Walid Awad
Arab News (Opinion)
February 29, 2008 - 6:09pm

In July 2000, President Clinton, at the insistence of Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak, invited President Arafat and Barak to Camp David. In less than two weeks of intensive negotiations, Clinton expected Arafat and Barak to arrive at a solution to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Incomplete progress was achieved at Camp David, but an agreement was not.

Follow-up negotiations resumed in the months ahead, and by January 2001 an agreement was reached, but as far as Clinton and Barak were concerned, it was too late. Clinton evacuated the White House, and Barak lost the elections in Israel. Ariel Sharon, who worked relentlessly to sabotage all peacemaking efforts between Israel and the PLO after Oslo, assumed office in Israel and the intifada against the Israeli occupation intensified. Much blood has been spilled since then, but two more nonofficial “peace” agreements between Israelis and Palestinians were worked out — the Geneva agreement between Yaser Abed Rabbo and Yossi Beilin, and another one between Sari Nussiebeh, currently head of Al-Quds University, and Ami Ayalon, a minister in the current Israeli government. Outlines, frameworks, and parameters, call them what you wish, for solving the conflict were reached between the sides after Oslo, but never formally or officially adopted or signed.

In November 2004 when President Arafat died, one very significant Palestinian era came to a close, and a new one arrived. Mahmoud Abbas, a veteran Palestinian leader, peacemaker and a fervent supporter of a negotiated peace settlement with Israel, was elected as the president of the Palestinian National Authority. He was also the chairman of the PLO. For almost two years President Abbas was “no peace partner” to Israel. But his consistent peace efforts finally produced some results when the international community, particularly the United States and Europe, pressed the new Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to reconsider Israel’s position and resume negotiations with the PLO.

No less than nine trips made by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to the Middle East led to last November’s Annapolis conference. In addition to Abbas, Olmert, and President George W. Bush, representatives of more than 90 countries attended the conference. There were high hopes that the conference would lead to the resumption of peace talks between Israel and Palestinians. But hopes have faded and pessimism has taken its place.

Some, however, do not believe the situation is as bad as it appears, and put forward different interpretations of what is going on. They believe something substantial is being cooked in secrecy behind closed doors. More than twenty meetings between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators took place over the last few weeks, five summit meetings between Abbas and Olmert, and President George W. Bush made a visit to the region. Is it possible that nothing in this period was achieved? According to Israeli TV Channel 2 commentators, progress on different core issues was made, and “Olmert and Abbas are cooking the chicken and are hiding it in the freezer because the table is not ready for the meal. Ahmad Qurie and Mahmoud Abbas on one side, Olmert and Livni on the other side can’t reveal what has been achieved in the negotiations.”

However, to Palestinian ears, the above interpretation by Israeli commentators is deceiving, if not altogether false, because:

First, Israel is continuing to build Jewish settlements in Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank.

Second, using Shas’ threats to bolt the government as an excuse, Israel refuses to conduct negotiations on comprehensive core issues and endlessly stretches negotiations. This tactic is well known to Palestinians. They remember how Israel’s Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, during the Madrid conference in 1991, threatened to stretch negotiations with the Palestinians for tens of years. Shamir’s threats are the realities of today.

Third, and this is the most important reason, our history with Israel’s compliance with signed agreements (such as the Oslo Accords, signed in the open with superpowers as witnesses) was never honored. How can an agreement negotiated in secret between the sides be honored by Israel at an unknown future date? The sad reality is that the meal Israeli commentators referred to is spoiled.

If, in July 2000, President Clinton thought an agreement between the sides could be reached in less than two weeks, and if parameters for a solution were negotiated and in place since January 2001, why is it necessary to wait until the end of 2008 to see if a solution can be found?

The only conclusion is that without real and serious international intervention to pressure Israel to come to its senses, and arrive at a just and comprehensive peace agreement with the Palestinian people quickly, the whole situation will explode sooner or later, particularly if a serious military confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah takes place. The mutually exchanged threats between both sides are an indication of what is to be expected in the not too distant future. If the military conflagration erupts, any negotiations taking place now between Olmert and Abbas will be no more than an academic exercise leading to nowhere.

If the Western world is really serious about ending the conflict, and achieving a lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, and in the region, an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land, and a peace agreement should be realized in the next few months. If the EU and the United States can ensure Kosovo’s independence now, they can also ensure similar arrangements for an independent Palestine by this summer. A satisfactory conclusion to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will transform the area and strengthen the forces of moderation. This will also defeat the forces of extremism enhancing the prospects for peace in our region and the world.


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