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memri
October 31, 2013 No.
1031

Palestinians Renew Talks With Israel Amidst Internal Criticism, Skepticism About Possibility Of Success

By: C. Jacob*

Israeli-Palestinian negotiations recommenced in Washington, D.C. on July 30, 2013, amidst intense internal criticism in the Palestinian Authority (PA) on their effectiveness and condemnation of the way the decision to renew them was taken. Critics are also censuring the conduct of the senior Palestinian leadership and of PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas.

The talks, which were restarted following a three-year hiatus, were greeted with indifference in the PA, and with skepticism regarding their chances of success. The prevailing view is that the Palestinians will gain nothing from the talks because Israel has agreed neither to the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders nor to halting construction in the settlements. Nevertheless, some were in favor of negotiating, so that the Palestinians could not be accused of saying no to peace and Israel would come out looking like the rejectionist. Others said that the Palestinians have no choice but to negotiate, due to their internal schisms, the violent events currently taking place across the Arab world, and U.S. pressure.

On July 18, the PLO Executive Committee decided not to participate in the talks because the Palestinian conditions had not been met. 'Abbas decision to go ahead anyway was harshly criticized; he was accused of despotic behavior, of disregarding the PLO institutions, and of having backed down from demands over which he had previously suspended the talks. He was also accused of appointing as negotiators officials who had failed to produce results in past rounds.

The following day, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's announced that the talks were restarting,

'Abbas's critics included PLO faction chiefs who had previously supported the PA's political moves, as well as former senior ministers and columnists in PA-affiliated newspapers.

Responding to his harshest critics at a Fatah Revolutionary Council session about a month into the negotiations, 'Abbas said that the basis of the talks is the 1967 borders and that so far they have not progressed beyond each side's presentation of its position. He noted that while opposition is legitimate, the oppositionists eventually return to the fold, citing as a case in point the Oslo Accords, when the agreement's critics ended up joining the PA.

After over nine rounds in the resumed negotiations, the Palestinians continue to express their pessimism vis-à-vis their outcome, pointing out the difficulties that they say are due to the stumbling blocks that Israel is placing in their path

The following are statements and articles on the renewed Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.


Image: english.alarabiya.net

'Abbas: Negotiations Are Our First Option; There Will Be A Referendum On Any Agreement

As the talks resumed, 'Abbas enumerated the reasons for going ahead with them, saying, inter alia, that they are the means for realizing the Palestinians' national rights, and that if the Palestinians show political flexibility they can expose Israel's rejectionism. He told the Jordanian government daily Al-Rai: "Our first option for attaining an independent state is negotiating over the borders and security, and setting a timetable for [the negotiations]." He clarified that "any agreement signed with the Israelis will be approved by referendum."[1]

Columnists in PA dailies made similar arguments. Al-Hayat Al-Jadida columnist 'Adel 'Abd Al-Rahman wrote: "The Palestinian leadership wants to show political flexibility and thereby to again stress to the world, especially to the U.S., that it does not oppose the principle of resuming negotiations according to a defined timetable, [while] realizing that the Netanyahu government will not honor the commitments in the agreement... and that Israel will continue with the settlements option, the expropriation [of land], the Judaization, and the [forced population] transfer, whether or not it participates in the negotiations...

"Thus, the Palestinian leadership will once again rip the mask from the ugly face of the Zionist leadership... and prepare the [soul] of the [Palestinian] nationalism for the implementation of a different national program, that is based on the achievements at the U.N. in late November 2012, in order to rise to the level of statehood."[2]

Al-Hayat Al-Jadida columnist Muwaffaq Matar explained that the Palestinians must negotiate in order to strengthen the U.S.'s recognition of the two-state solution, adding that the Palestinians would not go to open-ended negotiations but only to nine-month ones. He claimed that nothing would stop Israel from building in the settlements, and that "if we refuse to negotiate because of construction tenders in the settlements, we will [only] make it easier for Israel to attain its goals."[3]

Criticism Against The Palestinian Leadership

Nevertheless, PA officials and columnists in the PA press condemned what they saw as backing down from previously set demands and conditions, and also criticized the way the decision to resume the negotiations had been taken and the lack of clarity surrounding them. Some, while skeptical about their possible success, nevertheless advocated giving the negotiations a chance. All shared the opinion that negotiations without a "source of authority" – i.e. without an agreement on the 1967 borders as the basis for the talks – were pointless.

