Tuesday, November 27, 2007

27-Nov-07: Is failure inevitable? Could very well be.

We're listening to BBC World on Tuesday morning as we write this. They're leading their news bulletins with a familiar mantra: "So far (in Annapolis) the Palestinians and the Israelis have been unable to find common ground towards a peace settlement."

Unable to find common ground, and we haven't even gotten to the end of the first day. Why is this? We're not about to offer simple answers. But the background analysis of the courageous Palestinian Arab journalist Khaled Abu Toameh throws - as usual - invaluable light on a complex issue. Today he writes that the official Palestinian delegation to the Annapolis meeting are themselves the problem or at least a large part of it. Listen to what he says:
"Headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, the delegation consists of several senior officials who, for the past 14 years, have been conducting failed negotiations with Israel. And this is almost the same team that went with Yasser Arafat to the botched Camp David summit in July 2000. In addition to Abbas, the Palestinian delegation to Annapolis is headed by top Fatah operative Ahmed Qurei [Abu Ala]. The two were the main architects of the Oslo Accords. In the eyes of many Palestinians (and Israelis), these accords have brought nothing but disaster and bloodshed to both people. As former prime ministers in the PA, both Abbas and Qurei did little to halt terrorism, end the anarchy on the Palestinian street or combat financial corruption. Abbas and Qurei were said to have dissuaded Arafat during the Camp David summit from accepting Israeli and American proposals for a final settlement of the Israeli-Arab conflict. Three other senior officials who were present at Camp David are now accompanying Abbas to the Annapolis conference: Saeb Erekat, Yasser Abed Rabbo and Nabil Sha'ath. These officials, too, played a role back them in convincing Arafat that the proposals made by former prime minister Ehud Barak and former president Bill Clinton were insufficient. Almost all the members of the Palestinian negotiating team at Camp David continue to blame Israel for the failure of the summit. None of them has ever put any blame on Arafat.

Many Palestinians still associate figures like Sha'ath, Abed Rabbo and Qurei with financial corruption and mismanagement. In fact, one of the reasons why Hamas won the parliamentary election in January 2006 was because of the continued presence of such officials in Abbas's inner circle...

It's also hard to detect any changes, if at all, in the positions of the Palestinian negotiators, who continue to stick to the same demands they have been making for decades: a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 borders, the release of thousands of Palestinian prisoners, the removal of all Jewish settlements and recognition of the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. Seven years after the failed Camp David summit, there is no reason to believe that the Palestinian negotiators are about to soften their position and offer major concessions. It's also unlikely that the Palestinian negotiators would accept anything less than what they and Arafat rejected at Camp David. Even if they wanted, these negotiators wouldn't be able to present different views because they would be immediately condemned by the Arab and Islamic masses as traitors. The heavy price that the Palestinians have paid since the beginning of the second intifada (more than 4,500 killed and thousands injured) also makes it impossible for any negotiator to display flexibility, at least not in the short term. On the contrary, with Hamas and other radical Palestinian groups breathing down their necks, Abbas and his negotiators are even likely to toughen their stance to prove that they are not "surrenderists" and "defeatists" and that they did not compromise the rights of the Palestinians.
It's worth pointing out at an earlier stage in his career, Abu Toameh served as one of Arafat's in-house journalists until coming to very negative and life-changing conclusions about the man and his work. His reportage is notable for the courage of his independent standpoint and the plain-spokenness of his writing. It's astonishing to us (we realize this makes us sound naive) that his analysis does not get wider circulation. His is one of the few voices that reports with consistent insight and accuracy from both sides of the deep gulf dividing Israelis and Palestinian Arabs.

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