September 22, 2010 Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 637

The Palestinian-Israeli Negotiations – A Current Overview

September 22, 2010 | By C. Jacob and L. Barkan*
Palestinians | Inquiry & Analysis Series No. 637


On September 2, 2010, direct negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel resumed in Washington, DC. In contrast to the grim atmosphere on the Palestinian side prior to the meetingswhen Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas agreed reluctantly, as if under duress, to participate in the negotiations – during the negotiations themselves the atmosphere was considerably lighter. Very quickly, however, the Palestinian leaders, headed by Abbas, reiterated their declaration that they would make no concessions, and even threatened that if their demands were not met, and if the freeze on the settlements were not extended, they would quit the talks. Most of them expressed pessimism about the negotiations' chances for success.

As the talks resumed, Palestinian opposition forces attempted to torpedo the process with terror attacks. These were backed by Iran, which is striving to delegitimize the Palestinian Authority. In response, the PA representatives mounted an unprecedentedly ruthless attack on Iran, which included a call for bringing down the regime of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Abbas: We Entered the Negotiations to Take Advantage of Historic Opportunity

Several days after the Washington summit, Abbas told the PA daily Al-Ayyam in an interview: "It's not a matter of optimism or pessimism when there is a global call headed by the U.S for negotiations. Either you take advantage [of the opportunity] and answer the call, or you do not. There might not be much hope, but if you go, you have a presence there, and if you are absent, the whole world will tell you that you missed an historic opportunity. So we went... I lose nothing by going, but I do lose if during the negotiations I abandon a major [Palestinian] issue here and there...

"With our arrival [in Washington], we reiterated the positions that we have declared since 1988 – the positions and demands from which we will not back down... [Even] if we achieve nothing in this round, we might in other rounds... What we have seen [so far] is not disappointing, but neither is it [enough] so that I can say that I am optimistic that an agreement is near. I can [only] say that I will continue working seriously in order to reach a solution."[1]

Palestinian Central Committee member Muhammad Dahlan expressed pessimism regarding the chances of achieving any progress in light of Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu's demands to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, to focus on security issues, and to restrict the refugees' right of return to the demilitarized Palestinian state. "This isn't peace, it is surrender," he said. "There isn't a Palestinian alive who will agree to Netanyahu's terms. We know Netanyahu better than he knows himself. He is a crook who does not want to make peace. He destroyed the peace process in the past, and [now] he will ruin what's left of it and bring destruction upon the entire region..."[2]

The Palestinian Position: Any Demand to Back Down on Refugees, Borders, and Settlement Freeze Will Cause Palestinians to Withdraw from Negotiations

Responding to criticism by Hamas, which accused him of relinquishing fundamental Palestinian principles, Abbas said: "We will not relinquish any [fundamental] principles. Since the Palestinian National Council convention in Algeria in 1988, at which we [declared] a Palestinian state, and recognized [U.N.] Resolutions 424 and 338, what concessions have we made on [fundamental] principles? We [insist upon] the 1967 borders, Jerusalem as our capital, and the refugees' rights according to the U.N. resolutions, especially [Resolution] 194. Our rights to water are also recognized by international law. Not a single word of our documents has been changed, from then to this very day. It has not happened and will not happen."[3]

Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat likewise stated that the opposition's accusations regarding concessions being made by the PLO were groundless: "Abu Amar [Yasser Arafat] could have signed an agreement from the very first day, and then he would not have been murdered... Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] could have also accepted what was offered him after the Annapolis summit, [namely] 100% of the territory. But we have presented, and will continue to present, a firm position, so that East Jerusalem will be the capital of the Palestinian state, the refugee problem will be solved according to [U.N.] resolution 194, and the Palestinian state will be [established] within the 1967 borders. We must [also] receive 46 kilometers of no man's land, 37 kilometers of border on the Dead Sea, and a safe passage between the West Bank and Gaza."[4]

About the issue of the refugees, Abbas said: "If they demand that I back down on [the issues of] the refugees' right [of return] or the 1967 [borders], I will leave without making a single concession."[5] In another interview, Abbas repeated: "Any pressure on me to back down on the issue of the borders, the refugees, or other critical matters will prompt me to pick up my bags and leave."[6]