The "Source Of Authority": Ambiguity, Absence Of Guarantees

PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Qurei' criticized the absence of U.S. guarantees regarding the "source of authority" for the negotiations. Following the July 2013 Kerry-'Abbas meeting in Amman, Qurei' described the meeting as very tense, and added that 'Abbas would not say whether he had received any guarantees from Kerry. According to Qurei', no guarantees were given.[4]

Another Executive Committee member, Wasel Abu Yousef, wrote that the negotiations had been restarted "without the source of authority of the 1967 borders, while construction in the settlements continues, and instead we are discussing issues of security and borders." He added that the Americans had tried to create the illusion that they had managed to revive the peace process and to open a new channel for negotiations. "What is happening is a waste of time that could have been used to complete the moves in the U.N, after the Palestinians achieved non-member observer status there... and appealing to judge the occupation for its crimes."[5]

Hassan 'Asfour, former PA minister and editor of the Amad.ps website which is close to the PLO, said that the renewed negotiations involved fraud and deception: "Since Kerry's announcement [that the talks would be renewed], many leaks to the media from various sources revealing 'understandings' that match none of the Palestinian principles agreed upon by the factions and the people. Very quickly, 'the ruse of the guarantees in writing document ' was revealed – American sources revealed that they had presented no official guarantees. Moreover, 'Abbas never presented the Palestinian leadership with any document or defined understanding – and this proves that everything that happened [in the negotiations] was mere words accompanied by a clear threat to the [PA] president that he would be held responsible should [the negotiations] fail." [6]

Some went so far as to depict the Palestinian participation in the negotiations as treason. Fatah member in Lebanon Ahsan Al-Jamal wrote: "Have we returned to negotiations, or did they lead us back to the prison cell with a carrot that reeks of treason? Did they bring us back to the negotiations with a stick that breaks our back and forces on us dictates and conditions? I have seen no country besides ours where there are so many [different] accounts of the same political move... We must explicitly name the side that [needs to] recognize the borders – that is, the [Israeli] enemy, [and not only the U.S.,] must recognize the sources of authority and [our right to establish] a state on the 1967 borders, [and the need] to stop building settlements and to implement all previous agreements and obligations. We do not demand recognition from Kerry. Our problem is not with him, despite his complete bias in favor of the Israeli occupation."[7]

Hani Al-Masri, a columnist in the PA daily Al-Ayyam wrote that the "personal, ambiguous, and halting" decision of the Palestinian leadership to return to negotiations stemmed from its fears for its future if it did not: "[It feared that any refusal on its part to renew negotiations] would lead to a cut-off in assistance to the PA and the imposition of American and Israeli sanctions upon it, possibly extending to a freeze on relations with it, which would lead to its [the PA's] collapse."[8]

In addition to the ambiguity about borders, 'Adel 'Abd Al-Rahman, columnist for the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, wrote that the Kerry proposal could be interpreted by each side as it saw fit: "Each side has the right to reject the other party's definitions. Thus, for example, Israel is entitled to refuse to return to the June 4, 1967 borders, to adhere to the colonialist settlement option, and to reject the partition of Jerusalem and the refugees' return to the homes from which they were expelled in 1948 – whereas the Palestinians are entitled to reject Israel's condition that the Palestinians recognize the State [of Israel's] Jewish [character], as well as every Israeli position that contradicts the Palestinian people's objectives and legitimate international decisions [i.e. UN resolutions]... The source of authority for the negotiations remains unclear and ambiguous."[9]

