Abdullah Iskandar
Dar Al-Hayat (Opinion)
August 12, 2010 - 12:00am

Will the sixth tour of American Envoy George Mitchell between Ramallah and occupied Jerusalem since last May - which marked the launching of the indirect talks between Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu’s government - be the last tour that will make Abu Mazen head toward direct negotiations?

President Barack Obama is pushing for the launching of these direct talks in September, i.e. upon the end of the verbal deadline for the discontinuation of the Israeli settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories. For that purpose, he has exerted exceptional pressures on the Palestinian side, described by Abbas as being unprecedented. As for Mitchell who will complete his tour today and head back to Washington, he is hoping to carry the Palestinian consent on the launching of these talks, something for which Abbas paved the way after he received a response to a suggestion he recently put forward. This suggestion featured the issuance of a statement by the Quartet Committee, calling on Israel to discontinue the settlement activities, include all the territories occupied in the 1967 war in the negotiations, and reach an agreement within 24 months.

It is worth mentioning that the Quartet had issued a similar report during its meeting in Moscow in March, that the Palestinian Authority welcomed it and that Netanyahu’s government rejected it in full. So, what happened to make Israel accept it now? Nothing. Moreover, its issuance would mean the presentation of compensation to the Palestinians after Obama’s administration and Israel both rejected the issuance of a clear commitment to have the negotiations tackle the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with the 1967 border, and then rejected a proposal to hold a tripartite Palestinian-American-Israeli meeting to define the reference of the negotiations before moving toward direct talks.

Consequently, the process turned into a Palestinian search for an exit that would meet the American demand to return to the direct negotiations which had been halted since the attack on the Gaza Strip at the end of 2008, instead of being an American effort deployed with Israel to get it to provide the conditions that would allow the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territories occupied in 1967.

This made an analyst in the Israeli Haaretz newspaper, Akiva Eldar, say that Abbas is reaching a situation in which he will have to choose between the plague and Cholera. The plague would be the ability to handle the size of the incoming American pressures and threats – especially in Obama’s last letter to the Palestinian president which was behind the Arab green light given to the acceptance of the direct talks at the right time which will certainly be in September. As for Cholera, it would be to engage in negotiations without an Israeli commitment to indefinitely freeze the settlement activities and define the reference and timetable of these negotiations, which with Abbas’ recognition will constitute a setback in comparison to what was reached with the former government headed by Ehud Olmert. This is especially true at the level of the commitment of the two sides (mainly Israel) not to undertake any steps affecting the final status issues and the status quo, a thing which was toppled by Netanyahu ever since he reached power.

Moreover, the conditions of negotiations which existed during Olmert’s term are no longer available, especially in regard to the Palestinian Authority which - since Hamas gained control over the Gaza Strip - lost the card of Palestinian unity and consequently the domestic political cover offered to it. This situation was exploited by Israel that claimed to be holding on to its stringent positions in the talks for security reasons and to fight the extremist organizations in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

In addition, Obama’s domestic status on the eve of the Congressional midterm elections does not allow him to regain the position he had at the beginning of his term, seeing how he has to succumb to the demands of the Zionist lobby and show additional stringency with the Palestinian side to corroborate his bias in favor of the Israeli choices.


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