Abbas added: "If the Israeli government extends the decision to freeze construction in the settlements, we will continue the negotiations, but if it doesn't, we will leave the negotiations. This has been clearly stated to President Obama, and to Secretary of State Clinton. I also said it to Netanyahu, in my conversation with him... We are waiting, and I don't think we have anything to lose. Our approach is that we continue [the negotiations], stick [to our demands] and stand firm."[7]

Saeb Erekat said about the future of the settlements: "When Israel decided to make peace with Egypt, it dismantled the settlements in Sinai and withdrew, and when it decided on a unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, it dismantled the settlements there. I hope it understands that [for the sake of] peace in the West Bank it will have to do the same thing."[8]

Abbas: We Won't Recognize Israel as a Jewish State

Referring to Netanyahu's speech at the U.S. State Department, in which the Israeli prime minister spoke of recognizing Israel as the Jewish nation-state, Abbas said: "This matter has forced me to deviate from the text of my speech and to respond, because this issue is obsolete. It ended with the mutual recognition between the late Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin – what we call mutual recognition. Yasser Arafat said, 'We recognize Israel's right to exist in security and stability,' and Rabin replied that he recognized the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and that on this basis he would negotiate with it...

"We are not talking about a Jewish state, but about the State of Israel, and naturally we know what the aim of raising such matters is, so we refused [to discuss] it, as we have more than once in the past. [This is what I did] during my meeting with the extremist Jewish community in the U.S., which clearly supports Israel's positions and [where] such proposals about the Jewish state were raised. We responded to them [by saying] that this is not our concern; we are not discussing this, and they should not expect us to respond to it. You are free to call yourselves whatever you want, but you won't get us to agree to it. The result was that they at least accepted this, and did not raise the issue again. So when Netanyahu raised the issue, I immediately replied that mutual recognition was signed on September 9, 1993."[9]

In another interview, Abbas explained: "If Netanyahu wants to talk about a Jewish state that is his own affair. We absolutely will not recognize it, [because] it means closing the gates on the Palestinian refugees' return... Among the most prominent goals that Netanyahu wants to accomplish through the recognition of Israel as the Jewish nation-state is to make the 1948 Arabs [i.e. Israel's Arab citizens] illegitimate in the State of Israel. We reject this, and it is impossible for us to agree to it. If someone asks us to agree to recognize the State of Israel as a Jewish state, we will not. We only give the State of Israel the same recognition as in 1993, and we have nothing to add."[10]

Palestinian Reservations over Procedural Matters

As for the format of the negotiations, PA negotiations chief Saeb Erekat stated: "The Palestinian side has rejected Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's proposal to establish 12 Palestinian-Israeli committees, because Netanyahu [merely] wants to drag his feet and waste time in negotiations... The current stage demands decisions, and these are made at the level of leaders. This is not a stage for negotiations or negotiators, but for making decisions on setting principles for all the issues of the permanent arrangement. [Only] when the leaders finish the decision-making process will the negotiation teams begin ironing out the details."[11]

There is also still no agreement regarding the order in which issues are to be addressed. Abbas clarified: "In the bilateral meetings, I focused on the fact that... we must begin with the borders and then [tackle] security. Our chief concern is borders, while theirs is security. As for the borders, we must agree to, and demarcate the 1967 borders, since agreeing on them and demarcating them means that we will also resolve the issues of Jerusalem, water, and the settlements. Other issues will remain, among them the refugees, which we will discuss in the second stage. We have spoken in detail of the fact that these two issues [i.e. borders and security] are the basis for the negotiations during this month."[12]

Palestinian Demands to Pick Up Negotiations Where They Left Off with Olmert

'Azzam Al-Ahmad, head of Fatah's central committee, declared that "the PLO is adhering to what was achieved during the era of the previous U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice, with former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert – that is, a Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967 borders, including the West Bank, Gaza, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, and the Jordan River."[13]

