George Semaan
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
October 13, 2010 - 12:00am

The ball is now in Washington’s court, knowing it never exited it in the first place, after Washington decided to be the sole sponsor of the new round of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinian authority. The Arab initiative committee asked the American side to “proceed with the efforts to bring the peace process back on the right track, especially in terms of the discontinuation of the settlement activities.” It also gave it one month, after which it will define the alternatives to establish the Palestinian state, namely – as expressed by the head of the Palestinian authority - “by getting the American administration to recognize the Palestinian state with the 1967 border, resorting to the Security Council for that same purpose or resorting to the United Nations General Assembly to place the Palestinian territories under international tutelage.”

The spokesman of the American Department of State, Philip Crowley, praised the committee’s statement, promising to continue “working with the different sides and our international partners to push the negotiations forward, reach a two-state solution and encourage the two sides to adopt constructive measures in this direction.” Prior to that, Benjamin Netanyahu had called on his partner Abu Mazen to proceed with the negotiations, even in light of the resumption of the settlement activities! Therefore, there are three announced wishes to resume the negotiations revealing the clear presence of predicaments, although the wish of the Israeli prime minister mainly aimed at blaming the Palestinian partner in order to alleviate the international consensus and solve the problem in Tel Aviv alone.

There are three difficult predicaments, because should the negotiations fail, the alternatives are also difficult and critical. Therefore, the three sides are trying to buy time in the hope that it would distance the set of alternatives. President Barack Obama’s administration needs to talk about the negotiations, even if they are suspended, until the completion of the Congressional midterm elections next month. It needs to secure a breakthrough or a semi-breakthrough in the region, seeing how it has so far been unable to achieve progress in Afghanistan or limit Iran’s clear prevalence at the level of the Iraqi decision in regard to the formation of the new government. There is nothing giving the impression that it will be able to push Tel Aviv to reactivate the settlement freeze, unless it is willing to pay a price exceeding what it has so far offered Netanyahu. This price will definitely be at Palestine’s expense.

As for the Arab side, it does not expect Washington to exert pressures on the Israeli government. In this context, Omani Minister of Foreign Affairs Yusuf Bin Alawi Bin Abdullah, clearly excluded this possibility on the eve of the Sirte Summit. Had these pressures been possible or available to Obama, there would have been no obstacles and the negotiations would not have been halted. This reached a point where the calls of the entire international community did not affect Netanyahu. In this context, if the American administration were to respond to the demands of the Likud leader - publicly and in written – in regard to the future of the settlements in the West Bank, Washington would have recognized the Israeli border of the Palestinian state in advance and without any consideration for the Palestinian position. Moreover, if Washington were to grant Tel Aviv additional guarantees and privileges, it would render the task of the Palestinian negotiator difficult because he would be governed by the ceiling of these commitments and guarantees, not the least of which being the opposition of the unilateral announcement of the state of Palestine, whether inside the Security Council or the United Nations. In other words, the Arab alternatives of the Arab initiative follow-up committee will be obstructed by an American veto, and maybe a non-American one as well.

In the meantime, Netanyahu is also facing a permanent predicament in the presence of his partner in the government, Avigdor Lieberman. He does not seem ready to respond to the international calls to stop the settlement activities - mainly due to his rejection of any settlement to begin with - although he is hiding behind the positions of his partner, the leader of Yisrael Beiteinu. Indeed, when the latter delivered a speech before the General Assembly, Netanyahu settled for saying that what his foreign minister stated conveyed his own opinion and not the government’s policy. This rendered him the target of some Israeli media outlets who accused him of fear and cowardice, since in the opposite case he would have ousted him from the government via an agreement with Kadima. However, such a solution would not have guaranteed the cohesion of the Likud, as the Israeli society is shifting toward the extreme right wing and as the memory of Ariel Sharon’s exit from the bloc is still vivid. He is thus afraid that Lieberman’s party will win secure victory in any early general elections.

