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Dr Musa A Keilani: No breakthrough in sight
April 17, 2012
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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is said to be drafting a letter to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas detailing his offer of renewed peace negotiations in response to a Palestinian statement on their stand.

Netanyahu’s letter, according to officials quoted in the Israeli news media, will contain nothing new except that it would not include a demand for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.

Netanyahu will restate his demand that Israel maintains control over the Jordan Valley and that any future Palestinian state must be demilitarised, according to the reports.

Netanyahu has repeatedly demanded that the Palestinians recognise Israel as the state of the Jewish people as a precondition to the peace talks. Such recognition is a non-starter because it will mean a denial for the Palestinian refugees of the right to return to their ancestral homeland from which they were evicted during the 1948 war.

According to Israeli officials, the demand that the Palestinians offer this recognition will be made only towards the conclusion of the peace negotiations.

Netanyahu’s office said last week that during his scheduled meeting with a delegation of senior Palestinian officials this week, the Israeli premier will suggest holding direct negotiations with Abbas. Netanyahu’s aide, Yitzhak Molcho, will relay this message during his upcoming meeting with Abbas, during which he will also present the Israeli message to the Palestinian president.

The Palestinian delegation is expected to include Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, top negotiator Saeb Erekat and Palestine Liberation Organisation Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo.

The delegation will present Netanyahu with a message regarding the peace process. The message, said to be the final product of months of Palestinian deliberations, will stress that no negotiations would go ahead while settlement construction continues and while Israel refuses to accept the 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations for a two-state solution.

It is difficult to see any breakthrough, with Israel insisting on its own terms for peace. While we recognise that a peace agreement could be achieved only through negotiations, the Israeli refusal to accept the legitimate rights of the Palestinians as the basis for a solution renders the whole process meaningless.

Israel is also twisting the Palestinian position that the 1967 borders should be the starting point for negotiations. The Palestinian position, explicitly backed by US President Barack Obama, does not mean Israel’s withdrawal to the positions it held at the outset of the 1967 war. In principle, the Palestinians are willing to accept some territorial compromises in order to accommodate Israel’s insistence that it keeps most if not all the major Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

Israel deliberately ignores this position and repeatedly states that the 1967 lines are “indefensible.”

Abbas has said that if Netanyahu was not willing to resume peace negotiations by suspending settlement construction in the occupied territories, the Palestinians would file a complaint against Israel in the UN. Not that it would do any good, given Israel’s stubborn refusal to heed UN resolutions and appeals, but it would go on UN record that the Palestinians are only demanding their legitimate rights as enshrined in UN resolutions and international law.

Abbas is under pressure from Obama to drop his demand for a freeze in Israel’s settlement work before renewed peace negotiations. It is high time for the US president to realise that it is a legitimate demand as well as a political stand, given that Israel is not willing to offer a token of its good faith and sincerity for a solution for its conflict with the Palestinians.

It is not difficult to understand that it is not at all easy for Netanyahu, who is saddled with extremist partners in his coalition government, to declare a freeze in settlement work. By the same token, how could his coalition be expected to endorse a peace agreement based on the legitimate rights of the Palestinians? Some of Netanyahu’s partners have clearly said that they would quit the coalition if the government ever made concessions on the status of Arab East Jerusalem in peace negotiations. Others have threatened they will bring down the government if Netanyahu agrees to negotiate the status of the Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.

The picture is clear: there is no hope of fruitful negotiations as long as the present coalition remains in power in Israel since it is unable to take any realistic measures for peace with the Palestinians.

Therefore, it seems to be a wise decision for the Palestinians to wait for the next general elections in Israel and see whether there is any change in the coalition structure that will allow serious negotiations to be launched.

In the meantime, they should continue to strengthen their international standing and pursue their quest for UN recognition of their statehood regardless of whatever pressure from wherever. They definitely need to refocus their efforts. The shameful low-level attention that this year’s Land Day on the 31st of March had received seems to imply how fast and deteriorating is Arab and Muslim interest in the Palestinian struggle. The Palestinians need to restore that interest.
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The author a former jordanian ambassador, is the chief editor of  Al Urdun weekly in Amman

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