Abbas himself hinted at the Olmert negotiations, in which the issue of territorial exchange came up: "The 1967 borders are the basis which must be accepted by all sides, with the possibility of reciprocal changes."[14]

In a June 2010 interview with Al-Ayyam, Abbas said that he and Olmert had come extremely close to resolving the two fundamental issues of the negotiations – borders and security arrangements: [15] "With regard to borders, we agreed that the borders to be discussed were [those of] the occupied territories. This was a tripartite agreement between ourselves, the Israelis, and then-U.S. secretary of state Condoleezza Rice. We agreed – and it is all written down and documented in the protocols – that the occupied territories are the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, the Jordan River, and the Holy Basin [i.e. the Old City of Jerusalem and its environs]. Based on this precise definition of the occupied territories, Olmert and I began to discuss, and we exchanged corrective percentages and maps, and we were perhaps very close, such that each side knew exactly what the other side was getting."[16]

Hamas Attempts to Torpedo the Negotiations

As the negotiations resumed, two terror attacks were carried out in the West Bank, in which four Israelis were killed and several others were wounded. The 'Izz Al-Din Al-Qassam Brigades were quick to claim responsibility for the attacks, while Hamas said it would continue such operations.

The attacks were celebrated in Gaza, with calls of "Allah Akbar" resounding in mosques and Gazans in the streets shouting their praises of the Al-Qassam Brigades and calling on them to perpetrate additional attacks, and even handing out sweets.[17]

Some linked the attacks to the negotiations. The Palestinian news agency, which is close to Hamas, praised them: "There, in Washington, Abbas is rewarding the occupation by improving its image through futile negotiations, while in Hebron the Al-Qassam Brigades, despite Abbas's whining and attacks on the resistance, agreed to nothing but vengeance for the blood of the shahids. Today, heads and body parts are scattered in all directions. Today, the Al-Qassam Brigades negotiate with their enemies by means of rifles and blood...

"The Al-Qassam Brigades' message to the enemy is: No matter how you try, how many roadblocks, barriers, or high walls you erect, how many soldiers you recruit, or how many alliances you form with the [PA] executive apparatuses – you cannot stop the resistance or wipe out Al-Qassam... Abbas's apparatuses launched an organized war on religion and the jihad fighters, on direct orders of their Zionist and American masters. They hunted down and tortured the jihad fighters, arrested their women, closed over 1,000 centers for Koran memorization, and banned the clerics from ascending to the mosque pulpits, in the framework of war on the religion of Allah and in order to stop the resistance. But Allah the Supreme, the Exalted will cause all their efforts to come to naught...

"The Al-Qassam operation comes as part of a response to the crimes of the Zionist occupation against our people throughout Palestine, and to emphasize the progress in the path of resistance and jihad, until our entire land is liberated of the defilement of the Zionist oppressors."[18]

Speaking to thousands of Palestinians who were participating in a march, PLC member from Hamas Mushir Al-Masri welcomed the attacks, saying that "the negotiations conducted by Hamas and Al-Qassam have a particular flavor – the flavor of blood. This operation was a crushing response to the option of direct negotiations, and to the Fatah-Zionist option of uprooting [the resistance] from the West Bank."[19]

In claiming responsibility for the attack near Hebron, the Al-Qassam Brigades did not link the increase in their activity with the resumption of the negotiations. They wrote: "This blessed act of heroism, which was carried out by our jihad fighters, is [but another] link in the chain of previous and (Allah willing) future operations, in response to the ongoing and escalating aggression against the sons of our jihad-fighting people, and in response to the oppressors' recurring attacks. This operation came as part of completing the plan for jihad and resistance against the Zionist enemy, until the liberation of the land and the purification of the holy sites."[20]

In claiming responsibility for the second attack, near Ramallah, the Al-Qassam Brigades wrote: "From Hebron to Ramallah to everywhere [else] in our plundered land, the Qassam's 'Stream of Fire' [operation] advances, to shatter the Zionists' lies and burn up their arrogance and pride, and to roast in its flames the soldiers of the occupation and the plunderers who wreak havoc in the land and break the law throughout the West Bank and occupied Jerusalem..."[21]

