Oct 05 2008

Time and negotiations

Published by at 1:04 pm under Articles,Palestinian politics

The following appeared in the Jordan Times and the Jerusalem Post

Daoud Kuttab

Time has played a major role in most negotiations. Whether they are
labour or political negotiations, each side of a conflict waits
literally till the very last minute before revealing its true

Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud
Abbas have been quoted as saying that they wish they had just a
little more time to reach a solution to the Middle East conflict.

Time and again one saw the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at a
potentially breakthrough point, only for the hopes of the two
peoples to be dashed because of the failure to reach a resolution.

After six years of Palestinian Nakbeh and the creation of the state
of Israel, and following over 40 years of military occupation of the
rest of Palestine, it is a joke for negotiators to wish they had
just a little more time.

A quick look back at the Wye River negotiations with Benjamin
Netanyahu, the 2000 talks with Ehud Barak at Camp David and the Taba
talks led by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabo shows that
negotiators used time both positively and negatively to proceed with
or to scuttle the talks. The tyranny of time led the negotiators in
Taba to agree that “we have never been closer to an agreement”.

Of course, such optimistic statements seem comic today, after
thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis were killed,
after Ariel Sharon made his provocative visit to Al Aqsa Mosque and
Israeli soldiers brutally put down anti-Sharon demonstrations
thereafter, all resulting in what is commonly called as the Aqsa
Intifada, or the second Intifada.

If there is one thing clear in this conflict, it is that the absence
of a resolution has nothing to do with time but has everything to do
with the absence of a political will. Before the latest Abbas-Olmert
time-related quote, two negotiators went about to prove that the
issue is not time related. Beilin and PLO executive committee member
Abed Rabo decided to make an intellectual exercise. The two gathered
experts from both sides and reached consensus on a detailed
agreement which is called the Geneva Agreement. Hundreds of
respected Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals have since signed
this document.

Other two leaders, Palestinian Professor Sari Nuseibeh and former
Israeli intelligence agency leader Ami Ayalon, also sat down and
came up with a signed documents. Again thousands of Palestinians and
Israelis signed what became known as the People’s Voice.

Olmert has indeed shown signs of a political conversion. Not only
was he instrumental in the withdrawal from Gaza and the removal of
Jewish settlements there, he has also publicly made breakthrough
statements for a sitting Israeli premier. His verbal burial of the
idea of Greater Israel and his empathy for Palestinian refugees have
never been made so clearly by an Israeli official.

Speaking at the beginning of a Cabinet meeting does give the sense
of a change of heart for a Likudnik who has been publicly proud of
being a follower of Jabotinsky, Begin and Sharon.

Abbas has also shown courage not seen before by a Palestinian
leader. Not only has he been a consistent opponent of the
militarisation of the Intifada and a strong opponent to the rockets
from Gaza, he has also publicly lowered Palestinian expectations of
any large-scale return of Palestinian refugees.

The Palestinian president has been weakened by losing Gaza to Hamas.
His days might be numbered as his present term comes to an end. On
the other side, Olmert will soon be running a caretaker government
and thus unable to make strategic decisions.

Time might be a factor, but after decades of delays and
procrastination it certainly is not the only factor. Unfortunately,
however, delays affect mostly Palestinians under occupation while
allowing the occupiers to continue their illegal settlement
expansion, thus negatively affecting a future solution.

18 September 2008

No responses yet

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.