres. Haniya of Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, is currently on a tour of Egypt, Libya and Turkey. Currently he is in Turkey having discussions with PM Erdogan regarding Turkish support should there be a future conflict with Israel. Certainly this puts Abbas out of the picture and seems to show that Haniya is the power to be reckoned with, particularly since the Muslim Brotherhood has won the elections in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and Turkey is already run by a Sunni equivalent of the Muslim Brotherhood. The only people who might support the PA/Fatah are Jordan, the US, the Quartet and ironically Israel, since the PA is the only Palestinian government that Israel can deal with. So it might be Haniya's current tour that has triggered Abbas to try to restart negotiations with Israel. At least it makes it look as if he is doing something!

Noone expects these preliminary talks to accomplish anything substantive. But, for those who think that talking is better than anything else, this is at least a small sign of progress.


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