KUTTAB: Leap of faith needed for Israeli-Palestinian talks 24Jul13 July 24, 2013

U.S. Secretary of State Kerry meets with Palestinian President Abbas at the Mukataa compound, in the West Bank city of Ramallah

by Daoud Kuttab    -     Al Monitor     -     22 July 2013

Many analysts and activists are questioning the wisdom of the Palestinian leadership agreeing to preliminary talks in Washington, without having secured the coveted settlement freeze and the declaration by Israel that the 1967 borders are the basis of the negotiations.

Palestinians and Israelis have debated whether these issues are considered preconditions to peace talks or simply the required framework for which any conflicting parties need to agree on, to establish the relevance of peace talks about a territory that one side continues to occupy and colonize.

Whatever the definitions are, the requirements for peace talks appear to be partially approved by the one mediator who is able — if so choosing — to obtain the required agreement for the end of the 46-year-old Israeli occupation and illegal settlement building in what the world has determined to be the areas of the state of Palestine.

The US mediator — namely US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Obama administration behind him — seem to have accepted some kind of verbal Israeli support for an undeclared stoppage of settlement activities, mostly in the areas which Israel has defined. The framework of the peace talks is seemingly more complicated.  Apparently, Kerry gave verbal commitment followed by written US commitments. Israel has never publicly agreed to consider the 1967 borders as the basis for talks.

It is very hard to convince anyone following the decades-old conflict familiar with the makeup and rhetoric of the current Israeli government that these talks — when launched — would lead to anything of substance. Some overly optimistic Israelis and their supporters would argue that if the talks go on for some time, this would help create the needed momentum to change hearts and minds, and therefore what seems impossible now could somehow change if the Israeli public is convinced that Palestinians are serious about peace. Palestinian skeptics chuckle at the idea of Palestinians having to prove that they are serious eight years into the reign of the anti-militarization of the intifada and the pro-security-coordination Palestinian leader. The same skeptics note that no such requirement was made of the Lebanese Hezbollah fighters when Israel agreed to withdraw from occupied south Lebanon.

Palestinian leaders, however, are more worried about the consequences of not agreeing to give talks yet another chance, rather than the possibility that such talks would not actually lead to an agreement that will end the occupation and colonization of the Palestinian areas occupied in 1967.

To make the leap of faith into the unknown areas of useless negotiations with Israel, Palestinian leaders have apparently decided that they need to be rewarded for their agreement to join a peace process that has clearly little hope of success based on the current balance of power. Short of the Palestinian leadership encouraging a military resistance campaign or fully support a worldwide boycott of Israel, it is highly unlikely that peace talks will by themselves lead to an Israeli change of mind. And while the Israelis and the Americans — for different reasons — need the image of a peace process rather than peace itself, the Palestinian leadership gains very little from the peace talks if the political horizon of a breakthrough is dark.

Absent a miracle, the experienced Palestinian leadership appears to have settled for some short-term rewards that would somehow strengthen Palestinian morale in the hopes that eventually changes in world opinion and possible pressure as a result of the Arab Spring would provide the necessary ingredients for an imposed solution from the Americans.

In the meantime, the 78-year-old Palestinian president, who has publicly said he will not run for office again, appears willing to go through the motions with the hope that some of the side rewards — such as the release of prisoners and improvement of the cash-strapped government — will negate some of the negative reactions that accompany going to peace talks without a clear framework to end the occupation and stop the colonization of Palestine.

Releasing prisoners held in Israeli jails before the 1993 Oslo Accords will go a long way in helping to rescue Mahmoud Abbas’s legacy — especially within his own Fatah movement, whose fighters are among the majority of the 103 prisoners held behind bars since long before their leaders Abbas and Arafat set foot on Palestinian territory.

The danger of such a tactic is that while it may yield some positive results in public relations in the short term, its long-term benefits seem rather bleak. Face-to-face talks without a reasonable chance of success will only delay the inevitable and scuttle efforts at finding a resistance strategy — whether through boycotts or other methods — that can eventually produce a much higher cost for the occupation than what Israel has to pay now.

Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor’s Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab


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