"There Is No Escape from Operation Stream of Fire"[22]

Some sought to downplay the link between the negotiations and the terror attacks. Hamas political bureau member Mahmoud Al-Zahhar declared: "It has always been our policy to allow negotiations to take place, and we have never dedicated our operations to stopping them. Some of the Palestinian people (Fatah and its supporters) want negotiations, in order to realize [Fatah's] political program, [while] we believe that this political program will not yield what is required. Why would we [bother to] sabotage a [process] that is doomed in the first place? As for the program of the resistance, the West Bank is under tremendous pressure, and the operations are connected to the extent of the pressure to which the Palestinian people in the West Bank is subject...

"Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's view of the negotiations is similar to ours, and the outcome [of the discussion] on the issues on the agenda is [already] known. Regarding Jerusalem, the Israelis are united on this matter, and the Palestinian representatives in the negotiations will achieve nothing. [As for] the refugees, who can [possibly] convince the refugees in Jordan, Syria or Lebanon [to accept] what is being offered? As for water, it is inconceivable that Israel would give up the West Bank aquifer. The U.S. sent an invitation [to the negotiations], so Abbas was obliged to go. Abu Mazen will act like Abu Amar (Yasser Arafat at Camp David), and will not back down on the principles – and that will be the end of it."[23]

The PA's Response to Attempts to Torpedo the Negotiations

The attacks caused the Palestinian Authority considerable embarrassment. In his Washington speech, Abbas addressed Netanyahu, saying: "We have strongly condemned [the attack in Hebron] that took place yesterday, and we condemn [the attack in Ramallah] that took place today. We do not want even one drop of blood to be spilled – neither Israeli nor Palestinian. We want peace between [the two peoples], and a normal life. We want a lasting life of partnership and neighborliness. Let us sign a permanent peace agreement and bring the era of strife to a close, once and for all."[24]

In an interview with the PA daily Al-Ayyam, Abbas lambasted Hamas: "Such operations are not resistance. Why isn't there resistance every day, but only on the day we start negotiations? Why has [Hamas] remain [inactive] until now? Why has resistance become legitimate only today? Is resistance legitimate is the West Bank, but not in Gaza? I have said that the rockets [launched at Israel] from Gaza are futile, [and even Hamas] has said that these rockets do not [serve] national [interests]. What is more, there is conflict between Hamas and Islamic Jihad over rockets and arms, and there is a [Hamas] decision to collect weapons from all of the Palestinian organizations in Gaza and shoot anyone who approaches the border in order to launch rockets. We are against the firing of rockets, but why is [Hamas] maintaining security in Gaza, while opposing the same in the West Bank?"[25]

'Adnan Al-Damiri, spokesman for the PA's security apparatuses, claimed that "by declaring responsibility for the operation in Hebron, Hamas is trying to influence the Palestinian negotiators and to weaken them relative to the Israeli negotiators."[26]

Some believed there to be another motive behind the attacks. Fatah spokesman Ahmad 'Assaf claimed that "Hamas, by way of this operation, is striving to spread chaos and undermine the stability in the West Bank, and thereby to complete the coup it began in the Gaza Strip."[27]

Muwaffaq Matar, a columnist for the Palestinian Authority daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, wroteunder the headline "Toda, Hamas" (toda means "thank you" in Hebrew): "Hamas chose to support Netanyahu's [interests] at the crucial moment, so that he will be more adamant in his security demands and in the demand to discuss security first. He will present this [demand] to the world armed with pictures of the [Hamas] attack and the blood of the victims, before it has even had a chance to cool...

