Adel Safty
Gulf News (Opinion)
September 20, 2010 - 12:00am

The late Yasser Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) used to refer to the peace process he and the late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin started in the early 1990s as the "peace of the brave". This was more of a colourful description than an accurate rendition of reality.

Bravery was not enough to give the peace process substance and durability. A practical approach was needed to end the occupation and lead to a final and permanent settlement. But the Oslo Accords that emerged from this peace process was founded on a complex and impractical division of the Occupied Territories and a painfully slow Israeli disengagement. In the end the complexity and the fragility of the process doomed it to failure.

Ironically, the process was perverted in no small measure thanks to the machinations of the present Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who opposed peace with the Palestinians.

The current peace talks may be described as the peace of the pragmatics.

Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority, has long been considered one of the most pragmatic Palestinian leaders. What he lacked in charisma compared to Arafat he made up for in pragmatic character, and that made him the Americans' and the Israelis' preferred peace partner.

Unambiguous stance

Consider the conflict over Israeli colonies. Abbas' position has always been that there would be no direct negotiations with the Israelis unless colony-building in the Occupied Territories was completely halted.

Under pressure from Washington, Netanyahu imposed last November a 10-month freeze on colony building in the Occupied Territories but, crucially, exempted occupied east Jerusalem from the freeze. Yet Abbas agreed to direct talks under pressure from Obama.

Still he and other Palestinian officials repeatedly declared that if the freeze on construction is not renewed when it expires at the end of September, they will pull out of the negotiations. Now, Netanyahu refuses to renew the construction freeze despite US President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak all urging him to do so.

Netanyahu continues to say in public that there would be no extension of the moratorium, but both Abbas and Netanyahu have given indications that a compromise was possible.

Prior to receiving Clinton in Ramallah this month, Abbas said: "We all know there is no alternative to peace through negotiations, so we have no alternative other than to continue these efforts,"

Israeli officials suggest that Netanyahu will adopt a policy of a partial freeze of construction in West Bank colonies similar to that adopted by his predecessor Ehud Olmert, whereby more than 90 per cent of construction was confined to the major colonies of Ma'aleh Adumim, Gush Etzion and Ariel.

The Israeli press reported that Netanyahu suggested to a Likud cabinet ministers' meeting that he would adopt a partial freeze formula when the moratorium expires at the end of this month. He reportedly urged his colleagues to think at the end of the moratorium about "the wise thing to do".

At the White House prior to the re-launch of the direct talks, Netanyahu's language suggested pragmatic awareness of the historic opportunity the present negotiations represent. "We seek a peace that will end the conflict between us once and for all," he said.

"We seek a peace that will last for generations. This is the peace my people want. This is the peace we all deserve," he said. However, pragmatism alone is not enough to produce a peaceful and permanent settlement of all issues.

What is needed is bravery: bravery on the part of Abbas to remember that a sizable proportion of Palestinian voices — those who voted for and identify with Hamas — are not represented at the negotiations; and again bravery to remember that the rights of the Palestinian people cannot be signed away. An unjust peace is far worse than no peace as it plants the seeds of frustration, anger and despair.

Bravery is also needed from Netanyahu if he is sincerely in search of a peaceful settlement that will last for generations. The bravery needed from Netanyahu consists in not adopting an exploitative approach based on the gross inequalities of the parties to extract an unequal agreement. Any agreement that fails to render a measure of justice to a victim whose entire society had been shattered by its encounter with Zionism would be an agreement for an interlude between two conflicts, not for peace for generations to come.


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