George Semaan
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
December 13, 2010 - 1:00am

It is one thing for the political process to collapse and for the American administration to fail due to its inability to pressure Benjamin Netanyahu, but it is a totally different thing for Washington to leave the region in a state of chaos and vacuum. While a settlement is impossible, or was rendered so by the Israeli right-wing, the United States is not ready to risk seeing the region slide towards the worst, and must at least give the impression that it is still committed to the peace process. Therefore, Envoy George Mitchell will come to the Middle East while carrying a new tactic, following the failure of the attempts to convince the Israeli prime minister to stop the settlement activities, even if only for ninety days. The envoy is coming to inaugurate a new formula of parallel talks, i.e. of indirect negotiations which this time around will tackle all the final-status issues, as it was stated by Hillary Clinton. She also said that the threat did not come from Iran solely, but also from the absence of the settlement and the continuation of the Israeli occupation, reiterating her rejection of illegal settlement construction.

It is as though the region had a faulty memory. In the nineties, the authority tried securing a deal with Netanyahu, and this led to the destruction of all the foundations of the Oslo accords. This year, it tried indirect talks for months, then direct talks for one month without this experience leading to any results. The only positive thing that resulted is that it exposed the weakness of President Barack Obama’s administration, or rather its ignorance. Didn’t Obama himself acknowledge he did not know that this issue was complicated and difficult to this extent? The tactic of linking the negotiations to the discontinuation of the settlement activities has failed, and Mahmoud Abbas became involved in this situation although he knew in advance that all the previous negotiations took place while the settlement activities were ongoing. In the meantime, the entire world knew that Israel was founded on these activities which have not stopped since before 1948, and that it consecrated the idea of the settlements in the territories occupied in 1967 to prevent the establishment of any viable Palestinian state in the future.

The administration must become aware of the fact that there is no need for a new tactic. There is a need for a clear strategy that would impose the settlement and its conditions based on the decisions of international legitimacy, instead of settling for saying that the settlement activities are illegitimate! At the beginning of the year, American circles said that Obama’s administration will draw up a settlement which it will impose on the two belligerent sides. Furthermore, French President Nicolas Sarkozy publicly announced at the time that Washington will put forward and impose this settlement. However, it turned out that the administration does not have the ability to impose anything, while Europe seems incapable of playing any role and is settling for dealing with this issue as a social and humanitarian affair in the total absence of the Quartet Committee.

The United States cannot relinquish the initiative of maintaining the political process, even in the context of “managing and waiting,” so that vacuum does not encourage those who are seeking a role or prompts them to put forward approaches and projects in a region which was rendered by the United States – since the establishment of Israel – at the core of its strategic security, military and oil interests. The US will not relinquish the renewed attempts as long as it is engaged in open wars, from Afghanistan to Iraq, and in the fight against terrorism from Pakistan, to Yemen and North Africa. Therefore, the region must get ready for a no-peace no-war state.

Washington will not stop trying although everyone knows that the political process is practically dead. The problem no longer resides in Israel’s obstinacy, Washington’s weakness, the Palestinian division and the Arab impotence solely. It resides in the absence of any ray of hope following the “illusions” which were attributed to the new American president. The problem is that no one on the Arab and Palestinian levels still believes that peace is possible in light of the Israeli society’s drastic turn toward the extreme right-wing and toward blunter racism. This conviction, added to the failure of the American administration during the last two years, will enhance the camp of those who showed opposition - in the ranks of the two sides - toward the negotiations in the past.

The last few months of this American experience have shed light on the mistake of turning the talks into a sterile discussion over the extent of the ability of Obama’s administration to pressure Israel and force Netanyahu to stop the settlement activities, as a condition for any talks. This mistake was also committed by the Palestinian authority which should have been focusing on the occupation as it was stated by President Bashar al-Assad. And since the midterm elections revealed the extent of the weakness of the current administration, this means that it will be unable to exert any pressures at the level of the new formula of parallel talks carried by Mitchell to the region today. All that the Americans and their envoy can offer for the time being is the management of the crisis while awaiting the numerous upcoming developments, at the head of which being the negotiations between Iran and the major states over the nuclear file. In this context, is it not remarkable that the collapse of all the formulas and incentives which Washington proposed to Netanyahu coincided with the resumption of the negotiations between the Islamic Republic and the P5+Germany over this file?!