"Netanyahu is serving Hamas by letting it control the Gaza Strip, while Hamas is helping Netanyahu to evade pressure from the international community, just as it did during the terms of previous Israeli prime ministers, by carrying out attacks against civilians every time Israel fulfills its obligations vis-à-vis the political process."[28]

Omar Al-Ghoul, advisor to PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, saw the attacks as "a message to those participating in the direct negotiations [to the effect] that Hamas exists, and that it will be impossible to conduct negotiations without it, since it is the Palestinian [element] that is strong and capable of [ensuring] Israel's security." He called on Hamas "to stop the military operations."[29]

The Negotiations in Global Context – The PA Responds to Its Delegitimization by Iran

The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority triggered growing efforts by Iran to increase its influence in the world, and especially in the Arab world. The Iranians were quick to announce their opposition to the negotiations, and to support Hamas by challenging the legitimacy of the PA under President Abbas as the Palestinians' representative in the direct talks. This stance also constitutes a challenge to the efforts of the U.S., which is acting as sole sponsor of these talks, with the cooperation of the moderate Arab states Egypt and Jordan but without the involvement of the European Union.

In a speech on the occasion of Eid Al-Fitr, Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei voiced his doubts regarding the Israel-Palestinian reconciliation efforts and the legitimacy of the negotiations teams on both sides. He said that these efforts would not legitimize the "phony Zionist regime," and added: "The enemies of the Palestinian nation and the supporters of the aggressive Zionists convened a conference in Washington in order to cover up their crimes, and called it a peace conference. But whose peace [is this], and with whom [is it being made]?"[30]

In a September 1, 2010 interview aired on Iran's Arabic-language Al-Alam TV, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that the talks in Washington would not achieve their goals, even if they progressed as far as the signing of an agreement, because Hamas is the true representative of the Palestinian people, among other reasons. He said: "If they mean [to make peace with] the Palestinian people, then the negotiator of behalf of the Palestinian people must be [this people's] representative. Considering that the Hamas government received the [majority] of votes in the [2006] elections, isn't it the official representative of the Palestinian people? If talks are to be held, they must be conducted with the Palestinians' [true] representative."[31]

PA officials and columnists in the PA dailies responded to these Iranian statements with unprecedented ferocity. Omar Al-Ghoul claimed that Ahmadinejad's statements had been made out of "sectarian agendas and considerations at the expense of Palestinian national interests. [Ahmadinejad wants] to settle scores with regional and international elements, in disregard of the fate of the Palestinian people, by deepening the [inter-Palestinian] schism and supporting Hamas's coup at the expense of the [Palestinian's] land, national unity and goals, [their] democratic and pluralistic regime, and [their] Palestinian cause." He added that the time had come to put an end to Iran's "regime of death and destruction."[32]

Fatah sees Iran as posing a threat to the national security of the Arab countries. Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmi said that "the alliance between Hamas and Iran has been detrimental to the Palestinian cause and to the supreme interest of the Palestinian people, and has directly contributed to the current [inter-Palestinian] schism, due to Iran's desire to exploit the Palestinian [cause as] a bargaining chip in international arenas, without any concern for the dangers threatening the Palestinian people's future and its interests. Iran, which has occupied parts of the Arab homeland... is striving to divide [this] homeland, to spark civil wars and sectarian and ethnic strife in numerous Arab regions, and therefore it cannot benefit the Palestinian people. Iran has its own international and regional agendas, and in order to achieve them it is exploiting some weak natured [elements] who have given it their blind loyalty in exchange for money..."[33]

Adel Abd Al-Rahman, a columnist for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, wrote: "The significance of the cowardly attack and incitement by the president of the blood-soaked mullah regime against the legitimate Palestinian leadership is clear. One does not need a microscope to discern [its purpose]. In his speech, [Ahmadinejad] leveled harsh criticism at the president of the Palestinian people, calling him 'a hostage' of Israel. This man, who seized control of Iran using the apparatuses of oppression and terrorism, did not stop there, but overstepped every boundary of good manners and diplomacy when he boldly and aggressively interfered in internal Palestinian affairs.[34]

The Arab States and Organizations Opposed to the Negotiations

The Arab states can be divided into those opposing the renewed negotiations and those that support them while calling to defend the Palestinian rights. The Egyptian daily Al-Masri Al-Yawm wrote that the Syrian-Qatari axis, backed by Algeria, is opposed to the negotiations on the grounds that the green light to conduct them was given to the PA by the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-Up Committee, rather than by the Arab League Council of Foreign Ministers, as required. According to the daily, that is why Egypt worked to enlist support for the PA from the large Arab countries, ahead of the council's convention in Cairo, which took place in mid-September.[35]

