Elyte Baykun
Ma'an News Agency (Analysis)
February 4, 2012 - 1:00am

Israel is blaming the Palestinians for putting "preconditions" on peace talks by insisting on a settlement freeze before returning to direct negotiations. They say that Palestinians have negotiated for the past twenty years without this condition, so why demand it now?

But the PLO says that is precisely the point. They have been negotiating in good faith with the Israelis for the past 20 years without first insisting on a settlement freeze and look where it has gotten them.

Despite that settlements have always been considered illegal under international law, and despite that Israel explicitly promised not to "take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations," when it signed the Oslo Declaration in 1993, Israeli settlement building not only continued over the next two decades - it dramatically increased.

Since negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians began in 1991, Israeli settlement in the occupied territories has more than doubled, from 243,000 to almost 600,000 including the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.

Now, the Palestinians are saying enough; until Israel implements a full settlement freeze, they will no longer participate in the charade of negotiations that does nothing but provide cover and buy time for Israel to create more facts on the ground.

Is this such an unreasonable demand? Think about it; imagine you live in a house next door to the Smith family, with whom you have a long-standing dispute. One of the issues is that the Smiths are building an addition on their house that is encroaching on your backyard.

But in 1993, after a lot of arguing, property damage, and violence, you and the Smiths come to the realization that, as much as you would both like to have the neighborhood to yourselves, realistically, this is probably not going to happen: you are going to have to figure out a way to deal with each other.

So you sign an agreement that says you will try to find a peaceful way to negotiate your differences, and, in the meantime, you will both refrain from any provocative actions that would change the situation on the ground. It seems like a reasonable agreement, and you start negotiations.

However, contrary to the agreement you just signed, you see that the Smiths have not stopped construction on the addition to their house. You protest, but they respond by further increasing the pace of construction, the size of the addition, and the amount of your backyard that they are occupying.

Sure, they keep showing up to negotiations, but they don't say much of anything new and only make token concessions. You get the distinct sense that they are not serious about negotiating a fair solution to your dispute, and are only going through the motions to get the neighborhood association off their backs and stall for time while they complete construction.

After all, once it's built, it's going to be difficult to force them to tear it down.

So what would you do? Would you continue to talk to the Smiths even after 20 years of non-productive negotiations that have resulted in their doubling construction on your property? Or would you say, "enough; we're not going to continue talking to you, as you are obviously not serious about resolving this situation, and continuing negotiations just gives you cover to continue building on our land."

Would you continue to pose for photos with the Smiths so the local paper could write stories about how great it is that you are both working hard to resolve this issue, or would you say, "I've tried this long enough, it's not working, it's time to try something else? We won't go back to violence, but we will not continue to play the fool."

Normally I am an unequivocal supporter of dialogue; I don't believe in "not talking with the enemy." However, in this case, it is counter-productive for the Palestinians to continue peace negotiations while the Israelis keep taking more and more of their land.

Although returning to violence would be a huge mistake and in neither party's interests, there are other options, such as putting more focus on coordinating the many non-violent resistance campaigns that have sprung up around the West Bank and East Jerusalem that are supported and attended by so many Palestinians, left-wing Israelis, and internationals.

This is the kind of pressure that could work in convincing the Israelis to commit to a settlement freeze. And, when they do, I think the Palestinians will be more than happy to return to negotiations.


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