Palestine: Serious Negotiations or Spurious Nonsense?

October 3, 2010 by David Singer
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The threat by the Palestinian Authority (PA) to walk away  from direct negotiations with Israel following Israel’s refusal to extend its ten month moratorium on some residential building construction in the West Bank – has brought forth an almost universal plea for Israel to reconsider its position.

However  PA negotiator Nabil Shaath has now indicated that even if Israel were to renew the limited moratorium – it would not be acceptable to the PA – telling Arab News :

“There is no alternative to one formula ending this crisis: the full stopping of the settlement building, even for a specific time.”

One has learned to take such PA pronouncements with a grain of salt. Hyperbole and rhetoric are part and parcel of PA negotiating tactics. When push comes to shove they usually give in to pressure.

President Abbas dithered for more than nine months of the initial ten month moratorium period before  deigning to enter into direct negotiations with Israel.  He demanded then what Shaath is now recycling – a total building freeze. It proved – and will continue to prove – to be a disastrous error of judgment by the PA.  Abbas can only blame himself for the dilemma he currently faces as to whether to resume negotiations or not in view of the expiry of the moratorium period on 26 September.

Assuming however that some compromise is eventually agreed on for a further moratorium – questions must be asked  and answers given as to the basis on which such negotiations are to be resumed.

Israel’s position is clear but the PA‘s position is steeped in uncertainty.

The parameters under which Israel has been negotiating are:

  1. The Bush Roadmap – subject to Israel‘s 14 expressed written Reservations to it
  2. United Nations Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and
  3. The letter from President George Bush to former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon dated 14 April 2004

Roadmap references to the Saudi Peace Plan – adopted subsequently as the Arab Initiative – were expressly rejected by Israel as playing any part in the negotiating process – the Reservations stating:

“The removal of references other than 242 and 338 (1397, the Saudi Initiative and the Arab Initiative adopted in Beirut). A settlement based upon the road map will be an autonomous settlement that derives its validity therefrom. The only possible reference should be to Resolutions 242 and 338, and then only as an outline for the conduct of future negotiations on a permanent settlement. “

Israel was also adamant in its Reservations that :

“… declared references must be made to Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state and to the waiver of any right of return for Palestinian refugees to the State of Israel.”

Abbas’s reaction to Israel’s Reservations was starkly revealed in an article by Akiva Eldar on 28 May 2003 when he wrote in Ha’aretz newspaper:

“When Abu Mazen talks about the road map it’s important for him to emphasize that the 14 Israeli reservations have nothing to do with him. “They don’t interest me,” he says. As far as he’s concerned, the only document that matters is the road map that was finalized in December 2002 and handed over to the parties at the end of April this year. Nothing more, nothing less.

“We do not accept each side picking and choosing only those specific elements that are convenient for them in the road map.

“The map was prepared last December and we accepted it, despite our own comments and reservations. We wanted to give this initiative a chance, but it’s impossible to continue inventing comments and reservations after it was submitted.”

He says: “We understood from the Americans that there are no changes in the road map. This is an historic opportunity to return to a track of normalcy. We are saying to the Israelis, `follow the map and don’t waste time haggling over details.’ We must get into the implementation phase. It is vital the two peoples feel something is changing on the ground. In any case nobody will pay attention to this or that reservation.”

Abbas was wrong.

America did indeed pay serious attention to Israel’s Reservations – as was indicated in the letter President Bush gave to Prime Minister Sharon on 14 April 2004 which stated:

“The United States is strongly committed to Israel’s security and well-being as a Jewish state. It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue as part of any final status agreement will need to be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state, and the settling of Palestinian refugees there, rather than in Israel.

As part of a final peace settlement, Israel must have secure and recognized borders, which should emerge from negotiations between the parties in accordance with UNSC Resolutions 242 and 338. In light of new realities on the ground, including already existing major Israeli populations centers, it is unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949, and all previous efforts to negotiate a two-state solution have reached the same conclusion.

It is realistic to expect that any final status agreement will only be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes that reflect these realities.”

The PA has consistently refused to accept these parameters as defining the goals of the negotiating process.

On 27 November 2007 Israel’s then Prime Minister  Ehud Olmert once again clarified these parameters at Annapolis before the leaders of the international community assembled there when he said:

“The negotiations will be based on previous agreements between us, UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Roadmap and the April 14th 2004 letter of President Bush to the Prime Minister of Israel.”

The PA clearly is not negotiating on the same wavelength as Israel as it continues to:.

  • Demand the right for millions of Arabs to emigrate to Israel
  • Refuses to accept the right of any Jews to live in the West Bank
  • Attempts to introduce the Saudi Peace Plan into the negotiations
  • Refuses to recognise Israel as the national state of the Jewish people
  • Refuses to accept Israel’s Reservations to the Road Map as having any relevance

Israel and the PA have each been playing the negotiating game under different sets of rules. Until they start to play the game under the same rules – any further talks will – like the talks held since 2003 – prove to be a complete waste of time.

David Singer is a Sydney Lawyer and Foundation Member of the International Analysts Network

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