Some interesting takes on the talks

Here’s a selective post-talks round-up:

Israeli journalist and blogger Noam Sheizaf wrote that “the US papers seem to give the talks a greater importance than the Israeli media [that changed on Friday, he noted further down in his post]. Bizarre, to say the least …  It’s easy to tell when things get serious. The settlers make a good litmus test for the intentions of the Israeli leadership. They have good ties with the Israeli administration and army. When the settlers sense danger, they let it show. And while they went after Sharon and Rabin with everything they got, they are awfully quiet now. There wasn’t even a single major protest against Netanyahu, The National Religious Party is still in the government, and the right flank of the Likud has never been more silent. The Israeli tabloids – like all tabloids – reflect their society’s mood: This is clearly not a country on the verge of its most important decision in decades … [T]he diplomatic process is not a sports competition, and pep talks can’t help when the gap between the parties is too big. The Palestinian leadership has lost most of its credibility and legitimacy with its own people, and the bleeding gets worse with every picture of Abu Mazen shaking hands with Netanyahu. Hamas has just given us the first taste of what leaving it out of the process means. Even so, the positions of PM Fayad and President Abbas are incredibly far from those of Barak and Netanyahu. The Israeli leadership – and to be honest, the Israeli public as well – cannot give the Palestinians the minimum they can settle with. Under these circumstances, even if an agreement is reached, it won’t mean a thing. As I’ve written before, the current stage in the conflict is not just about peace. It’s about ending the occupation and getting the Palestinians their rights. Some people in the American administration understood that, but for their own reasons, they decided to pursue the failed policies of the past two decades”.  This analysis is posted here.

The BBC published, after the talks, an almost hilarious “behind-the-scenes” account from two of their journalists embedded with the delegations — “The BBC’s Gidi Kleiman was with the Israelis, while Jeannie Assad was with the Palestinians:

“MOOD BEFORE THE JOURNEY [on board the private chartered plane carrying the Palestinian delegation]
“They had wanted to go to the talks with a guarantee that Israel would not renew its settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Come to Washington and then we will take it from there, the Americans had apparently told President Abbas. The president agreed to an interview, coming over with Turkish coffee in hand. He told us he was oing to the talks in good faith and because he believed in peace through negotiations. But at the same time he told me it would be difficult for him to continue the talks if the settlements continued. He would pull out, he said, if Israel did not extend the moratorium.

“It was to be the first time he had spoken to an Israeli leader in 18 months [n.b., it was actually 20 months — since the end of December 2008]. His people back home were not happy about it. The settlement issue was a tough one. He was to tell the Israelis and the Americans that continuing settlements was a ‘deal-breaker’, one of his aides told me … there were more changes to the speech. By the time Mr Abbas read it out in the White House, it had been changed 39 times.

“After the one-on-one with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mr Abbas said the meeting was positive. He told his aides he had told him about all his concerns and explained to him everything that was discussed with the previous Israeli government.
Not only had Mr Netanyahu listened carefully, but he took down notes, Mr Abbas added. The Palestinian president said he had told the Israeli prime minister that the settlements must stop …
“Has Prime Minister Netanyahu undergone a fundamental change or was it just change of tactics? Were these talks for real or just a way to avoid pressure from the US and the international community to move forward in the peace negotiations with the Palestinians? Did he change? His speeches, his statements, gestures, all suggested a change of heart. In a speech at the White House, he said that he came to find a historic compromise that will enable both peoples to live in peace, echoing the words of such peace-makers as Israel’s slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. He said to the Americans, to the Palestinians, to the travelling press:  ‘I am serious about peace, try me’.”  This “behind-the-scenes” report is published here.  [A rather different take on Netanyahu’s position is noted in a blog on our sister site, here….]

Haaretz then reported another comic post-talk report, that picked up an article in the London-based Arabic-language newspaper Al-Hayat which stated that the “Palestinian attitude in peace talks shifting by 180 degrees”.   Really?

