Raghida Dergham
Dar Al-Hayat
July 9, 2010 - 12:00am

It would be appropriate to resume direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government within “a few weeks” as long as President Barack Obama has a clear vision of what the role of the US should be in the negotiations, from the strategic perspective as well as from the perspective of the structure of opinions and how to implement them. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will most probably return to direct negotiations after the relative “restoration” of the US-Israel relationship during the meeting between Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington this week. Indeed, he does not want to fall into the trap of “the absence of a Palestinian partner” which Israel is setting up for the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, he has no other options considering that the decision of war against Israel is completely absent from Arab strategy, at the individual as well as at the group level. Now that Netanyahu is behaving as if bilateral negotiations are his tactical choice for a strategic peace, all partners in the “peace process” must adopt a group strategy of holding Netanyahu’s feet to the fire so that he does not return to evading the requirements of peace.

What Abu Mazen should do is not give Netanyahu the argument of the “runaway partner” from negotiations. He should turn the tables to show that Israeli politicians have always used the argument of the “missing partner” to elude the peace process every time it matures.

This requires Obama to pledge, implicitly and explicitly, several things, among them the following:

First of all, the necessity of keeping the US “partner” in direct negotiations. Indeed, the Israeli government wants a US ally for itself in any negotiations, not a fair and balanced US partner determined to find solutions.

Israel’s government wanted to quickly come out of the “proximity” negotiations engaged in by US Envoy George Mitchell, because it sought to exclude the US from the negotiations in order to deal alone with the Palestinian side, without supervision, without guarantees and without being held accountable. Even if “proximity” talks are stopped then replaced with direct negotiations, an active US role is inevitable in any formula for making peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis. In this matter, Syria seems right to insist on a direct US role in any negotiations between Syria and Israel. The Palestinian should also insist on such a role.

Secondly, the US role in any negotiations must be defined in a way that brings it out of its past as “sponsor” or “mediator”, as this phase has ended in failure.

Everyone knows that the relationship between the US and Israel is one of alliance, is profound, strategic and of the utmost importance. Nevertheless, that is one thing and the role of the US in the negotiation process is another. The time has come to formulate, define and play a new US role in the process of negotiating for peace. And this is a role which Obama himself must lead, define and formulate.

Yet the role of the US is not the only one that is necessary at this juncture. Indeed, this phase requires activating partners in accordance with Obama’s general strategy towards the different regional issues. In other words, this round of direct negotiations, regardless of whether it takes the path of a tripartite summit or of a comprehensive and thorough US plan ready to be imposed on both sides, must be accompanied by two partnerships: an Arab partnership to pressure and protect the Palestinian side and move forward with it hand in hand when difficult decisions are taken; and a European partnership (the Quartet on the Middle East) to truly pressure Israel, in practice and by taking measures, so that it may at last be convinced that it is not above being held accountable, and that there is in fact a willingness to make us of the instruments of sanctions against it. And such sanctions and instruments are certainly available to Europe.

The Russian partner in the Quartet on the Middle East has manifold and numerous responsibilities. It is required to pressure all parties and to stop playing the Russian card only second to its interests with all parties. Russia is required to make up its mind about the Palestinian Authority. Indeed, it is unacceptable for it to continue playing the Hamas card at the expense of the Palestinian Authority. Russia must also truly and effectively help the forces of moderation in the region instead of playing the “two tracks”. Russia realizes, as does Turkey, that supporting Hamas has an extremely simple interpretation in the Palestinian equation: that of withdrawing the necessary support from the Palestinian Authority, which in fact falls in Israel’s interest.

As for the United Nations, the fourth partner in the Quartet, its task must fall as a priority under “legitimacy” first and foremost. Indeed, moral authority and international legitimacy are the international organization’s most important asset and its backbone. Secretary-general Ban Ki-moon understands this perfectly, but he is bound by the advice of his advisers, who sometimes rob him of the freedom to lead, and sometimes by his personal ambitions.

What Ban Ki-moon and his advisers should realize is that the opportunity being provided by Obama is the opportunity to make use of the space available to the United Nations with a small amount of leadership. The time has come to take the initiative within the available circumstances.

Thirdly, advocates of destruction and chaos and apologists of extremism, wherever they may be – within the Israeli government, the ranks of Hamas, among those who outbid the Palestinians in the name of resistance, those who hijack Islam and the Palestinian cause and make them contingent on their narcissistic aims, or American Christians in the Bible Belt – will all seek to destroy the peace process every time it comes close to maturing.

What the US Administration should do is lead a campaign of rising above “calls” to submit to the dictates of chaos and destruction. And this requires high-quality leadership that would not be difficult for the US Administration.

Fourthly, there will be a rise of pressures from the chorus of advocates of the kind of “realism” that calls for being content with what is feasible when faced with the reality of the superiority of Israel and the weakness of the Palestinians. The most important and most difficult of the challenges facing Barack Obama will be this one. Indeed, on the one hand, the tune of “what is feasible” and of yielding to “realism” will rise, calling for pressuring the Palestinians to agree to the minimum of what Israel offers them. On the other hand, Obama and his team will increasingly hear of the danger of yielding to pressures and calls to “realism” and “what is feasible” because they are the nail that will seal the coffin of the peace process.

Fifthly, all of this means that Obama must head to the table to resume direct negotiations with a strategy and a structure for opinions and implementation. It would be best for this to be embodied in a document that would clearly and effectively record the US stance in a manner exceeding the road map to the two-state solution which was an achievement of George W. Bush’s vision.

Barack Obama must put forward a comprehensive document that carries the weight, influence, resolve and dictate of the US, not a give-and-take document that weakens the US role and makes it subject to bargaining, mockery and contempt. Indeed, George Mitchell has exhausted the phase of give-and-take and it is time for Obama to take charge and lead, in order to impose solutions with the weight of the US and with international, Arab, Muslim, as well as Jewish partnership from the ranks of moderation.

This should come documented with the cost of refusal unambiguously made clear. And the cost should come from Europe and Russia as well as from within the United Nations, not just from the United States.

The climate of international public opinion at his juncture greatly helps to take unusual measures. Indeed, public opinion is angry at Israel for its constant violations of international and humanitarian law. It is also angry at those who cover up Israel with the protection from being held accountable, and the United States is at the top of that list.

Today, Israel is in a state of international isolation. Today, Obama and his team are being blamed for appearing in front of part of public opinion as if in a state of constant retreat before Israel’s “no”. Today, a new language has entered the international, and American, lexicon – the language of “the US’s national interest”, which would be exposed to harm if blind US support to Israeli extremism were to continue.

It is time today to set down a timeframe and decisive dates that would force Israel to stop delaying and procrastinating. There is a dire need today for making it clear who will be blamed, instead of falling into the trap of automatically blaming the Palestinians under the pressures of the Jewish lobby, which is quite skilled at playing this game.

Obama understands what is going on, and he has given priority to this issue, studying it in depth unlike his predecessors. What he must do is to take the initiative of bringing the negotiations out of the framework of the US’s bias towards Israel. Indeed, such a bias is what has made negotiations fail at every previous stage, and it is time for a qualitative shift in the US role in making peace in the Middle East.


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