People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 43

October 24, 2010



West Asia: Peace Talks Charade


Yohannan Chemerapally


THE “direct talks” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) has resumed with much fanfare in Washington in the first week of September. It is after a long hiatus that the Israeli prime minister and the PA president had a face to face meeting. But from available indications, the new round of talks like the previous ones seems to be doomed to failure. There was no frame of references listed for the talks, relating to concrete issues concerning the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Instead the emphasis during the talks was on Israel’s security demands, shorthand for recognition of its illegal settlements and undisputed control of Jerusalem. Besides Washington, the “direct” peace talks had the backing of the Arab troika of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia. Hamas, which today is the most popular Palestinian party, was not even consulted about the talks. Syria and Lebanon, which have serious territorial disputes with Israel was also not invited to the table by the Obama administration.


Though the talks were supposedly held without “any preconditions”, the Palestinian Authority (PA) president, Mahmoud Abbas, had announced at the outset that for the talks to continue, the Israeli government had to extend its moratorium on the settlement freeze in the West Bank. Construction activity in Jerusalem has continued on a feverish pace. The “partial freeze” announced by Netanyahu to give president Abbas a face saver to re-start the talks, was lifted in the last week of September. President Barack Obama, had worked overtime to convince the Israeli prime minister to make this fleeting concession in the first place. Now with the peace talks in danger of imminent collapse, the American president is once again pleading with the Israeli prime minister to order another partial temporary freeze of construction activity on the West Bank. On previous occasions, the Israeli prime minister has openly cocked a snoop at the American president without having to pay a significant political price. Netanyahu had publicly humiliated the American vice president, Joseph Biden, during his visit to Israel earlier in the year. Netanyahu recently told Tony Blair, the envoy of the quartet of West Asia mediators that the Palestinian demand for a halt to construction activity in the occupied territories is “not going to happen”.




Netanyahu will play along for some time with the Obama administration and adopt maximalist positions at the talks. His obvious game plan is to continue with the charade of talks while keeping on building facts on the ground in the occupied West Bank. Speaking in the second week of September, Obama called on the Israeli government to extend its partial freeze on settlements to give the talks momentum. The American president told the media in Washington that he had conveyed to the Israeli prime minister “that it makes sense to extend the moratorium”. It is likely that Netanyahu would once again extend his “partial freeze” so as to not embarrass the American president on the eve of mid-term elections in the US.


Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, has openly ruled out any more extensions of the “construction freeze” in the occupied territories and had predicted that the new round of talks are anyway doomed to failure. He told Israel’s Army Radio that peace with the Palestinians was not attainable in a year or “during the next generation”. Another important ally of the prime minister in the government, the leader of the Shas Party, Rabbi Ovadia Yusuf, expressed the hope that God would strike the PA president, Abbas dead before the “direct talks” commenced.


Netanyahu has not shown any real flexibility during the talks. His positions remain unchanged. He wants the Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state, has rejected the calls for a full and permanent settlement freeze and rejected the handing over of East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state. He has refused to countenance the right of return for the five million Palestinians who were displaced form their homes and hearth. This right has been enshrined in UN resolutions. Before the talks began, a tape featuring the notorious Netanyahu was aired on Israeli TV. In the video, secretly filmed in 2001, he is seen boasting about the role he played to derail the Oslo accord, when he was last prime minister. He said that his negotiating tactics with the Palestinians “is to give 2 per cent in order to prevent 100 per cent”.


The well known Israeli intellectual, Gideon Levy, wrote in the Israeli paper Haretz, that the video proves that Israel is led by a man who does not believe in signing a meaningful agreement with the Palestinians and “who thinks that Washington is in his pocket and he can pull the wool over its eyes”. Before leaving for the talks, Netanyahu told his Likud supporters that they have nothing to worry. “You don’t need to worry. Nobody needs to teach me what it is to love Eretz Israel”, he had said. The term “Eretz Israel”, stands for an Israel stretching from the Mediterranean to the River Jordan, encompassing the whole of the West Bank. The Obama administration, despite all the evidence to the contrary, still expresses optimism that a peace agreement between Netanyahu and Abbas is possible within a year.


