Francis Matthew
Gulf News (Opinion)
March 18, 2010 - 12:00am

Peace talks must focus on Israel's illegal colonies in the West Bank and Golan Heights, not merely future construction

The present crisis between the US and Israel bears all the marks of a classic Netanyahu scheme in which he establishes some minor points with a lot of noise to distract attention from the main issue. Unfortunately, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is close to succeeding, so the Palestinian leadership need to keep their nerve and focus on the main agenda.

Too many people are getting distracted into talking about stopping the building of 1,600 extra houses that Israel has announced, and they are not talking about the main issue which is the removal of the thousands of colonies from all over the West Bank.

Netanyahu is thoroughly untrustworthy, and people who remember his first term as prime minister will remember how he managed to run rings around the Palestinians and Americans. He gave no ground at all on important issues as he strung out the peace talks, but he continually floated distractions which he would defend to the bitter end and then give way with a lot of drama and shouting.

What is important in any peace talks is that the Palestinians and Israelis discuss the substantive issues. Israel should withdraw from the Occupied Territories, which means establishing boundaries, removing the illegal colonies all over the West Bank and Golan Heights, and finalising the status of Occupied Jerusalem.

In return, Palestine will recognise Israel, and both states will establish security guarantees so that neither is attacked. To make all this happen will take a lot of work, and a lot of goodwill from both sides. The legacy of hatred and mistrust runs very deep, and both sides will need to show substantial political commitment to get anywhere near proper peace talks.

It is very clear that the Netanyahu government does not want to discuss any of the points contained in the land-for-peace deal, which have been well covered over the years and both sides know the arguments. Therefore Netanyahu slipped two new demands into the debate: that Palestine has to be demiltarised; and that Israel has to be recognised by Palestine as a Jewish state.

The de-militarisation of Palestine is a bizarre new indignity that the extreme nationalists in Netanyahu's cabinet have included to infuriate the Palestinians. It is important in a peace deal that the arms are not used as a threat against Israel, but that is up to the future Palestinian government to control, not for the present Israeli government to order.

The definition of Israel as a Jewish state is important because it has implications for the status of the Arabs, who have been born and grown up in Israel, who hold Israeli citizenship, and are part of the Israeli demographic mix. The appalling Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's racist foreign minister, has called for the expulsion of the Arabs, and any agreement from the Palestinians that Israel is a Jewish state will simply help the Zionist extremists legitimise their plans for ethnic cleansing.

Shaikh Abdullah

Early in the week, the UAE spelt out how the Gulf states are also furious with Israeli duplicity. Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan said that Arab states will not continue to support the proximity talks unless Israel stops expanding its colonies, and said that "the UAE has conveyed a very clear message to the United States [which brokers the indirect talks] and to the Palestinians, that the UAE and other Arab countries will not continue to support these talks unless Israel cancels plans to build 1,600 colony units in Occupied East Jerusalem".

This statement was important because it not only is part of normal Arab solidarity, but also because one of the significant elements in the Arab Peace Initiative is that complete Israeli withdrawal will be matched with complete normalisation with all Arab states. So when the foreign minister of one of the Gulf states comments on the impossibility of the current proximity talks, he is also reminding the Israelis that the offer of normalisation contained in the Arab Peace Initiative is being held in abeyance.

Arab League

The Arab League and the Palestinians were wrong to agree to the proximity talks, in which Obama's officials were going to shuttle between the Palestinians and Israelis trying to restart the peace talks. There is no point in talking for talking's sake.

Netanyahu's government has no intention of discussing the real issues, and has already prepared the ground with its two new bizarre conditions, which will take months and months to expose for the nonsense that they are. And before the talks even get that far Netanyahu has organised his ministers to regularly pop up with plans for housing to be built in Occupied Jerusalem, or Hebron, or elsewhere, which provide yet more excuses to talk about anything other than the main issues.

The Palestinians need to work with the Obama adminstration to make clear that they are focusing on the main issues of withdrawal, secure borders and the status of Occupied Jerusalem. The Palestinian diplomats need to agree with the Americans that these are the important issues which need to be at the forefront of any plans for peace.

The Arab League and all its members need to act together to remind the Americans that peace talks will not just be about Israeli announcements of future buildings, but will be about the tens of thousands of buildings which have been up for decades in illegal colonies throughout the West Bank and Golan Heights.


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