Following are the positions of the Arab states vis-à-vis the negotiations:

Syria: The PA Lacks Authority to Conduct Negotiations

Syria, like Iran, has challenged the legitimacy of the negotiations. Its position on the Israeli-Palestinian talks has been negative from the outset, and it attempted to keep the Arabs from backing first the indirect negotiations and then the direct negotiations, on the grounds that they were futile in light of the Israeli government's policies and the inability of the current U.S. administration to exert pressure on Israel. After the Palestinian Authority succeeded nonetheless in obtaining this backing, in the form of a green light from the Follow-Up Committee to enter the talks, Syria claimed that there had been no Arab consensus in the matter. The government daily Teshreen stated: "The direct negotiations will be far more dangerous [than indirect negotiations] and even tragic, and will leave a scar on the Arab body which will be difficult to heal... The PA is entering these negotiations [at a time] when it is weaker than ever, and without practical Arab support upon which it can rely, if necessary. The authorization granted to the PA by the Follow-Up Committee to negotiate directly with Israel does not constitute Arab support, since it is a deficient authorization, and the conditions [for granting it were not met].[36]

Syria also claimed that the negotiations are illegitimate because the PA does not represent the entire Palestinian people, and because most of the Palestinian factions oppose the talks. Fahd Diyab, a columnist for the Syrian daily Teshreen, wrote: "No government or authority in Palestine can give up even a single grain of soil, because it will find itself in conflict with its people, even if does have a letter of credentials from the government of the enemy and from its ally, Washington. The PA, which has turned its back on the Palestinian people, and on the factions of the resistance that could have shielded it from the pressures exerted upon it, must understand that the stage of direct negotiations is over, that [negotiations] will not lead... to a lasting political agreement... and that the option of resistance and steadfastness trumps all the other options, since it is the only path and the correct path towards peace."[37]

In a meeting with King Abdallah of Jordan in Damascus on September 6, President Assad called to include all the representatives of the Palestinian people in the negotiations on the Palestinian cause.[38] The editor of the Syrian government daily Al-Thawra, As'ad 'Aboud, clarified that this call was not an expression of consent to negotiations with Israel, but rather a demand to halt them: "The refusal to hold negotiations [while in a state of division] is an act of resistance, which is implemented when the [various] groups adopt a unified position and negotiate as a group... The Palestinians can carry out political resistance... by insisting on conducting negotiations [only] based on a unified position representing all the national forces."[39]

Qatar: Israel Was Never Serious about Wanting Peace

Though Qatar reportedly opposes the negotiations, publicly it had no choice but to support them, since it heads the Arab Peace Initiative Follow-Up Committee, which has authorized the PA to hold them. However, the Qatari press expressed growing pessimism regarding the negotiations' chances of success. It called on the U.S. and on the international community to pressure Israel, claiming that there is no Israeli partner for peace – yet refrained from calling to stop the negotiations.

In response to Israeli declarations that construction in the settlements would continue, the daily Al-Raya wrote: "Israel was never serious, even for a single day, about wanting peace. The occupation state is defying international law and the Quartet resolutions, and is undermining the colossal effort that the Obama administration has invested in re-launching the peace negotiations... It's strange that Netanyahu demanded that the Palestinians not set pre-conditions for [starting] the negotiations [i.e., a halt to construction in the settlements], while he himself has set a precondition by [demanding that] the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This proves that there is no serious Israeli partner for achieving a true peace...