The Palestinians Backed Down From Their Conditions For Negotiations

Senior PA officials and columnists presented the implicit dangers of the concessions that the Palestinians were making or would in future make in the revived negotiations. Legislative Council member Muhammad Dahlan, who has been deposed from Fatah institutions, wrote: " President Mahmoud 'Abbas's agreeing to return to direct negotiations with Israel in exchange for rumors or news items about mitigations [for the Palestinians] but no political reward... is political suicide as well as dangerously contemptuous of the Palestinian principles."[10]

In his Al-Ayyam column, Hani Al-Masri criticized the PA for giving up the option of joining UN institutions and agreeing to distinguish between the settlements in Jerusalem and the large settlement blocs and the settlements in other areas: "Had the negotiations been renewed unconditionally with the preservation of [the option] of turning to the UN [institutions], it would have been much better than, or not as bad as, their renewal as it actually happened. One of the Palestinian leadership's worst mistakes was... [its assent] to a distinction between the settlements in Jerusalem and in the major settlement blocs and those in the rest of the occupied lands. This legitimizes these settlements [in Jerusalem and in the major settlement blocs], and constitutes a precedent that may recur vis-à-vis new settlements."[11]

Thaer Al-'Aqad, a columnist on the Amad.ps website, argued: "Kerry's Amman announcement of the renewal of the talks came as a surprise, but even stranger was the Palestinian side's backing down from the conditions that it had set before the negotiations began... The Palestinian conditions that the leadership had reiterated [numerous times] quickly collapsed."[12]

The Palestinian Leadership Has No Strategy

Former PA minister Ibrahim Abrash accused the PLO of failing to take advantage of the time between the end of negotiations three years ago and their resumption now to formulate a strategy regarding its objectives and its goals in the negotiations: "Without ignoring the responsibility of the US and Israel for the difficulties in the diplomatic process, great responsibility [also] rests on the shoulders of the Palestinians, because when the leadership decided three years ago to halt the negotiations and not to resume them unless there was a construction freeze, it failed to come up with a Palestinian strategy for dealing with the ongoing hiatus in the talks, and the repercussions that it would have. Likewise, no Palestinian strategy was formulated regarding the continued settlement and Judaization.

"For three years, the leadership said that it would not go back to negotiating unless Israel stopped the construction in the settlements. It [i.e. the PA leadership] stopped, and waited [either] for Israel to comply with this condition, or for the Quartet, that sponsors the negotiations, to force [Israel] to stop the construction. When neither of these happened, and when Israel carried on its extensive settlement and Judaization activity, the leadership decided to approach the UN... The leadership was hesitant to continue to wage diplomatic battle, and did not join the international court [i.e. the ICC] or other international institutions."[13]

The PA Does Not Represent The Popular Will And Bypasses The PLO

Senior Fatah and PLO officials criticized 'Abbas for ignoring the PLO's call to reject a return to the negotiating table. On July 18, 2013, the Palestinian leadership, including the PLO Executive Committee, convened to discuss a resumption of talks; the discussion was stormy, and it was agreed to postpone a decision until Israel had accepted and carried out the Palestinian demands. 'Abbas's decision to resume negotiations despite this made him the target of very harsh criticism by Fatah and PLO members, who felt that he had bypassed the PLO and that he and the entire Palestinian leadership had acted inappropriately. According to Palestinian sources, the result was a split in the PLO Executive Committee, with some members opposed to the renewal of negotiations, and others, headed by 'Abbas, in favor. The first group argued that "the outcome will be difficult for the Palestinian and they will not accept this."[14]

Fatah member and former PA minister Ziad Abu Zayyad expressed his skepticism about the PA leadership's ability to make the proper decisions on the Palestinians' behalf and to represent the people as a whole, given the Fatah-Hamas rift and the PLO factions' opposition to the resumption of talks: "The strongest evidence of a leadership crisis on the Palestinian side is that despite all the declarations by representatives of all PLO factions that they are opposed to renewing the negotiations, there was a decision to do so."[15]

