The round of talks due to open soon between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is marked by a sad fact. The leaders are almost within walking distance of each other, but are forced to cross the Atlantic Ocean to give talks any chance, and maybe even validity.
Three years have passed since the last summit between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu-Mazen), which may teach us something about the evolution of diplomatic processes. Although Israel is militarily, economically, and technologically stronger, its position vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority weakened in this short period.
Netanyahu has found in Ramallah the most moderate Palestinian partner he could ask for. The Palestinian Authority in the era of Abbas is a stable regime. The Palestinian security forces are the strongest power in the cities and villages of the West Bank, not Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Abbas will enjoy industrial quiet from the direction of his rival in Gaza. Hamas, notwithstanding its condemnations of negotiations with Israel, will not stand in his way if he reaches a peace agreement.
Hamas is going through the long process that the Fatah has already undergone: from a movement that called for Israel's destruction in stages to an organization seeking governing legitimacy, which it knows it can achieve only through international recognition of its existence. Such recognition means joining the peace wagon one day. Meanwhile, the Arab Spring showed the Islamic movement that it can achieve legitimacy through the ballot box, and not necessarily through force.
Abbas, in contrast to his predecessor Yasser Arafat, does not threaten Israel with violence if it does not act as expected of it. His position against the use of force is simply argued. On the battlefield, says Abbas, we face a sophisticated foe, and we only lose on it. As time passes, the Palestinians are pushing Israel to the wall and make it harder for it to make aggressive arguments against peace talks. How can it demand that the Palestinians make more compromises, if in historical perspective, they have already conceded most of Mandatory Palestine? The Palestinian Authority has said that it has conceded 77% of Palestine and is only seeking the remainder. It is not demanding full withdrawal to the 1967 lines, but is prepared for land swaps.
The parties see before them a slew of proposals made by their predecessors and various public organizations for a permanent solution. The parties' positions have been talked to exhaustion, and do not require years of public debate and clarification. The nervous dialogue about preconditions is mostly tactical. Jerusalem and Ramallah both know well what the other demands and what its red lines are.
The recently declared European boycott against economic relations with the settlements is the peak of a multiyear effort by Abbas and his aides to force Israel into negotiations. The Palestinian Authority understood that economic damage was an effective means of pressure on Israel, but it only now succeeded in applying it, with the help of the EU.
Abbas has already won the support of the UN, in the General Assembly Resolution on November 29, 2012, which gave Palestine observer status. Although Israel tried to minimize the practical effect of the decision, it was monumental in importance. It showed through a simple and purposeful poll that the nations of the world said "Yes" to the State of Palestine.
Israel has a counterargument is difficult to ignore: why enter into negotiations on a permanent settlement when the Middle East is in chaos? In other words, who is crazy enough to sign an agreement that involves the vacating of settlements and the handing over of territory in an era of regional instability?
This issue requires thorough discussions, but two fundamental facts should be remembered. The Palestinians already experienced their Arab Spring during their two uprisings against their rulers. The first and second intifada caused traumatic scars. In addition, relations between the Palestinian leadership and its people were not characterized by the tyranny of their Arab brethren. This is a more open society, growing its slow way, and which experienced the suffering we saw in Libya, Egypt, and Syria. The democracy that the Palestinians know is much stronger than the democracy known by the Jordanians and the Egyptians when Israel signed peace treaties with them.
The author is the Arab Affairs correspondent for “IDF Radio" (Galei Zahal).
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on July 21, 2013
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