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Without pressure on Israel, no progress can be expected
By Musa Keilani August 25, 2010
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THE Palestinians have warned that they would quit peace negotiations with Israel if the latter resumes its settlement activities in the West Bank. The warning came hours after US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that Israel and the Palestinians will resume direct negotiations under US auspices in Washington on Sept.2.

The warning was issued by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat after a meeting of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive committee.

Erekat said that any new Israeli construction in the occupied territories would cause the Palestinians to withdraw from negotiations. “Should the Israeli government issue new tenders on Sept.26, we will not be able to continue with talks,” he said.

The warning is only symptomatic of the complexities and difficulties that are in the way of a fair and just peace agreement that would end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Arabs find it difficult to believe that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will agree to meet the minimum requirements for peace with the Palestinians. Far from it, if anything. He has his own version of a “peace” agreement in mind that has nothing to do with fairness and justice. He wants to impose that on the Palestinians regardless of the fact that no Palestinian would ever accept it.

No Palestinian leader could ever accept any peace agreement that does not give the Palestinians some form of arrangement that would allow them to name Arab East Jerusalem as their capital.

And, as far as the broader Muslim World is concerned, no Palestinian, or anyone else for that matter, has the authority to write off the Muslim rights in Jerusalem, which houses the third holiest shrine in Islam.

Netanyahu has already ruled out any such arrangement and is going ahead with the judaisation of the holy city. His coalition partner, Shas, has warned that it would quit the alliance the moment he touches on Jerusalem in negotiations with the Palestinians. Indeed, that is only one of the many problems he would have with his coalition partners as negotiations with the Palestinians get ahead as the US hopes.

No Palestinian leader could ever accept any peace agreement that does not address the rights of the Palestinian refugees from the 1948 war. He will not have any credibility if he sits down with the Israelis without a clear understanding that the issue will be discussed with a view to arriving at a fair compromise.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas cannot claim to represent the entire Palestinian community as long his Fatah group and the Hamas movement remain at odds. No one can overlook that Hamas won more than 75 per cent of the votes in the last Palestinian elections. Indeed, it might have lost popularity in the face of the suffering brought to bear upon the people of the Gaza Strip in the last three years since it violently seized control of the coastal enclave. But that does not negate the fact that Hamas remains in physical control of the Gaza Strip and opposes Abbas’s negotiations with Israel.

The group has already rejected the proposed talks beginning on Sept.2. It called it a new attempt to deceive the Palestinian people and declared that it would not be bound to the outcome of the negotiations.

Likeminded Islamic Jihad has stated that the PLO Executive Committee’s discussion on the US initiative was “capitulation to an American edict meant to serve Israeli interests.”

PLO factions like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine had joined Hamas and Islamic Jihad in calling on Abbas not to enter direct talks with Israel even before Clinton made the announcement on Friday. They do have enough reasons to be sceptical because Netanyahu cannot be trusted to accept any accord that would have a remote semblance of fairness and justice for the Palestinians.

US President Barack Obama has a lot at stake in his quest to find a solution to a conflict that has eluded his predecessors. And he wants that to be done in one year.

A two-state solution in Palestine is one of his presidential campaign promises but that is firmly rejected by Israel. Without applying pressure on Israel, Obama could not hope for any progress towards a two-state solution. But we have seen that Obama, or any US president for that matter, does not really have the political leeway to apply pressure on Israel.

We do not know how Obama hopes to overcome the difficulties and persuade Netanyahu to accept a fair and just agreement based on the inalienable rights of the Palestinian people. Does he have his own blueprint for peace? Is that something of a surprise that he is holding back?

Even if he does, it is no guarantee that he would be successful in the face of Israel’s intrasigence.

In any event, we know that the US initiative is the only movement in the elusive quest for peace in Palestine. Let us go along with it, hoping for miracles to happen.

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