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Many strings attached

Many strings attached

The majority of Palestinians believe that restarting talks with Israel at present would be detrimental to their future, Saleh Al-Naami reports


While Ismail Haniyeh's government and Hamas leaders in Gaza were recently busy receiving humanitarian aid caravans, as well as foreign and Arab supporters, their level of anxiety about a possible re-launch of negotiations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel was obvious. Hamas leaders assert that restarting talks would adversely affect the movement and the Gaza Strip.

"Restarting talks between Israel and the PA will have several negative effects on several tracks," a leading Hamas member who wished to remain anonymous told Al-Ahram Weekly. "These include the prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Hamas; the future of national dialogue and ending internal Palestinian divisions; and the probability of another war by Israel against the Gaza Strip."

The source insisted that negotiations would make Israel less willing to agree to Hamas's demands in the prisoner exchange deal, especially in light of public and private pressure on Israel by US Envoy George Mitchell, Europe and Arab countries not to complete the deal. The source further believes that talks between the PA and Israel would undermine any attempts to end national disunity.

"[Mahmoud] Abbas might think resuming negotiations will benefit him and improve his ability to manoeuvre on the domestic scene, hence making him even less flexible in reconciling with Hamas," argued the source. What is even more disconcerting is that resumed negotiations could tempt Israel to launch a new war on Gaza, since experience has shown that it is easier for Israel to launch hostilities on a Palestinian party while in the midst of talks with another Palestinian party.

According to Yehia Moussa, deputy chairman of the Hamas bloc in the Palestinian Legislative Council, the most recent position of Washington painted Abbas as handicapped and without options. "When Abbas proclaims night and day that he is opposed to resistance, even in its popular form, he will hold no cards against Israel," stated Moussa. "This makes him subject to whatever the Americans and Israelis bestow upon him."

The Hamas representative described the US stance, as stated by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as "a surrender to Israeli positions". Moussa accused US President Barack Obama's administration of pressuring the Palestinians to pay for Washington's inability to honour the commitments made by Obama during his Cairo speech, in which he pledged the US would prevent settlement activities in the West Bank and Jerusalem. "They want us to accept settlements and Judaisation, and Israel's right to create a reality on the ground that pre-empts negotiations," he reasoned.

"They simply want us to accept the positions of the extreme right in Israel. This is not a way to achieve peace, but rather a path that leads to continued struggle and tensions."

According to Moussa, the major weakness in the positions of the PA and Fatah is the fact that Abbas is adamant in pursuing negotiations, and his only alternative is more negotiations. "If Israel is reassured that he will not allow a third Intifada to begin as long as he is in power, he continues to disparage any form of resistance and refuses to reach Palestinian reconciliation to confront Israel, all this will allow the Israelis and Americans to pressure him further," he asserted.

Whether Abbas complies with US diktats or not, his current actions do not serve the Palestinian cause in any way, asserted Moussa. "What is the point of Abbas refusing to restart talks while at the same time doing nothing about continued settlements and Judaisation?" asked Moussa. "Meanwhile, his security apparatus continues to cooperate with the occupying army in its war against Palestinian resistance in the West Bank. In other words, Abbas's actions give Israel incentive to continue its intransigence."

The Hamas official was also indignant about the official Arab position, which he accused of facilitating Abbas's mission in deluding Palestinian and Arab public opinion into supporting the re-launching of talks according to Israeli preconditions. He called on Arab governments to play an active role in ending divisions among Palestinians, instead of "the role of facilitator of US and Israel ideas". Moussa warned that if Tel Aviv succeeded in dictating its demands, this would deliver "a strong blow to Arab national security".

Hamas is not the only group opposed to the restart of negotiations. Indeed, it is joined by many within Fatah and other Palestinian factions. Kayed Al-Ghoul, member of the Central Committee of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), criticised how the Central Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) is handling negotiations with Israel.

"We cannot trust any US promises," Al-Ghoul insisted. "In the past, the US sponsored and witnessed the Oslo, Wye River and Annapolis agreements, as well as the roadmap, but none of these obligated Israel with anything." He added: "Experience has shown that there are no sacred timelines in Israel's books. Ever since the beginning, when the deadline came for withdrawal from Hebron according to the Oslo Agreement, [then Prime Minister Yitzhak] Rabin clearly stated that deadlines can be missed."

Accordingly, continued Al-Ghoul, Israel will not honour any agreements it signs with the PLO and it has a history of transforming any agreements to security pacts. He further pointed out that the current debate over re- launching talks demonstrates that the issue of refugees has been entirely ignored.

"Here lies the problem," argued Al-Ghoul. "If the issue of refugees is not resolved according to UN Resolution 194, which stipulates their return to the lands they were expelled from, no agreement will hold, even if all forces unite to impose it. And this issue will continue to be an explosive one for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, because without resolution of the refugee issue, a final solution would never be just."

Al-Ghoul further warned that talk about US and other ideas is pressuring Palestinians to renounce or weaken their commitment to the right of return. "From there," he continued, "the conflict will be resolved according to the 1967 borders and exchange of land, which will also be problematic." He added that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's call on Palestinians to recognise the Jewish state opens the door for the eviction of 1948 Palestinians in Israel. Any talk of recognition of Israel within recognised borders "implies there is no previous recognition by the Israeli government that the borders of 1967 are the guidelines for border demarcation between the two states."

Mohamed Al-Hendi, a leading member of the Islamic Jihad, agrees that these ideas are considered "a failure on the part of the Palestinian negotiator" since they are rehashed old ideas by previous US administrations. "The PA and PLO must shoulder their responsibility," Al-Hendi urged. "The lives of Palestinians are not an experiment. At the time when the land of this people is being usurped and Jerusalem is being Judaised, they present us with antiquated ideas." The leadership "must tell the people the truth and declare the failure of negotiations in light of continued settlements and Judaisation," he insisted.

Al-Hendi specifically criticised the US proposal for land exchange. "No one will agree to exchange Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in the world for Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims, in return for land in the Negev Desert," he retorted. "This is a ploy to dissipate our national doctrine."

The Islamic Jihad leader was also very critical of continued pressure on Palestinians by Arab regimes that would do better to pressure the US to make Israel depart from its extremism and intransigence.

According to political analyst Talal Okal, statements by Clinton mark a regression in the US position because they imply that the US believes that Jerusalem is not a fundamental part of a Palestinian state. Clinton talked about the significance of Jerusalem for Jews, Christians and then Muslims, which makes Okal believe that Washington will call for holy sites in the city to have international status while Israel maintains sovereignty overall.

"If the Arab leaders who headed to Washington are prepared to accept these US terms," he cautioned, "it would weaken the Palestinian position, which insists on an end to settlement building ahead of restarting talks. These Arabs might even end up pressuring Palestinians to accept Washington's proposal."

The link: http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2010/981/re1.htm

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