Here’s what Haaretz reported: “Al-Hayat, quoting Abbas aides, says Palestinian skepticism is dissipating over U.S. desire to end process in 1 year, as well as the increased pressure on Israel to extend its settlement freeze. The skepticism which plagued the Palestinian camp prior to the recent relaunch of direct Middle East peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority has all but disappeared, aides to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arabic language London-based newspaper Al-Hayat on Saturday … Sources told the London-based newspaper that the reasons for the change in attitude were both the United States’ desire to settle all final-status issues within one year as well as U.S. pressure on Israel to extent its soon-to-be-expired moratorium on settlement building. On Friday, chief Palestinian negotiator in peace talks with Israel Saeb Erekat denied reports earlier Friday that the two sides would meet again in the West Bank on Monday after kicking off a new round of negotiations in Washington. In a conversation with Haaretz, Erekat dismissed claims made earlier in the day by another senior Palestinian negotiator, Nabil Shaath, who said the parties would follow up Friday’s U.S. meeting with another in the city of Jericho on Monday. Shaath, who attended the official launch of the direct peace talks in Washington earlier this week, said a United States representative would be present at the meeting, which would also include Erekat and chief Israeli negotiator Yitzhak Molcho. According to Shaath, the unscheduled meeting would lay ground for the next formal negotiating session, scheduled to begin on September 14 in the southern Sinai Red Sea city of Sharm al-Sheikh … Shaath said Israel had decided to postpone the end of its 10-month freeze on West Bank settlement freeze from September 26 to September 30 to give the sides extra time to negotiate. ‘Israelis claim that they can’t continue the settlement freeze while we say that we can’t continue with negotiations if settlement building continues’, Shaath said. ‘We will continue to work seriously until the end of the month’.” This Haaretz article can be read in full here .

In a separate article, Haaretz reported that “Hamas offical Ezzat al-Rashk, a member of Hamas’s political office,al-Rashk told Al-Hayat on Saturday, saying the ‘Zionist settlers are the occupation’s first reserve military force … They are now a real army in every sense of the word, with more than 500,000 automatic weapons at their disposal, on top of the basic protection by the [Israel Defense Forces]’, the Hamas official said. Another Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, the organization’s Lebanon spokesperson, told the London-based newspaper that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was willing to forfeit ’99 percent of the Palestinians’ rights, saying negotiations were over before they even began’.  This is posted here.

For a completely different angle, from Ramallah, there is the interview with Diana Butto published [pre-talks] on Electronic Intifada on 30 August. Butto is a regular in Ramallah, a lawyer with Canadian and Israeli citizenship, who was an advisor and often an eloquent spokesperson on CNN for the Palestinian leadership during earlier negotiations. She is an impressive speaker — and, when she gets serious, she lowers her voice and speaks more slowly. She has worked with Sa’eb Erekat, Mahmoud Abbas, Salam Fayyad, and Fatah’s Mohammad Dahlan. [It is not clear who, if anyone, she is working for at the moment.]

In the interview with Electronic Intifada, she said:
“The big problem is that while there is this announcement of negotiations, here on the ground [in the occupied West Bank], there is nobody who is greeting this announcement with any happiness, because we have been here before. We know what has happened in the past, and we know what is going to happen. And so, if anything, the direct talks are going to be a direct failure. Unless there is a very strong stance by the international community to stop Israel in its settlement activity, in home demolitions and in setting forth a terms of reference — that Israel is going to abide by the 1967 borders — then the talks are doomed to fail. We have been down this path before” …

Q: [H]ow did the PLO approve the talks, even though none of the non-Fatah parties approve of them? How did this happen, and what has the response been from the opposing parties?

DB: “In terms of the PLO’s response, this is not new. [Palestinian Authority President] Mahmoud Abbas is the same man who hijacked Palestinian elections a year and a half ago, when he unilaterally declared that his term was extended. This is the same man who has failed to hold the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. This is the same individual who has canceled the municipal elections, all under the guise of, “oh, this is too difficult right now.” So it is not at all surprising that Mahmoud Abbas, speaking on behalf of Mahmoud Abbas, comes forward and declares that the PLO has accepted such talks when they haven’t. And declares that the Palestinian people are welcoming such talks when they are not. And has the audacity to speak on behalf of Palestine and the Palestinians when he is neither elected nor legitimate any longer, and has not even bothered to ascertain the opinion of other organizations, other factions that are members of the PLO”.

Q: Will this further split and antagonize the political factions against each other?

DB: “That is the one thing that is becoming interesting out of all of this — this is no longer the isolation of Hamas. It’s becoming the isolation of Fatah, in that you see all the political factions lining up on one side, and Fatah lining up on another side. This is not where the situation was a few years ago, or even a decade ago when the majority of Palestinian factions were, in some way, shape or form, in favor of Oslo or in favor of the negotiations process. Today, it is exactly the opposite. So, if anything, Fatah has marginalized itself, and is becoming increasingly more marginalized. The problem is that there is no way to translate that into any real change, because of Fatah holding the key, because of its inability to hold elections, with its refusal to listen to the factions. What it simply means is that we have this rogue party that is acting on behalf of its own interests and not the interests of the Palestinian people. That is going to continue to dictate the future of Palestine. Unless this dissent transforms itself into a real push for internal change, then I fear [Fatah is] going to continue going down this path of isolating itself and marginalizing itself, and holding Palestinians hostage to its lack of vision and lack of strategy for Palestine” …

Q: You attended a press conference on 23 August given by PA spokesperson Saeb Erekat. What was revealed in the press conference, and what are most Palestinians concerned or skeptical about in relation to the talks and what is happening on the ground?

