The US administration succeeded in reviving the peace talks between the Palestinians and the Israelis, after the Palestinian side has waived the precondition related to settlement construction.
The re-launching of the talks was simultaneous with the military coup in Egypt, and with efforts targeting political Islam and aiming at ending the Arab Spring, while strengthening the so-called moderation camp, which is allied with the U.S.
The Palestinian side has entered negotiations amidst a state of division, foiled reconciliation efforts, and mutual accusations. It has also engaged in talks under unsuitable Arab and Islamic environment, where the balance of power is in the favor of Israel that proceeds with its policy of establishing facts on the ground.
In general, we can talk about three scenarios regarding the negotiations outcome:
1. Reaching a final agreement that leads to the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS), where the Palestinian side waives the right of return in parallel to land swap and Israel’s continued control over the settlement blocs in the WB. Additionally, Jerusalem (the eastern side) would be considered a common capital, with no Palestinian army. However, this scenario is likely to cause wide Palestinian opposition.
2. The signing of a partial, temporary agreement that bears an illusion of achievement for all concerned sides.
3. The failure of the talks while awaiting critical transformations in the Palestinian situation and changes in the balance of power in the region.
Israel is considered the cornerstone of the US policy in the Middle East, where the strategic relation between the two sides is based on cultural and historic background, and maintains political, military and security dimensions.
Indeed, an essential criterion of the US policy in the region is assuring Israel’s security and military superiority, while providing a cover for its occupation and aggressive practices against the Palestinian people and the region. Ultimately, the US could not be perceived as a neutral mediator in the peace process.
At the same time, the US is trying to run its network of interests in the Arab region, including oil supplies, while not embarrassing its Arab allies and the “moderate” regimes, which are in line with the US policy.
And since the Palestinian issue remains the most explosive factor in the region, the US policy is seeking to resolve the file through extorting Arab and Palestinian concessions to achieve peaceful settlement within the Israeli red lines and conditions.
Within the US efforts to revive the peace process, there are some determinants that control the future of the talks and the tangible outcome of these efforts, including:
– The fast developments in the Arab region and the repercussions of the Arab Spring, in addition to regional instability and its consequences on the Palestinian issue and the peace process.
– The seriousness of the US administration about reaching a final and comprehensive peace deal between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
– The changes that brought the two sides back to the negotiating table and the size of concessions made by the parties.
– The pressure that could be exercised by the US administration to prompt the two sides to make concessions necessary for the success of the “preliminary meetings” or the details of the peace process.
– The ability of the both parties to bear the consequences of the concessions made to reach a peace settlement that is acceptable by the Palestinian and Israeli public.
– The ability of the negotiating and intermediary parties to overcome regional and local impediments, such as the continued state of division at the Palestinian level, and Hamas’s continued control of the GS, and the ongoing state of instability in the region.
The first Obama administration has always tried to make a breakthrough in the peace process. However, these efforts have been foiled by the Israeli intransigence on the issue of settlement construction, thus leading to a three-year stalemate.
Despite the Israeli intransigence, the American efforts finally achieved a breakthrough through six shuttle rounds by Secretary of State John Kerry between Tel Aviv, Amman and Ramallah. Apparently, Kerry urged the Ramallah based leadership to waiver its condition regarding halting settlement construction.
The Israeli side presented what was called a gesture of goodwill through accepting to release 104 pre-Oslo prisoners. However, this is a mere nominal concession that cannot be compared to the dangerous Palestinian concessions that affect the basis of the negotiations and the future of the peace process.
Worth of mention is that the US success at reviving the peace talks was simultaneous with the military coup in Egypt on 3/7/2013, and the attempts to spread the Egyptian scenario to the other Arab Spring countries. It was also accompanied with the closure of the Rafah crossing by the coup authorities, tightening the grip on the GS, the destruction of the tunnels, and the fierce propaganda campaign against Hamas.
This reflects a trend coordinated on the regional and international levels, aiming at ending the Arab Spring and restoring the regional status of the so-called moderate camp. It also shows the attempts to target political Islam and exclude it from the arenas of decision-making, thus securing the Western and American interests in the region, besides the attempts to resolve the Palestinian issue in a way that reflects the balance of power, which is greatly in favor of Israel.