Muhammad Dahlan also saw no benefit in negotiations conducted by a weak leadership. He claimed that Abbas had "made the decision on his own, ignoring public opinion and [Palestinian] leadership institutions, including the Fatah leadership," and added that "this could bring trouble to the Palestinians. For three years, he fed us [his boasting about] his heroism and declarations about conditions under which the negotiations would be renewed – and then, as usual, he blinked, and gave in to Israel's conditions, branding the Palestinian consciousness with despair and frustration."[16]

The Negotiators – A Failed Elite

This criticism of the content of the negotiations was part of overall criticism of the PA, which covers such topics as the arrogance of the negotiating team, and the fact that the negotiations are again being conducted by figures who have for years failed in their task. Former PA minister Ibrahim Abrash noted: "There is apprehension regarding the fate of our cause if the same negotiating method remains in place; we are the prisoners of this elite and this negotiating team."[17]

Nabil 'Amr, a former PA minister and a well-known critic of the PA, noted that when 'Abbas conducted talks with Kerry in private, 'Abbas's associates outside the room made statements for the cameras that were very far from reality. He added: "When I talk about the leadership and about the chaotic way that it functions, I am not forgetting its main defect, which is scandalous: it is unable to restore unity to [our] people and homeland."[18]

'Abbas, 'Erekat Explain Everything About The Resumption Of Negotiations

Responding to arguments against renewing negotiations, 'Abbas and the PLO negotiating section, headed by Saeb Erekat explained the decision to go back to the negotiating table.

'Abbas: The Basis For The Negotiations Is The Two-State Solution Within The 1967 Borders; Any Outcome Will Be Brought To A Referendum

In early September 2013, 'Abbas told the Fatah Revolutionary Council: "It was agreed that the basis for the negotiations was the two-state solution within the 1967 borders, and this was presented to the PLO Central Committee and Executive Committee. Undoubtedly, several factions there showed that they opposed the principle of resuming negotiations, and that is their privilege. They can oppose and reject, no matter what the reason or what the result. We've gotten used to this, throughout the entire [Palestinian] revolution, since 1965. Every time, on every decision, there has been opposition lasting a year or two, but ultimately they [the opponents] come back and continue along the path.

"The last time [this happened was in the case of] the Oslo [Accords, which was considered by its opponents to be an agreement of] treason, sellout, compromise, and concessions – but [ultimately], everyone returned and joined the PA and even received ID cards. Many of them became ministers and MPs [in the resulting PA]...

"I say to the opposition: Go out and protest, but even at demonstrations, culture and values must be maintained. Don't go to the roadblocks and create a problem, because afterwards I'll have to repair the damage you've done.

"The Americans asked us not to appeal to the international organizations during the negotiations. But we rejected this request. We were strongly pressured to make sure that we wouldn't appeal to the UN organizations during the six to nine months of negotiations. But we resisted. The negotiations story ended with the condition that the Americans would officially undertake that the negotiations would be based on two states within the 1967 borders...

"We have indeed commenced the actual negotiations. Before we began, the international organizations were discussed, and we said that we were willing not to go [to them provided that] the 104 prisoners held prior to 1994 were released... But the deal also includes the release of 250 [additional] prisoners, and this [too] is part of the negotiations agenda. In the special deal of the [release of the] 104, it was agreed that there would be four phases...

"Therefore, the negotiations are underway, based on the 1967 borders and on the demand for the release of 250 prisoners and of prisoners [arrested] prior to 1993. The negotiations have begun. Saeb ['Erekat] can perhaps explain to you what happened, but so far nothing has happened except for the presentation of positions – that is, the Israeli position was presented and in response the Palestinian position was presented. We will wait for six to nine months. Should developments occur and should an agreement be reached, it is known that we will [then] go to a referendum. For any agreement that we will achieve or that we will agree to, we will not only [obtain the approval of] the Central Committee, the Executive Committee, and the Central Council; we will take it to a referendum everywhere, so that all Palestinians everywhere are represented...

