Wednesday, September 04, 2013

4-Sep-13: Futile and going nowhere: do we understand their peace strategy better now?

Yasser Abed Rabbo [Image Source]
None of us has to be a diplomat or a psychologist to make sense of the stream of comments emerging from the closed doors behind which a process called peace talks is taking place between teams of Israeli and Palestinian Arab negotiators.

Reuters syndicated news report from an hour ago is a classic of what has been emerging:
Peace talks with Israel going nowhere: senior Palestinian    Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians are proving pointless and will not bear fruit without much greater pressure from Washington, a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday. In the most damning Palestinian assessment to date, Yasser Abed Rabbo said that the negotiations, which kicked off in late July after a three year hiatus, had made no progress. "These negotiations are futile and won't lead to any results," Abed Rabbo told Voice of Palestine radio. "I don't expect any progress at all unless there is huge and powerful American pressure, such as the one we are seeing from America to deal with the Syrian issue," added Abed Rabbo, one of just two officials authorized by Abbas to discuss the talks.
The same Reuters report gives a little airplay to the Israeli side.
An Israeli official in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office declined to comment on the remarks, saying the two sides had agreed that only the United States should speak about the talks. "We are abiding by that agreement," the official said... In a message marking the Jewish New Year, Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he wanted "real and enduring peace ... not an agreement that we celebrate for two minutes and then collapses". [Reuters]
Jonathan Tobin, who writes some of the best commentary around for (ahem) Commentary Magazine, dealt with one of the less observed sides of the conflict yesterday when he discussed the Palestinian business community, and what we learn about peace from their actions. He refers to a revealing first-person article by Richard Behar in Forbes magazine last week (online here) in which
Palestinian businessmen named in [an earlier Behar article] as working with Israelis were horrified about what he had written. They were happy about their businesses being highlighted in a prestigious business magazine, but any mention of working with Israel or, even worse, promoting peace, was regarded as treason to the Palestinian cause. They were soon demanding that the piece be retracted or taken down from the Forbes website. The very idea of “Peace Through Profits,” as the original Forbes headline read, exposed these businesspeople to being ostracized as “collaborators” or even exposing them to violence. [Commentary Magazine]
It gets worse, as Tobin writes:
So long as the culture of Palestinian politics is focused almost entirely on hostility and hatred toward Israel, neither top-down negotiations nor economic cooperation will make it possible for leaders or businessmen to do anything to move the region toward peace... 34 years after Anwar Sadat signed a peace treaty with Israel, Egyptian professionals and businesses still regard any dealings with Israelis as beyond the pale. That has made for an ice-cold peace between Israel and Egypt, but it is possible for the treaty to survive even in the absence of a breaking down of the wall of hatred toward Israel and Jews that exists in Egyptian society. But Egypt’s national identity exists outside of the context of anger against Israel’s existence. Not so for the Palestinians, whose national movement was born as a reaction to Zionism more than any other factor.
He then addresses the hope addicts on our side.
This is sobering stuff for those Americans and Israelis who have clung to the vision of a “New Middle East” that Shimon Peres first promulgated 20 years ago at the height of the post-Oslo euphoria. The notion that the region could be transformed into another version of the Benelux countries was also more of a flight of a fancy than a fact-based economic or political plan. The gap between Israel’s Start-Up Nation economy and that of its neighbors was always too great for such plans to be viewed as realistic. But the idea that Israeli expertise could be used to help Palestinians transform their society remains seductive. As Behar reported, there is a genuine desire on the part of many Palestinians for more economic development as well as for releasing their national life from the iron grip of Palestinian Authority corruption and mismanagement... But the allergic reaction of the Palestinian businessmen he wrote about to the word “peace” tells us all we need to know about the inability of the PA to ever sign an accord that would end the conflict with Israel... Economics is important, but it doesn’t trump nationalism or religion. So long as Palestinians who work with Israeli businesses are branded as collaborators rather than innovators, peace negotiators are wasting their time and setting the region up for new disappointments and violence.
As today's "inspirational" leak from Yasser Abed Rabbo to Reuters makes clear, you don't have to be in business to be in the business of squelching what it takes to make peace.

One last thought:

Mahmoud Abbas has said repeatedly what every rational observer knows to be untrue: that Israel's decision to release 104 entirely unrepentant convicted killers is not connected in any way, no way at all, to the Kerry-inspired process ("peace talks") now underway. In view of the nonsense that this is, and the steady flow of messages from the highest levels of the PA that the negotiations with Israel are doomed and going nowhere, can we now have assurances from the US and Israeli governments that they now understand the first round of prisoner releases on August 13, 2013 was a terrible and dangerous mistake? And that, having internalized that understanding, they now have no intention of repeating it?

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