Direct talks

di Mahdi Abdel Hadi

Data pubblicazione: 27 settembre 2010

The political formula for ending Israeli military occupation and to establish a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 war borders has been negotiated for the past eighteen years unsuccessfully. Some analyses blame the lack of progress on the US’s insufficient political will and a weak EU, others hint at the divided Arab world, and, more recently, the division among Palestinians, or stress Israel’s obsession to maintain control of the West Bank and keep a grip on Jerusalem as “exclusive” Israeli capital.

The US raised high expectations for a peace settlement, especially after President Obama’s Cairo speech on America’s relationship with the Muslim world. George Mitchell’s subsequent mission could not meet those expectations because of the Israeli refusal to end its settlement enterprise in Palestinian territories, leading the proximity talks to nowhere. However, the Palestinian leadership accommodated itself with the huge US pressure and accepted, nevertheless, Obama’s request for direct talks.

The US’s new strategy takes into account the lessons of the July 2000 Camp David talks and does not aspire to reach a “historical deal” to end the conflict, but to establish a process under the banner of “negotiations” towards Palestinian-Israeli as well as Israeli-Arab normalization. This promotes a “regional security scheme,” which embraces Israel and the Arabs while isolating Iran, Hezbollah and Hamas. The result is a strong exclusive American presence in the Middle East with an agenda consisting of three ‘baskets’: politics, security and economy.

Other players are becoming an extension to this agenda, if not followers, including the EU and the other Quartet members.

The current US formula is based on the following four components:

1) Leadership: While there was a huge gap between Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Barak at Camp David, President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu have demonstrated a new political chemistry during their Washington and Sharm Esh-Sheikh meetings, culminating in the former’s visit to the latter’s house in Jerusalem. Moreover, during Camp David, former President Clinton was calling Cairo and Riyadh to back up Arafat with regard to making concessions on Jerusalem, but both declined, mainly because they were not part of the negotiation agenda. Learning from that experience, President Obama invited Egypt’s President Mubarak and King Abdullah of Jordan to Washington to participate directly in the first round of talks. In addition, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the Middle East envoy George Mitchell are busy travelling to Arab capitals, not only to report but to establish a “partnership pact”.

2) Time: With regard to the time element the lesson learnt is not to rush things and not not to push for a tight schedule to achieve something. Thus, this time the process is given an entire year to deliver tangible result.

3) Progress. One of the mistakes at Camp David was that all files were opened at once and without a timetable. Now, the direct negotiations started with the settlements issue (i.e., extending the freeze and respecting the principle of no action in order not to jeopardize the process), with the intention to then proceed gradually to the issues of borders and security.

4) Support. The fourth necessity is not to leave the Palestinians or Israelis alone. The US are hosting, embracing, and funding the two partners throughout the whole process, while also bringing in Arab leaders as additional partners and supporters, based on their 2001 peace initiative.

This last point, however, weakens the EU’s role, which can and should claim its legitimate responsibility and historical partnership by raising its flag on six items: (a) international protection for the Palestinians; (b) deployment of international forces to separate Palestinians and Israelis; (c) establishing a Commissioner for Jerusalem to help ensure an open, shared city, capital of two states, with free access to holy places; (d) opening a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza; (e) releasing all Palestinian political prisoners; and (f) working with Turkey and the Arab League towards establishing a Palestinian unity government in order to conduct elections and set a national agenda for Palestinian state-building.


Mahdi Abdel Hadi

Politologo, storico, editorialista, autore, fondatore e membro di varie istituzioni palestinesi, arabe e internazionali, nonché capo e fondatore della Società accademica palestinese per lo studio degli affari internazionali.

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