The conditions that govern the parties to the conflict in any negotiations constitute important indicators for the success of the negotiations process.
As for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, it is clear that the Palestinian side is not in a situation that allows it to exercise any kind of pressure on the Israeli side. This is so due to the state of inter-Palestinian division and the failure to achieve reconciliation; different reports showed the Palestinian Authority’s involvement in the provocation against Hamas, and in tarnishing the image of the Palestinian resistance through claims of its involvement in the Egyptian issue.
It should be noted here that the negotiations launched by Kerry on 29/7/2013 are taking place within a degraded and divided Arab environment. This would consequently allow the Israeli side to extort more Palestinian concessions.
The dangers of this round of negotiations are further exacerbated by the fact that they affect final status issues, including refugees, Jerusalem and settlements.
On the Israeli level, the Israeli leadership seems more in control, as settlement construction is at full sway. In fact, Israeli figures show that settler population in the WB has risen by 2.19% during the first half of 2013. In-the same vein, and during preliminary talks, Minister Neftali Bennett from Jewish Home Party said on 5/8/2013 that tenders would be announced soon to increase settlement construction drastically in East Jerusalem. In addition, Housing Minister of Housing and Construction Uri Ariel declared that his ministry has prepared plans for the construction of 2,500 housing units in East Jerusalem.
Moreover, the regional and international environment constitutes one of the elements of power for the Israeli negotiator. This is so since the Israeli side perceived the success of the military coup in Egypt and the exclusion of political Islam from the political arena as strategic developments. Other elements are the quiet Israeli borders, and the unlikelihood of a war with Hizbullah on its northern borders. All of that is accompanied with the keenness of the Israeli negotiator on rejecting any interference by any side, including the US, in the details of the negotiations, which would pave the way for more pressure on the Palestinian side.
1. Reaching a final agreement between the two sides, yet within the limits revealed in the documents released by Al Jazeera. This would mean the return of a few thousands of refugees and accepting the principle of land swaps, which would allow Israel to maintain the largest part of settlement blocs in the WB while ridding itself of 1948 areas with high Arab population.
This scenario, however, faces many obstacles especially regarding the prices it might incur. The Israeli side has vowed to hold referendum on any peace deal, and so did President ‘Abbas. Ultimately, any peace agreement between the two sides might ace popular opposition. For example, an agreement approving the right of return for Palestinians would not be acceptable in the Israeli street, while conceding the right of return is likely to be rejected by more than seven million Palestinian refugees. The same also applies regarding Hamas’s control of the GS, and its ultimate rejection of any agreement that gives up on an inch of Historic Palestine, or that which recognizes Israel.
2. Signing an interim agreement that allows all parties to claim apparent success, where the PA would be able to control more territories in the WB, assure the release of more prisoners, develop economic infrastructure in the WB, expand security cooperation with Israel, dismantle all resistance factions in GS, and tighten the grip on the Strip to put an end to Hamas’s control there.
3. The failure of this round of talks, then the two sides would have to provide the public with proper justifications. In which case we will have to wait for substantial shift in the Palestinian situation, or genuine transformations in the political map and the balance of power, or maybe a better international environment or a new attempt by another American administration.
1. As long as the Palestinian negotiator is talking about his commitment to the fundamentals, he has to present the Palestinian people with a reassurances paper clarifying these fundamentals. He also has to emphasize his clenching to Jerusalem and the right of return, and assure his commitment to sovereignty over the future Palestinian state, and other Palestinian fundamentals.
2. As long as the Palestinian Authority is able to overcome Israel’s attempts to disrupt the peace process, it should make more efforts to achieve Palestinian reconciliation, and put the Palestinian internal house in order.
3. The Palestinian forces have to seek the elements of resistance and unity that enable them to impose their conditions on the Israeli side.
4. The US administration has to stop its support and protection of the Israeli side, define its final vision of the peace process, and put real pressure on the occupier rather than the occupied.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Dr.‘Abdul Sattar Qassim and Mr. Wael Sa’ad for authoring the original text on which this Assessment was based.