Friday, August 6, 2010
Israel’s insistence on direct talks By Michael Jansen
Thursday, August 5th, 2010
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu insists on holding direct talks with the Palestinian Authority (PA) for four important reasons. First, he seeks to end Israel's isolation on the international scene. Second, he wants to project the impression that his right-wing government is prepared to negotiate with the Palestinians. Third, he is determined to begin anew, to erase 19 years of negotiations and arrangements agreed by previous Israeli premiers. His intention is to impose and formalise new "red lines" across which Israel will not budge. Finally, he will endeavour to fix the blame for the inevitable failure of negotiations on the Palestinian side.
Netanyahu expects to succeed in the blame-game because US administrations always hold the Palestinians responsible for failure at critical junctures, starting with the 2000 collapse of the Camp David summit between then-president Bill Clinton, Israeli premier Ehud Barak and Palestinian president Yasser Arafat. Arafat was blamed and demonised although he was not responsible for the failure of this effort which Clinton - post blame - picked up and pursued until he left office in January 2001.
Let us look at what Netanyahu is proposing. On one hand, he says he is prepared to discuss all final status issues if and when Palestinian negotiators sit down with his team. These include borders, Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Israeli settlements, and the natural resources of the occupied Palestinian West Bank. Netanyahu prefers direct talks because indirect talks brokered by the US means that Washington can put forward its ideas and even throw its weight behind the weak Palestinian side while trying to extract "concessions" from Israel.
On the other hand, he refuses to begin negotiations where they broke off while Ehud Olmert was prime minister and admits that a deal cannot be reached by 2012, when US President Barack Obama is at the end of his first term in office. Netanyahu says the status of occupied East Jerusalem, claimed by Israel as part and parcel of its exclusive, eternal capital, is not negotiable. He argues that there can be no return to the 1967 border and that Israel's security concerns - as defined by Israel alone - are paramount. This could mean Netanyahu intends to maintain an Israeli military presence along the West Bank-Jordan border and, perhaps, keep Israeli colonies in the Jordan Valley.
So far, he has not revealed just how many Israeli colonies he plans to annex to Israel but the Palestinians can be certain he will not confine his demands to the large colonies planted across the old "Green Line," the 1948 ceasefire line between Israel "proper" and the occupied West Bank. Furthermore, he is committed to the construction of more and more colonies. According to the Israeli group Peace Now, during the so-called "settlement freeze" Israel built 462 new homes in West Bank colonies and carried on construction of another 3,000 units started before the alleged "moratorium" was imposed. This means that during the period of the false "freeze" Israel carried on building at its normal rate. Finally, Netanyahu has no intention of permitting Palestinian refugees to "return" to geographic Palestine or to share with Palestinians the natural resources of the West Bank which Israel has been appropriating since 1967.
Netanyahu is, however, ready to discuss and discuss and discuss while colonisation continues apace. He has made it clear that he will not re-impose the "freeze" when it ends on September 26. He says that to carry on with the illusion of a freeze will bring down his Cabinet. Western politicians, particularly in the US, take note of his delicate situation. In their view, he cannot be asked to commit political suicide. Suggestions that he could reconfigure his government by bringing in Kadima, which is seen in the West as more flexible than Netanyahu's Likud party. But this would not change the situation because Kadima, an offshoot of Likud, will not make a real difference. Kadima is no more ready to grant the Palestinians a viable state than Likud. Kadima had its chance under Olmert and did not take it.
Little wonder that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who negotiated seriously and fruitlessly with Kadima, continues to demand commitment by Netanyahu to negotiate on the basis of the 1967 line and on security arrangements for both sides and not just Israel. Palestinian and Israeli analysts argue that Netanyahu is prepared to negotiate over only 50-60 per cent of the West Bank and to grant the PA only the powers to run local municipalities in tightly controlled cantons, allowing the Palestinians to "rule themselves" in a strictly limited way.
Abbas is under conflicting pressures. While the US and Israel want instant direct talks, Fateh, his own political base, rejects such negotiations until Israel proves it is seriously prepared to withdraw troops and settlers from virtually all Palestinian territory occupied in 1967. Abbas is prepared for land swaps of 2.5 per cent. He cannot concede more.
Many Palestinians have been calling for him to resign and dissolve the PA, arguing that it would be better to return to direct Israeli rule than carry on with the pretence that the PA is an effective government. In fact, it does not even exercise security control in urban areas it is supposed to administer because Israeli troops and intelligence operatives enter Palestinian cities, towns and villages nightly to detain "wanted" Palestinians.
If negotiations begin and proceed under "Netanyahu's rules," Abbas and the PA will commit political suicide and the Palestinian state project will collapse. Indeed, this is precisely what Netanyahu and his allies want. They are not prepared to trade land for peace and are not worried about "apartheid." Undeclared but effective apartheid has governed Israel "proper" since 1948. What has the international community done about it? Nothing.
5 August 2010
Posted by Michele Kearney at 11:25 AM