"Netanyahu represents the extremist Israeli right, and heads a gang of blood-thirsty chauvinists within his own government. He has no control over affairs, [because] he must deal with an internal crisis that prevents him form even thinking about a just and comprehensive peace with the Palestinians. He is more concerned about his coalition that about Israel's interest, [which is] to live in security and peace alongside the Palestinians. That is why everyone strongly believes that the negotiations recently re-launched by the Americans are doomed to fail and to collapse."[40]

Hizbullah: The Talks Are Futile

Hizbullah took the same line as Hamas and the other Palestinian rejectionists. In a speech on the occasion of Al-Quds Day, Hizbullah Secretary-General Hassan Nassrallah said: "The negotiations were stillborn... It is clear that America is exploiting them, and that [both] America and Israel need them. Unfortunately, it is also clear that certain official Arab [circles] need them... [But] most of the Palestinian factions oppose them... and the majority among the [Palestinian] people has also declared its opposition to them. Therefore, these talks are futile."[41]

The Moderate Arab Countries

Egypt: Spiritual Jihad for the Success of the Israeli-Palestinian Negotiations

An editorial in the Egyptian government daily Al-Akhbar compared the diplomatic battle for the Palestinians' right to self-determination and an independent state to the battle known in Islamic tradition as "the greater jihad" – that is, spiritual jihad, as opposed to the "lesser jihad," or war against the infidels.[42]

"In the U.S. capital, Washington, yesterday [September 2] the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations began, as part of a difficult diplomatic battle between the sides, with the aim of arriving at a peace agreement – a battle very much like the greater jihad for actualizing Palestinians' right to an independent state and self-determination, after 60 years of armed and diplomatic struggle.

"The negotiations that began yesterday were preceded by feverish diplomatic efforts in Washington to ensure their success – since this is the only way to achieve security and stability in the Middle East and in the entire world, as well as the only way to deal with terrorism and to eliminate all excuses for violence and extremism.

"The peace process will not be easy, but it is not impossible. Egypt has participated in this process from the beginning, and it is still continuing its dedicated efforts and its support for the Palestinian people and its just cause. To this end, great and ongoing efforts have been made during President Mubarak's hours in Washington...

"All this underlines Egypt's support for the Palestinian people, for the preservation of its rights, and for helping to create and prepare a necessary atmosphere for the success of the just-launched negotiations. President Mubarak conveyed a clear message to all sides at these meetings, in a speech at the summit that opened the negotiations. It was a clear and resolute message, and a call from the open heart, and from reason, for real peace. Mubarak reiterated his call to the Israelis not to let the chance for peace slip away; he reiterated his call to the U.S. to renew its commitment to the peace arrangement and to give significant support to the negotiations; he conveyed a message to Abu Mazen that Egypt continues to support the Palestinian people; at the same time, he conveyed a message of commitment that Egypt would spare no effort to start, complete, and [ensure] the success of the peace process." [43]

Egypt Advocates Territorial Exchange, Understands Security Needs

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmad Abu Al-Gheit outlined the Egyptian position as follows: Israel must halt the settlement activity, and the two sides must reach a framework agreement on the establishment of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders, whose size will be equal to the size of the occupied territories (through territorial exchange), and whose capital will be East Jerusalem. There will also be "understandings about definite security arrangements." As for the issue of recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, he said: "If the international community wants to call Israel a 'Jewish state,' the [U.N.] Security Council should take a resolution to that effect... Israel wants to call itself 'a Jewish state,' and many Arabs have [in fact] used this term, but the concern is about the 1.5 million Palestinians who have Israeli citizenship. What will become of them? Will they receive full citizen rights? [Also,] it should be noted that the Arab Peace Initiative speaks of a just and suitable solution to the refugee issue, and international law grants them the right of return, should they want it."

Al-Gheit added that Iran was trying to sabotage the negotiations, and said: "The Palestinian problem, which has existed for many decades, has nothing to do with Iran... [Iran] thinks that a Palestinian agreement [with Israel] means isolation for Iran... Why don't we give a chance to [the option of] getting back our rights without bloodshed and wars? If we fail, we'll consider other options."[44]

In Saudi Arabia, Conflicting Voices

The Saudi press expressed conflicting views regarding the recent Hamas attacks on Israelis. An editorial in the daily Al-Watan stated that they only undermine Abbas and serve Israel's interests: "Hamas and [other] Palestinian factions have undermined Abbas's position as the Palestinian representative in the negotiations by [carrying out] operations in which Israelis were killed. The Israelis will try to use this as a pretext to derail the talks, in any way they can. The escalation in the region is a result of operations like these, which were deliberately timed [to coincide with the talks], and which reflect the depth of the division among Palestinian on the issue of peace. [The escalation] also prompts other [countries] in the region to try and fan the flames [even more] – whether it is the Israelis, who wish to avoid making peace, or the Iranians, who oppose the talks and wish to exploit the regional escalation to their own benefit.

