March 3, 2010

Indirect Negotiations - Or Hall of Illusions?

They’re claiming success, however gradual, but the road to peace feels like it just got longer. Today the Arab League voted in favor of indirect, trilateral talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, with America serving as the mediator.

“The talks,” reports the AP, “likely to begin later this month, would break a 15-month freeze in peace negotiations and hand the Obama administration a first diplomatic achievement in the Israeli-Palestinian arena.”

Except the only two entities acting like an achievement has just been reached are Israel and America, and few will fall victim to their illusions.

Immediately U.S. officials had to “brush aside criticism that if the talks began, the two sides would not even be in the same room, saying they would ultimately have to sit down together to end the six-decade conflict and that indirect talks were a start,” reported the Haartez.

"We were very pleased by the endorsement that came out of Cairo today," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters in Brasilia. "We are very committed to try to bring about the two-state solution and we hope the proximity talks will be the beginning of that process."

But according to the Los Angeles Times, “Under the American plan, U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell will meet separately with Israelis and Palestinians in the hopes of narrowing their differences and getting both sides back in the same room. Analysts call it an incremental step, but perhaps better than nothing.”

"This is positive," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley told reporters.

Is the Arab League’s blessing really positive though? Could it actually be a step backwards? Aren’t indirect negotiations through America already happening? It appears that America and Israel are simply stating what they’re doing now, then calling it a success.

"It seems that the conditions are ripening for the renewal of negotiations between us and the Palestinians," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the Knesset during a special session Wednesday. "The world understands - and how - that this government wants negotiations and has taken steps, not simple ones, to promote talks.”

Now that’s an illusion, a potent one dipped in delusion.

Final status negotiations are a locked room that all three parties, Obama, Netanyahu, and Abbas, wish to enter. Now a hall has descended over the outside of that room. The parties find themselves staring down at the same door, only they’re covered from the elements - skeptics (whose numbers are rising) and the Muslim media.

The door for final-status negotiations - for a two-state solution - appears to have come a step closer when that door might be receding. Anyone can read the reports showing all these words mashed up against each other, competing for attention and power, in a violent display of media warfare.

The PA and Arab League’s intentions are blatantly pessimistic.

Amr Mussa, the Arab League chief, said after two days of talks: "Despite a lack of conviction over Israel's seriousness, [Arab foreign ministers] will give indirect talks a chance, for the final time, in order to facilitate US efforts, within four months... There was a consensus that Israel is not interested in peace, the proof being what is taking place on occupied [Palestinian] land ... Acts which are meant to provoke the Arab and American sides.”

Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator, told AFP news agency on Wednesday that the talks were agreed to, "so that American efforts to revive the peace process will succeed. This is a last chance because the Arabs are really fed up with the process.”

Nabil Abu Rudeina, one of Abbas’s spokesmen, warned,"Israel does not want to return to the negotiating table. But it wishes to blame the Palestinian side, saying that the Palestinians do not want to enter into negotiations. So we must put a stop to this pretext and reveal Israel's true position before the international community and the American administration."

"There is currently no idea to hold direct negotiations. The Palestinian and Arab positions on this matter are clear - there must be a clear reference for negotiations and the complete halt of settlements.”

Look at that, back at the start.

The Arab League isn't a vote of confidence but one step closer to conflict. Indirect negotiations are nothing more than what’s already happening: negotiations over settlement activity, Jerusalem, etc. Given the settlements in East Jerusalem, secret units across the West Bank, and religious grabs just in the course of months, “indirect negotiations” are a step backwards.

Especially when Netanyahu is taking no blame whatsoever, when Obama yields. He must not have much respect for Palestinians, selling them "success" as Israel inflames the West Bank.

We still support the PA and Arab League’s strategy as it is as we advised at the start of 2010. Israel is essentially blaming the Palestinians for all of its own activity in Gaza and the West Bank, which is the true cause of frozen negotiations. The Palestinians should grab the ball see what Israel does. Don’t agree to anything, but if Israel wants to negotiate then negotiate.

If Netanyahu insists on settlement activity, no refugees, and taking all of Jerusalem, and refuses to compromise on any issue then Israel will cut itself even more with its illusions. And Obama, whose only concerns are appearance and reelection, will fall pray to his own.

Violent consequences await the region, but that’s already where they’re headed - Mussa says these negotiations are “the final time.” Not many alternatives remain.


  1. Brazil told Hillary they will not support sanctions against Iran. Hmmm.