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Israeli intransigence is the only hope

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While Palestinian negotiators are weak and prone to sign any peace deal, Israel’s current leaders look set to reject every solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

By Ghada Karmi

(source: Al-Ahram Weekly)

What an irony that the Palestinians’ archenemy, Israel, should also be their saviour. There is a real danger that the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks due to start 2 September in Washington could yield a botched deal that falls far short of the requirements of international law or elemental justice, and sets back the cause of Palestine for decades if not forever. Fortunately, this will not happen as long as Israel’s obduracy can be relied on to save the Palestinians from such a dreadful outcome.

Time and again, when Israel was thrown a lifeline by its Arab neighbours that could have ensured its legitimacy and security, its folly and greed lost it those opportunities. But, since those same opportunities came at great cost to Palestinian rights, Israel’s obduracy had the perverse effect of safeguarding them. All peace proposals after 1967 were based on maintaining Israel as a regional power and forcing the Palestinians to settle for less than they were entitled to. They were repeatedly offered paltry settlements that in effect legitimised Israel’s hold on a majority of their land and undermined their right of return. Had Israel agreed, the Palestinian cause would have been lost long ago.

But it never happened. Israel foiled each proposal and, though robbing the Palestinians of ever more land and resources, the basics of the Palestinian case remained intact. When in the 1979 Camp David negotiations Egypt sought to give the Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza a basis for a future independent state, Israel refused. As it also spurned a succession of Arab peace proposals, most recently the Saudi plan of 2002, offering Israel peace and recognition in return for a Palestinian state. And when, in the 1993 Oslo Accords, the Palestine Liberation Organisation finally capitulated and accepted Israel’s occupation of Palestine’s remnants so long as it would end and enable the establishment of an independent state on this morsel, Israel responded by taking more land.

Decades of Israeli rejection and the realties of Israel's power with unstinting Western support finally persuaded the Palestinian leadership to settle for what it could in this hostile environment. The Palestinians' just and legal demands have been downgraded beyond recognition. Where once, Palestinians fought against their dispossession and the theft of their land, and for their right to reparation and return, today's browbeaten leadership has settled for a set of aspirations that bear little relation to rights or justice. It is this defeated leadership, reportedly under US pressure to attend or have Palestinian Authority funding withdrawn, which will take part in the upcoming peace talks in Washington. The aim of the talks is a two-state settlement that will supposedly end the conflict. The parameters are familiar from past (and failed) peace proposals, and are grossly unfair to the Palestinians. Historic Palestine will be partitioned roughly along the 1967 lines into a Jewish state on 78 per cent of the land plus an undefined area of the West Bank also to become Israeli, and a Palestinian state on whatever remains, less than 20 per cent. How much of East Jerusalem will go to the Palestinians has not been determined, and there will be no return of refugees to Israel. Israel's prime minister has set conditions before the talks. Israel will keep the Jordan Valley, Jerusalem will remain Israel's undivided capital, and the Palestinian state must be unarmed and its borders and airspace under surveillance. And nothing will happen unless the Palestinians first recognise Israel as Jewish and guarantee its security. Despite these statements, indications are that Israel is not serious about a peace deal. Its moratorium on settlement building, which in any case excluded East Jerusalem, will end 27 September, after which it will resume with vigour. Israeli commentators are sceptical about Netanyahu's intentions. Moty Cristal, an Israeli past prime ministerial advisor, believes that Netanyahu "is buying time, looking for ways to stay away from action on the ground". No reasonable outcome can be expected from this situation. Nonetheless, President Obama, with mid-term elections looming, lacking a foreign policy success, and focused on Iran, is determined to see a result. How will this happen within the constraints of a strong Israel that cannot be pressured and a weak, unrepresentative Palestinian leadership that excludes Gaza and Hamas? And since Israel's position rejects all the main Palestinian requirements — land, Jerusalem, refugees — progress, if any, can only be made by demanding more concessions from the weaker Palestinian side. This will mean less land available for the putative state, making it unviable. Hence Jordan and Egypt's presence at the talks to work out a deal that provides an extension for the West Bank into Jordan, and Gaza into Egypt. No other permutation is possible, within these parameters. Israel will lose very little, but even this may be too much for its "Greater Israel" proponents. If this scenario, or some version of it, were to happen, and the Palestinian side, powerless and weary, were somehow to be bamboozled into agreeing, it would destroy the Palestinian cause and wreak untold havoc within Palestinian ranks. The fear of such an outcome haunts many Palestinians, who neither trust nor respect the Palestinian negotiators, and think they might sign away Palestinians rights. This may be unfair, but they may be reassured that if there is any possibility of a peace deal emerging from Washington, the Israeli side, if not theirs, will never let it happen. * The writer is author of Married to Another Man: Israel's dilemma in Palestine .