"Rest assured, our positions remain the same as always – that is, with Jerusalem as top [priority], a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem ­as its capital – without [Jerusalem] there can be no solution – and the same goes for all issues of borders, security, and more.

"There can be no state without Jerusalem. That is a red line. Our positions are well known, and I believe that the negotiators will insist completely on this, because each of them is passionate about his homeland, his rights, and his reputation. There is no willingness to compromise on the Palestinian issue..."[19]

PLO Negotiating Section Document: Nine Reasons Why We Agreed To Return To Negotiations

The PLO negotiating section, which is headed by Saeb Erekat, published a document that included nine reasons for the return to negotiations.

"1. We received a written reply [stating] that the peace process' source of authority was the actualization of the two-state [solution] within the 1967 borders, with agreed-upon territorial swaps;

"2. The [negotiation] agenda will include all the issues of the permanent [solution] without exception (Jerusalem, borders, settlements, refugees, water, security, prisoners);

"3. There are [to be] no temporary or interim solutions;

"4. The duration of the negotiations will be six to nine months;

"5. Prisoners arrested prior to 1994 will be released in four phases;

"6. The American administration has clarified that it views the settlements as illegal and that it will work to reduce construction in them to a minimum. We rejected this said that all Israeli settlement activity is illegal and null and void, and stressed that all such activity must stop;

"7. The European Union has published its positions on the issue of settlements in all the occupied territories, in coordination with the PA, and has asked us to renew negotiations, saying that its positions regarding the settlements will take effect on January 1, 2014;

"8. The Arab states unanimously supported renewing negotiations;

"9. Russia, China, Japan, the countries of Asia and Africa, and Latin America supported the renewal of negotiations. The UN also supported this, with an emphasis on the source of authority, international law, and the establishment of a Palestinian state whose capital is East Jerusalem within the 1967 borders, and the resolution of all the permanent issues, without exception.

"Furthermore, many states that have not recognized us as a state or as a UN member have promised that if at the end of nine months Israel refuses to implement the principle of two states within the 1967 borders, they will recognize Palestine, support its joining the international institutions and international conventions, and consider construction in the settlements, including in Jerusalem, as illegal."[20]

Palestinian Pessimistic About The Negotiations' Success

Numerous statements by PA officials and in official PA dailies, including the daily Al-Quds published in East Jerusalem, indicate that the Palestinian public is skeptical about the prospects of benefiting from the negotiations. PLO Executive Committee Secretary Yasser 'Abd Rabbo said: "It is clear that that we have tremendous difficulties, particularly when there is a right-wing government in Israel and the settlers' power is growing, [and this] in addition to the upheavals in the Arab world." He added that the Palestinian people want negotiations but are not certain that Israel intends to reach a solution, and therefore he does not advise anybody to be optimistic about the negotiations.[21]

An Al-Quds editorial published before the renewal of the negotiations noted that Palestinian public opinion was leaning towards rejecting their renewal: "We assess that the majority of the public opposes this measure, due to Israel's official and declared positions that contradict everything required [for attaining] the sought-for peace… Many believe that negotiations under such conditions constitute 'acceptance in principle' of the Israeli positions and a retreat from the declared Palestinian position regarding the renewal of negotiations – first and foremost [the demand for] a settlement freeze. [The decision to reenter negotiations was] presumably taken due to Western [pressures], and in particular American political pressures and promises of extensive economic aid… We do not believe [that the parties] will reach an agreement at this stage of the negotiations, given the Israeli positions and considering that 20 years of negotiation attempts have [only] led us to our current situation. It is mandatory and essential to set a definite time-limit for the negotiations – for example six months – and if no progress occurs during [this period], we should stop [negotiations] and lay the entire responsibility on the delaying party, since Israel is pursuing a policy of exploiting the negotiations and the talk about peace in order to cover up its expansionary goal and carry out plans that will destroy peace. We must not give [Israel] any opportunity to achieve this, after [we have already] paid a steep price as a result of such behavior."[22]