DB: “There are two things that were revealed during the press conference. The first was that Erekat was unable to explain to journalists or to the Palestinian people what had changed, why they’re entering into negotiations now. He kept referring to pithy Quartet statements — no one really cares what the Quartet says or does, because they don’t really do anything [n.b.- the Palestinian negotiating team said they accepted the American invitation to the direct talks in Washington on the basis of Quartet statements] — and he kept referring to the international community and its support for the peace process. But there was nothing that he could point to to explain why now is the time for direct talks. In other words, there was nothing that he could say — neither in the form of guarantees, nor in assurances, nor in the form of a settlement freeze, or anything that he could take to the Palestinian people and sell. It simply was the result of their utter incompetence. There was no way to explain why they were going to negotiations. The second thing that came out during the press conference, and this was clear to the journalists who were present, is that this is a leadership of lies. If this leadership had come forward and said, “we are under tremendous amounts of international pressure, both financially and politically” (which we know is the case), then at least we would have been able to give them credit for that. Erekat didn’t say that. Moreover, if this was the same individual who came forward and said they would halt negotiations, unequivocally, in the event that Israel does not impose a complete settlement freeze — not a partial freeze, not a moratorium — and a complete halt to home demolitions, then at least we would have been able to feel that this is a leadership that is responsive, a leadership that is honest. Instead, Erekat came forward and said that there are going to be no negotiations. In fact, he used the phrase that Netanyahu will have chosen — no negotiations — in the event that settlements and home demolitions continue. What we know is the opposite. If they have not pressed for a complete settlement freeze now, if they have not pressed for a halt in home demolitions and land confiscation now, then the PA has to explain to us that somehow, magically, on 26 September — when the so-called settlement moratorium has expired — that suddenly the Palestinian Authority and the PLO are going to get a backbone? So rather than him making these slogans and statements, we wanted to hear the truth. And instead we are faced with a leadership that lies. It lied about the pressure that has been put upon the PLO in order to enter into negotiations, and it will be proven on 26 September that the same leadership is going to — once again — lie to us about halting negotiations if there is no settlement freeze”…

Q”: What are your major concerns about the Palestinian political atmosphere right now?

DB: The major concern is that we all know that this is going to fail. It doesn’t require anyone with any particular knowledge or foresight to realize that these talks are going to fail. The real question is what is going to come afterwards, and here is where I’m most concerned. For the past 17 years, the PLO, and in particular, Fatah, has had one strategy and only one strategy: negotiations, negotiations, negotiations. And they have had only one strategy as regards to themselves, and that is survival. We are now at a stage where we are seeing that this is going to be — and I really hope that it is — the final blow to the logic and the ideology of negotiations, that people somehow have to negotiate their freedom. The real question is, what is this leadership going to do? Is this leadership going to continue to hold us hostage to this tired, visionless lack of strategy? Or is something different going to come? I’m not concerned with the talks, we know they are going to fail. My bigger concern is about what is going to happen once the talks fail, and is there going to be anybody who is going to come forward with a different plan, a different strategy, a different vision? And that is my fear. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks” … This interview with Diana Butto was published here.

Nicholas Pelham touches on the same Palestinian aversion to resuming direct talks under the current conditions, echoing some of Diana Butto’s points, in an article in MERIP in which he notes [in connection to the pre-talk shooting attacks, claimed by Hamas, on cars carrying Israeli settlers in the West Bank] that “In contrast to the international media, where the attack was roundly condemned, in Palestine the attack earned plaudits not only from Hamas’ core constituency, but also from a broad swathe of Fatah and secular activists, including some senior actors, disillusioned by 19 years of negotiations based on an ever flimsier framework. Unlike the Annapolis process or the ‘road map’, the twin Bush administration initiatives that the Obama administration chose to ditch, the current negotiations lack any terms of reference or agreed-upon script. Palestinians ask why Abbas agreed to meet Netanyahu given that none of the Arab targets required to turn proximity talks into direct ones were reached prior to the Obama administration’s announcement of the meeting. When American elder statesman George Mitchell presented the parties with 16 identical questions on the core issues requiring yes or no answers, Israel responded to each with a question of its own. In his August 31 press briefing before the White House meeting, Mitchell again declined to specify if Israel had agreed even to extend its (partially honored) settlement freeze past the September 26 expiration date”. This article can be read in full here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *