Sami Abdel-shafi
Bitterlemons (Analysis)
January 18, 2010 - 1:00am

It seems ever more evident that while the US-led international community is urging a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, Palestinians increasingly feel the exercise is fruitless. More and more Palestinians are questioning the use of what has become a perpetual on-again off-again process. Moreover, the credibility of any negotiations process will always fare badly when set against the monumental difficulties Palestinians are made to endure in the Gaza Strip, West Bank and East Jerusalem, not to mention the increasingly prejudiced policies against Palestinians with Israeli citizenship in northern Israel.

Nevertheless, the Palestinian Authority will eventually have no option but to resume negotiations for it has entirely relied on what is largely political funding from abroad. One of the ironies of Palestinian politics is the difference between how the PA started off and how it operates now. After the PA was first established in 1994, it received substantial funding that allowed it plenty of space to govern and run Palestinian affairs as it saw fit. However, several of its key figures at that time allegedly misused this latitude and the PA grew to typify a corrupt regime. Today, the PA is in much better position to govern with integrity but has, unfortunately, weakened its ability to decide its own affairs because it allowed itself to depend on political funding from abroad.

Thus the PA will not be able to resist pressure to return to a process that will lead nowhere as long as Israeli policy remains unchanged and the international community continues to be a shy spectator. In addition, as settlement building in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza continue, Israel is successfully raising the ceiling of Palestinian tolerance. The West Bank's separation wall is now seldom protested and East Jerusalem is disappearing, one neighborhood at a time, without any challenge to speak of.

It is no surprise therefore that the government of Binyamin Netanyahu does not mind resuming negotiations even while the PA finds itself resisting such fruitless talks. Near permanent facts on the ground provide enough comfort to the Israeli government that any upcoming negotiations will lead nowhere near any kind of approximation of justice. Netanyahu's hawkish coalition is savvy enough to just sit by and wait. Pressured Palestinians, meanwhile, will be left with no option but to halt negotiations once they reach inevitable deadlock.

Israel has not only cornered the Palestinians. Israel has exhausted the international community by setting it in perpetual pursuit of constantly changing targets. A pertinent example is the settlement construction freeze issue, where Israel busied the US so much and ended up not compromising at all. Regrettably, by the time the US administration realizes it has failed to curb Israeli settlement building it will also have allowed Israel to advance its policy against Palestinians in all occupied territory in other ways.

It remains to be seen how Israel will conduct negotiations with the Palestinians. It will not escape observers that Israel may soon choose to consummate a prisoner exchange deal with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, an entity it vowed not to negotiate with, while prolonging endless negotiations with the PA, an entity it and the world recognizes. But perhaps this paradox could signal something positive. No matter the avowed positions of Israel and Hamas, successful negotiations over prisoners could signal how political advances are possible as long as both sides see one another as an entity that can deliver.

To those of us in favor of credible peace negotiations, it seems obvious that Palestinians must set their own house in order prior to any resumption of talks with Israel. Ending the Palestinian division and achieving reconciliation will, apart from presenting a united front, pull the carpet from under Israel's argument that the Palestinian leadership does not represent all Palestinians, an argument that, without unity, will be trotted out whenever convenient.

Just as Palestinians long for a just peace that delivers them a state, they must realize that they also possess what Israel desperately and finally needs, i.e., Palestinian authentication of the Israeli state as a peaceful neighbor rather than the belligerent occupier it is at present. But Palestinians will never realize statehood or deliver this authentication if they do not negotiate and remain divided.

For the time being, Israel is led by the anti-peace camp and Israel's hawks are likely to want to continue to drag the US and the international community to consent in practice to Israel's methodical strategy of gradually erasing Palestinians from their lands. The international community must, therefore, be more than just a broker at the Israeli-Palestinian negotiating table.


American Task Force on Palestine - 1634 Eye St. NW, Suite 725, Washington DC 20006 - Telephone: 202-262-0017