"Hamas and the other Palestinian factions must realize the depth of the present crisis in the region, and [realize] that direct negotiations are the last step. If they fail, the Arabs will appeal to the Security Council, as they have already declared."[45]

Another editorial, in the daily Al-Madina, stated that the attack was legitimate under international law, since it took place on occupied soil and targeted the occupier: "Those who carried out the Hebron attack are members of an occupied people that is suffering every kind of oppression and racist discrimination. The Hebron attack, as reflected by its name, took place on occupied soil and targeted the occupier, and therefore it was legitimate under international law and the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, this attack, seen by some as a threat to the direct negotiations..., proves that [Israel's] settlement activities in the Palestinian occupied territories – the razing of land and expelling of its legal owners – are the direct cause of every type of violence, and that eliminating violence will only become possible once its primary cause is removed, namely the Israeli occupation."[46]

*C. Jacob and L. Barkan are research fellows at MEMRI.


[1] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 7, 2010.

[2] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 5, 2010.

[3] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 6, 2010.

[4], September 4, 2010.

[5] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 6, 2010.

[6] Al-Rai (Kuwait), September 7, 2010.

[7] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 6, 2010.

[8], September 4, 2010.

[9] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 6, 2010.

[10] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 7, 2010.

[11], September 4, 2010.

[12] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 6, 2010.

[13] WAFA (PA), September 12, 2010.

[14] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 7, 2010.

[15] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 3102, "Mahmoud Abbas in Extensive Interviews: I Reject Armed Struggle; Jerusalem Will Be Divided into Two Capitals; Some Refugees Will Return to Israel," July 16, 2010, Mahmoud 'Abbas in Extensive Interviews: I Reject Armed Struggle; Jerusalem Will Be Divided into Two Capitals; Some Refugees Will Return to Israel.

[16] Al-Ayyam (PA), June 14, 2010.

[17], August 31, 2010.

[18], September 1, 2010.

[19], August 31, 2010.

[20], August 31, 2010.

[21], September 1, 2010.

[22], September 2, 2010

[23] Al-Sharq Al-Awsat (London), September 2, 2010.

[24], September 2, 2010.

[25] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 6, 2010.

[26], September 1, 2010.

[27], September 1, 2010.

[28] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 3, 2010.

[29] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 3, 2010.

[30], September 10, 2010.

[31] Al-Alam TV (Iran), September 1, 2010.

[32] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 6, 2010.

[33] WAFA (PA), September 12, 2010.

[34] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), September 6, 2010.

[35] Al-Masri Al-Yawm (Egypt), September 13, 2010.

[36] Teshreen (Syria), August 29, 2010.

[37] Teshreen (Syria), September 7, 2010.

[38] Al-Thawra (Syria), September 7, 2010.

[39] Al-Thawra (Syria), September 8, 2010.

[40] Al-Raya (Qatar), September 14, 2010.

[41] Al-Quds Al-Arabi (London), September 4, 2010.

[42] The concept of "greater jihad," which is a struggle within one's soul between good and evil, versus "lesser jihad," which is actual war against the infidels, was developed by Sufi scholars in the ninth century based on a Prophetic Hadith. Abbas applied the term "greater jihad" to the Palestinian's struggle for peace in a 2005 meeting with Christian religious leaders. He said: "[The stage of] the lesser jihad is over, and [the stage of] the greater jihad has arrived. The greater jihad is the struggle for peace..." Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), January 14, 2005.

[43] Al-Akhbar (Egypt), September 3, 2010.

[44], September 6, 2010.

[45] Al-Watan (Saudi Arabia), September 5, 2010.

[46] Al-Madina (Saudi Arabia), September 2, 2010.

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