President Abbas has said that his priority would be to first make Israel recognise the 1967 borders. “If we want to start negotiations, we will start with borders and then move to security because the border is important for us and security is important for them (Israel)”, Abbas told a Palestinian newspaper. He said a clearly demarcated border based on the de facto one which existed before the 1967 war, would give the Palestinians a solution to the Jerusalem, settlements and water problems. It is unlikely that the PA will ever accept Israel as a Jewish state---one of Netanyahu’s key demands. Despite the ethnic cleansing, Palestinians today constitute 20 per cent of Israel’s population. Their numbers, going by current demographic trends, are bound to substantially increase in the next decade. In the next twenty five years, Palestinians could constitute 30 per cent of Israel’s population.


Many Israeli policymakers are aware of the demographic threat and the challenge it will pose to the Zionist enterprise in the future. Many Palestinians are also now saying that the two state solution is no longer feasible and that the only long term fix is for a single state where Jews and Palestinians have equal rights. Gadi Taub, an academic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, wrote in the NYT, that the Theodor Herzl, the architect of the Zionist state, wanted Israeli Jews and Arabs to have the same rights. But today the majority of the Israeli Jews view Arabs as aliens in their own land. He notes that if Israel fully annexes the West Bank, there will be parity in the population of Jews and Arabs. But with some prominent right wing Jewish politicians like the former defence minister, Moshe Arens, supporting the idea of one unified state, the Palestinians smell a rat. They think that it is a scheme to formalise the land grab in West Bank and Jerusalem and at the same time leave the million and a half Palestinians in Gaza in the lurch.  




The Hamas, which is in control of the Gaza Strip and had won the majority in the free and fair elections held in 2006, has criticised the decision of Mahmoud Abbas to resume talks. The talks were suspended after the Israeli invasion of Gaza in December, 2008. Excluding Hamas from the dialogue process at the insistence of the West anyway has deprived the talks of what little credibility it had among the Palestinians. The Obama administration’s point man in the region, George Mitchell, said before the beginning of the talks that he did not envisage any role for the Hamas in future negotiations. Arab states and an increasing number of western capitals are well aware that a durable peace is unachievable without the participation of the Hamas. Mitchell, the man credited to bringing peace in Northern Ireland, had no compunctions about getting the Irish Republican Army (IRA), branded as a terrorist organisation, on board while conducting negotiations there.


The Hamas leadership is anyway sceptical about the utility of talks with Israel till such time as Israel refused to recognise the 1967 borders or acknowledge the right of return for the Palestinian refugees. A Hamas leader, Ismail Rudwan, speaking on Al Quds (Jerusalem) day in the first week of September, said that the negotiations that the Palestinians had tried for two decades with Israel were pointless. “The Palestinians never gained anything from them except the loss of their causes and rights. Therefore we consider participating in these talks as a crime and treason”, he told a cheering crowd in Gaza. Hamas has announced that it will not accept any deal reached between Netanyahu and Abbas. President Abbas has said that if a peace deal is clinched, he will put it up for a national referendum. 


Four Israeli settlers were killed on West Bank, as talks resumed in Washington. A Hamas spokesman justified the killings, saying that the Israeli settler community is an “Israel reserve force” on the West Bank. “Zionist settlers are the occupation’s first reserve military force. They are now a real army in every sense of the word, with more than 500,000 automatic weapons at their disposal, on top of the basic protection provided by the Israeli army”, a Hamas spokesman told the London based paper, Al Hayat. There are an estimated 500,000 Jewish and non-Jewish Russian settlers in 121 settlements on the West Bank, occupying the best farmland and cornering the scarce water resources.


The stand of Hamas on the resumption of peace talks has found support among all the Palestinian political groupings. Many leaders of the Fatah are also critical about the decision to resume talks at this juncture. The jailed Fatah leader, the charismatic Marwan Barghouti, issued a statement saying that the priority for the Palestinians is not talks but ending the current infighting among themselves. Barghouti has been a strong votary of Fatah-Hamas unity. “The negotiations are destined to fail, as happened in the last two decades”, Barghouti wrote in a recent article. The alternative, he wrote, “is to achieve wider unity and in wider participation in popular resistance to the occupation”. He called on the international community to further tighten its “South Africa” style boycott of Israeli goods. The ruling Likud Party of Netanyahu has consistently rejected the idea of Palestinian statehood. The Israeli government only envisages “limited statehood” for the Palestinians of the kind the “Bantustans” enjoyed under the apartheid regime of South Africa.