Regardless of Netanyahu’s real positions, the justifications that are being put forward to explain the “governmental predicament” he is facing and the attempts to limit the international isolation allowed him to move on three axes. He firstly called for additional American political, security and military guarantees and pledges. Secondly, he imposed the continuation of the settlements policy which is eating up more land in the West Bank and eroding the remaining credit of the head of the Palestinian authority. Thirdly, he is trying hard to ratify the legislation related to “the Jewish character of the state of Israel,” i.e. to change the constitution of the state and render it a “racist, fascist and anti-democratic state” but without any attempts to conceal it this time around. This would prevent the Arab minority (the 1948 Arabs) from expressing its opinion in a way that goes against the Jewish majority, in preparation for pushing these Arabs outside the border of this state that should maintain its “purity.” In other words, under the pretext of facing his opponents in the extreme right-wing, Netanyahyu is racing them to their goals! Some Israeli circles even described the last session of the Knesset as being “rough in the absence of tolerance toward the Arab members.”

As for the Palestinian side – and the Arab side along with it – it is also facing a difficult and unenviable predicament since it is confronted with many choices, the sweetest of which is bitter. Indeed, President Mahmud Abbas will not risk a third Intifada that would lead to the results that were reached by the previous ones. Moreover, he does not wish to see the undermining of the minimum level of stability, considering that this would affect the institutions which were built by the government to manage the affairs of the promised state. He is also opposed to the return to any form of armed resistance, as it is called for by Hamas and its sisters, and does not wish to risk losing the American position and the international consensus which is supporting him in terms of linking the continuation of the negotiations to the settlement freeze.

Therefore, the head of the authority – along with the Arab initiative follow-up committee – had no choice but to resort to “time” and continue to rely on Washington, although he doubted that it will exert more pressures on Israel – unless there is actual hope of seeing Obama more liberated from the influence of the Jewish lobby following the midterm elections, regardless of the results. In any case, Abu Mazen and the Arab League do not have a real option that would force Israel to stop the settlements or force Washington to exert more pressures on Netanyahu’s government. Even the option of those rejecting the negotiations will not lead to the discontinuation of the settlement activities, as it will not lead to the war that no one wants. Indeed, this option would just mean that the “moderate Arabs” offered a big gift to the “rejectionist alliance” and enhanced the positions of the Islamic Republic of Iran at the expense of whatever is left from the “Arab regime.”

As for the alternatives that were addressed by Abu Mazen to secure the establishment of the Palestinian state in case the negotiations were to fail, they remain the easiest choices on the table. However, they will not be available unless there is coordination with the superpowers, at the head of which is the United States. This is why the official Arab position humored Washington’s wish to get more time, so that if the efforts to return to the table of negotiations fail, it would be easier for the Arabs to convince the United States to carry the case of the Palestinian state to the Security Council or the United Nations and support its unilateral proclamation.

In the end, the failure of all these alternatives does not only mean the purposelessness of seeing the continuation of the Palestinian authority as it was stated by Abu Mazen. It also raises questions in regard to the future of the Arab role at the level of the scenarios being drawn up for the region, from Iraq to South Sudan, Yemen and Lebanon, which is currently preparing to receive the Iranian president in domestic and regional circumstances that might push this country toward a fateful and historical turning point. In the meantime, the balance of regional powers reveals that more than one Arab country requires a foreign management of its domestic affairs!

The alternatives on the table do not give the impression that it will be possible to exit the predicaments, unless those involved in the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations are haunted by fears that extend beyond the fate of the negotiations. Indeed, President Obama is afraid of the Jewish lobby, the pressures of the Republicans and the loss of Afghanistan following the loss of Iraq. Netanyahu, who is moved by the wish not to deny his past, during which he rejected any agreement or settlement, is equally moved by the fear from Lieberman. As for Abu Mazen, he sees no future for his authority in light of the Arab weakness and the advance of the rejectionists inside his own home and on its border.


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