Moreover, how will the “parallel talks” resolve for example the issues of security and the border? When Israel shows stringency at the level of the security issue, it is logically linking the Iranian nuclear file to the settlement. It has succeeded in doing so while the “Wikileaks documents” revealed that the priority in the region was given to the Iranian file. Consequently, all that was left for Israel was to present itself as a necessary umbrella to protect the Arabs, especially the Gulf populations, from Iran’s missiles and its nuclear bomb! Therefore, the resolution of the Palestinian issue was no longer an urgent need to uphold peace and stability and the region, or to protect the American interests and the security of the American troops and bases spread throughout the Arab region or the Great Middle East! Moreover, in order to alleviate the international discontent, Netanyahu may pick up on the French ambition to revive the Syrian track, especially if he is able to fix the relations with Turkey as Israel is aware of the vital character of its relations and strategy with this major Islamic state in the region - without this necessarily resulting in a breakthrough.

The settlement file is no longer an American priority. However, the administration will try to maintain the “illusion” of the negotiations so that President Obama can tend to the renewal battle in two years. In the meantime, Netanyahu is relieved from the nightmare of seeing his government collapsing and his alliance crumbling. He can even block the way before the outbidding of Avigdor Lieberman and some of the key figures of the Likud while flaunting his ability to stand fast in Washington’s face, a thing which Yitzhak Shamir failed to do while at the peak of his power on the eve of the launching of the Madrid train, when President Bush Sr. froze the loan guarantees ($10 billion) to force him to accept the negotiations.

Also in the meantime, the authority can protect its “authority” in light of the deadlock facing domestic reconciliation, and can earn an Arab cover for any position it might adopt as long as it is maintaining belief in the purpose of the negotiations. In fact, this is its only choice, as it considers that the other choices it proposed are without value because most of them will be obstructed by the will of those who do not have a will capable of pressuring Israel.

The authority announced it has several choices to face the deadlock at the level of the political process. It can proclaim the death of the political process and that America is impotent, or say that America is no longer a successful mediator, is standing alongside Israel and is afraid of raising its discontent, thus taking the issue away from it and transferring it to the United Nations and the Security Council. It can also increase the level of its diplomatic action to secure new recognitions of the state, as was already done by Brazil and Argentina, among other known options.

However, if it seems for the time being that far from these options, there are difficult conditions and circumstances and that some Arabs and Palestinians wish to give the Americans another chance and keep the ball in the court of Israel and the international community, nothing prevents the authority from putting forward “parallel options” along with the “parallel talks.” The first serious step at this level would be calling on all the factions to meet and end the division, so that the reconciliation efforts do not remain hijacked by attempts to maneuver to gain positions and narrow interests while the cause is fading. There is no doubt that the authority succeeded in its diplomatic campaign by insisting on negotiating, thus managing to show which is the obstructing side. However, this is not enough unless there is a unified Palestinian strategy supported by an Arab strategy showing the Israelis, but also the Americans, what it means not to have peace. In this context, the Arabs do not lack the necessary strength to make the others reconsider their calculations.

Hamas tried its project in Gaza and the authority tried the negotiations, but to no avail. None of them achieved anything, which is why the reconsideration of the Palestinian work methods must be reassessed. The movement’s goal cannot remain limited to maintaining its grip over the Strip and seizing the right moment to stage a coup in the West Bank and annex it to Gaza. In light of the collapse of the political process, it cannot sustain its position vis-à-vis the truce and the discontinuation of the launching of rockets from Gaza, as well as its position against the authority. The latter for its part cannot be satisfied with endless sterile rounds of negotiations that have almost divested the cause of all its elements of strength and of its international legitimacy.


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