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Direct peace talks — No hopes on the horizon
By Dr Musa A Keilani July 18, 2010
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The so-called Middle East peace process has become a charade, with everyone being perfectly aware that there is no prospect for a fair and just Israeli-Palestinian agreement as long as the Jewish state does not climb down from its high horse and accept realistic compromises.

Instead of doing that, Israel is creating more hurdles in the path towards peace on a daily basis.

The latest in that came with the demolition of six Palestinian homes in occupied Arab East Jerusalem last week.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to hoodwink everyone, including US President Barack Obama.

In one breath he says that peace is possible in one year and on the other he says that a deal is possible by the year 2012 but it would not be implementable immediately thereafter.

He says he is eager to move to direct peace talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, but is not willing to respond to Palestinian questions over borders and security issues before that.

In simple terms, Netanyahu wants to sit in front of Abbas and tell the Palestinians that all they could ever hope for is a truncated territorial entity under absolute Israeli control where they could run their schools and hospital, clean the streets and maintain marriage, birth and death certificates.

The Israeli prime minister wants to state his terms so forcefully that either the Palestinians accept them or simply abandon negotiations so that he could continue to complain that he does not have a Palestinian counterpart to negotiate peace.

Abbas wants to make peace with Israel, but not at any cost. He cannot accept Israeli conditions that essentially do away with the essence of the six-decade-old Palestinian struggle for independent statehood. His people have sacrificed too much for the realisation of their dream of an independent Palestinian state with Arab East Jerusalem as its capital.

Abbas knows that he would have to make territorial compromises over the existing Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank but he cannot accept any such compromise over Jewish colonies in occupied Arab East Jerusalem.

As far the issue of refugees is concerned Abbas knows that the minimum he could accept is the principle of their right of return or compensation in lieu of that right.

Not many of the Palestinian refugees would want to return to their homes in pre-1948 Palestine. Netanyahu is aware of it, but he rejects accepting their right to do so because it would undermine Israel’s designation as “the Jewish state.”

Effectively, both Abbas and Netanyahu have important political considerations that undermine prospects for a genuine, fair and just peace agreement.

Abbas cannot accept to give up Arab East Jerusalem. The best he could accept is some form of sharing the holy city under an arrangement that does not question the religious rights of Muslims, Christians and Jews.

However, Netanyahu is no position to even start any negotiations over the status of Jerusalem. Some of his hardline partners in the ruling coalition will simply quit the alliance and bring down his government. Netanyahu does have the option of cobbling a new coalition with opposition parties such as Kadima. If he moves in this direction, then it will give an indicator of his intentions with the Palestinians.

The split in the Palestinians ranks and Hamas’s rule of the Gaza Strip and refusal to reconcile with Abbas’s Fateh have tied down the Palestinian president’s options.

There are many other complicated issues that prevent any realistic move towards peace, particularly given that there is no confidence lost between Abbas and Netanyahu.

US President Barack Obama is genuinely interested in realising a two-state solution in Palestine, with Israel and the Palestinians working out the details between themselves, with the US intervening when the need arises. He is aware that it is Israel’s conditions that are posing the hurdles, but he has found out that the US could not successfully apply pressure on the Israelis. He is pinning hopes on his special envoy George Mitchell to produce a miracle.

Everyone says peace is possible, but the perceptions of peace of all are different.

Given these elements, the obvious picture that emerges is everyone involved is trying to fool others in a game that is destined to take the region into further disasters.

The sole option facing the Palestinians is to simply turn their back on the game and take their destiny in their hands by declaring independence and deal with whatever consequences that brings. They have nothing to lose.

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