"Former PA minister Sufyan Abu Zaida argued: "The Palestinian pessimism is unprecedented [in its extent], and is not limited to those who oppose negotiations in principle or those who reject the degrading terms under which it was renewed. Rather, [this pessimism] also characterizes those who supported renewal, including the negotiators [themselves]. I haven't heard a single Palestinian who believes that, at the end of nine months, an agreement will be reached that will lead to a state on the 67 borders whose capital is Jerusalem and to a just solution to the refugee problem, in accordance with UN resolutions. Not a single Palestinian believes that Netanyahu will offer 'Abbas more than [then-Israeli prime minister Ehud] Barak offered [then-Palestinian] president and leader Yasser Arafat in Washington in the year 2000. [The current] Israeli position is quite distant from that point. No one [even] believes that Netanyahu will offer 'Abbas what [then-Israeli prime minister Ehud] Olmert offered him in the year 2008. Netanyahu is very far from this [position as well]. And it is not only Netanyahu and his government that are far removed from this point. The Palestinians, too, are in a far worse situation than they were at the time of the Camp David or Annapolis negotiations."[23]

Today, in late October, after nearly 10 rounds of talks, statements by senior PA officials continue to indicate pessimism in light of Israeli Justice Minister and chief negotiator Tzippi Livni's statement that the negotiations will last more than nine months, and in light of Netanyahu's demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. This pessimism is voiced even by PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas, who told Palestinian television: "The negotiations currently underway… are based on the principle of the June 4, 1967 borders, with the possibility of considering very limited territorial swaps on a 1:1 ratio. [The issue of] a Jewish state is not our concern… The refusal by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to recognize a Palestinian state on the 67 borders, his proclamation that Jerusalem is the eternal capital of the State of Israel, and his insistence that we recognize Israel as a Jewish state prove his unwillingness for peace."[24]

PLO Executive Committee member Hanna 'Amira disclosed that, in a recent meeting, the committee had discussed various scenarios, among them the possibility of declaring the talks' failure, which had been given serious consideration. He added: "All the negotiation rounds have yielded nothing. Serious discussions are underway to determine what measures will be taken in the stage following the negotiations' collapse."[25]

Following the October 2013 decision by the Jerusalem municipality to build 58 housing units in Pisgat Zeev neighborhood, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat and PLO Executive Committee member Hannan 'Ashrawi joined the pessimists. According to 'Ashrawi, "the occupation has voided the negotiations [taking place] between the Occupation and the authority in Ramallah of their objectives, via systematic activities intended to destroy any prospects for peace and a two-state solution."[26] Saeb Erekat for his part accused Israel of "disrupting all attempts made in the international arena to implement the principle of two states and the 67 borders."[27]

*C. Jacob is a research fellow at MEMRI.

Endnotes:

[1] Maannews.net, July 22, 2013.

[2] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 23, 2013.

[3] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), August 13, 2013.

[4] Maannews.net, July 24, 2013.

[5] Al-Radd (Jordan), August 1, 2013.

[6] Kofiapress.net, July 23, 2013.

[7] Panet.co.il, July 24, 2013.

[8] Al-Ayyam (PA), July 23, 2013.

[9] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), July 23, 2013.

[10] Maannews.net, July 21, 2013.

[11] Al-Ayyam (PA), July 23, 2013

[12] Amad.ps, July 23, 2013.

[13] Amad.ps, July 25, 2013.

[14] Pressps.com, July 31, 2013

[15] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), July 28, 2013

[16] Maannews.net, July 21, 2013

[17] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), July 25, 2013

[18] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), (Jerusalem), July 22, 2013

[19] WAFA, September 2, 2013.

[20] Al-Ayyam (PA), September 8, 2013.

[21] Amad.ps, August 1, 2013.

[22] Al-Quds (Jerusalem), July 23, 2013.

[23] Amad.ps, August 1, 2013.

[24] Amad.ps, October 11, 2013.

[25] Amad.ps, October 9, 2013.

[26] Paltoday.ps, October 10, 2013.

[27] Maan.news.net, October 10, 2013.