Sunday, July 21, 2013

Talks on talks

Last Thurs there were optimistic rumors that US Secty of State John Kerry, after meeting with Arab League representatives in Amman, Jordan, and meeting twice for long periods with PA President Mahmud Abbas, had made a breakthrough in persuading the Palestinians to resume negotiations with Israel. But, after a stormy meeting of the PLO leadership in Ramallah, the answer was "no negotiations" with Israel, unless they accept Abbas's preconditions, that include a freeze on all Israeli construction in the West Bank, a recognition of the pre-1967 ceasefire lines as the borders of the Palestinian State, as well as the release of all Palestinian prisoners and allowing Palestinian "refugees" to return to Palestine (including Israel). So what would be the point of Israel negotiating if it would give up all its positions in advance?

But, then Kerry returned to Ramallah for additional talks and he was finally able to announce that the two sides will send representatives to meet in Washington in two weeks, to discuss discussions. Saeb Erakat will represent Pres. Abbas and the PA and Minister Tzipy Livni will represent PM Netanyahu and Israel. Apparently one concession that Pres. Obama squeezed out of Netanyahu in a direct call was his agreement to release Palestinian terrorists imprisoned before the Oslo Accords of 1993 after trhe talks begin.

The problem is that the Palestinians know that they can never achieve all of their aims in negotiations, they have no leverage to make Israel accept their demands and have in effect painted themselves into a corner. And this is true even though the Arab League representatives agreed to "land swaps" with Israel as part of a border negotiation. In return for concessions, Israel will demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as "the Jewish State." But, this is something the Palestinian leader cannot afford to do, first because it would negate Palestinian/Arab claims to the land and second it would invalidate the claim that the Palestinian refugees have the "right of return", which in any case is an invalid claim under international law since there is no such inherent right.

It must also be said that the Palestinians are afraid to make any decisions right now. Abbas is afraid to lose what popular support he has and would probably be assassinated by Hamas, who reject all negotiations with Israel. They still claim "armed resistance" as the only way to achieve their goals. The Palestinians on both sides are waiting to see what will happen in Syria and Egypt. The anti-Morsi forces in Egypt, who are in the ascendence, are anti-Hamas since Hamas is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. But the outcome in Egypt is still far from certain, and the Egyptian Army is far too busy to bother with the Palestinians right now. And in Syria, the civil war could still go either way, with at least four groups fighting for control, namely the pro-Assad Shi'ite forces, the anti-Assad Sunni Free Syrian Army, the Islamist Sunni groups (including al Qaeda-affiliated forces) and the Kurds.

The fact is that the US can essentially do nothing about Egypt, having wrongly backed Morsi. They can do nothing about Syria, having held off intervening by not imposing a no-fly zone, and so they think that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the most tractable. But, I and others have argued before that the Palestinians are a side-show. All other conflicts, Egypt, Syria, Iran, must be resolved before the Palestinians, like a mesmerized frog, will know which way to jump.


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