A Palestinian View on Palestinian-Israeli Negotiations
Not only time will be lost
by Ghassan Khatib*
The Palestinian-Israeli negotiations that took place in Jordan over the month of January were very controversial among the Palestinian people and politically costly for the Palestinian leadership, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas. This is because the Palestinian leadership had said repeatedly that it would not renew negotiations unless Israel stops settlement expansion. Israel did not comply. Moreover, the Palestinian leadership promised the public to proceed with attempts to internationalize the conflict, rather than allow their cause to continue languishing in bilateral talks.
On the bright side, while the talks did not produce any progress, they strengthened the Palestinian leadership's argument within the Palestinian community that the problems it faces are not an absence of negotiations. The solution, likewise, will not come with additional discussions but rather when and if more attention is paid to the components required for successful negotiations. First, Israel must stop practices that consolidate its control over the occupied territories and leave these issues to negotiations. Second, there must be agreement between the parties on terms of reference for talks that are based in international legality, i.e., the goal of reaching a two-state solution on the basis of the borders of 1967.
Otherwise, the two sides can negotiate forever without moving towards the objectives of the peace process, particularly the objective of two independent states. Unless the international community sees peace negotiations as an objective in themselves, it must stop pushing for the continuity of something that has been tried for 20 years. We must invest in a different process, including one that revises the third-party role to this conflict.
In this regard, representatives of the international community such as the Quartet must introduce aspects of accountability into their relations with the parties of the conflict as part of their role of encouraging progress towards peace. The United States and the European Union have immense leverage over the parties. Instead of pushing Palestinians and Israelis to pursue talks that lead nowhere, there should be attempts to use this leverage to "encourage" the parties to be more serious towards the process and to be more consistent in relating to international legality.
Otherwise, it is not only time that will be lost. A historical opportunity for peace will be allowed to slip between our fingers. Allowing Israel to continue stalling this process will deepen the rift between the parties, allowing more radicalization and creating a reality on the ground incompatible with the two-state solution.
Jordan and other Arab countries that supported this last initiative in Amman now have even greater responsibility and obligation to explain to the other interested parties that Israel has proven reluctant to grasp this opportunity for actual engagement. They need to help communicate the message that simply extending these talks without changing their substance and without encouraging the partners, especially Israel, to engage in a way compatible with international law will not bring about any better chances for peace.
* Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the GovernmentMediaCenter. This article represents his personal views. Source: bitterlemons.org, 31.1.2012