Dec 18 2008

Is the peace process irreversible?

Published by at 9:18 am under Articles,Palestinian politics

Daoud Kuttab

Lame-duck Palestinian, Israeli and US leaders are making serious effort these days to ensure that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process enters an irreversible track before they leave office.

This irreversible train left the station in September shortly after Israeli prime minister, Ehud Olmert, resigned from his office due to police investigation. Olmert, who has continued as caretaker prime minister, surprised the Israeli public by stating publicly that the ultimate solution of this conflict will require a return to the 1967 borders and will have to include Israel giving up parts of Jerusalem.

The US president, George W. Bush, who failed to accomplish his declared goal of reaching an agreement on an independent state before the end of his term, has decided instead to institutionalise his position in the UN. After five years of refusing to allow the UN Security Council in the conflict, the US has cosponsored with the Russians a resolution documenting the position of the international community. The resolution, supporting the Annapolis process, was approved with 14 votes, with Libya abstaining, even though it failed to speak about illegal Jewish settlements.

The Palestinian president, whose regular term runs out on January 9, also wanted to be sure that the public record include points already agreed upon in the negotiations. Ahmad Qureia, the lead Palestinian negotiator held a press conference last week to indicate where the talks reached. He told the press that his Israeli interlocutors insist on annexing 6.8 per cent of the land of the West Bank and that they offered land swap instead. He was indirectly saying was that Israel had in fact agreed to quit at least 93.2 per cent of the lands of the West Bank.

Qureia also indicated an Israeli willingness to allow 5,000 Palestinians the right of return. While, again, the number falls way short of Palestinian aspirations, by publicly making that declaration, the Israelis are on the record as having approved the concept of the right of return. Ironically, following this Palestinian press conference, an Israeli official made a short statement, saying that Qureia’s public declarations are not “accurate”. By not entirely denying the statement, the Israeli official confirmed its content. However, by stating that it is not totally accurate, it left future negotiators a way out of these commitments.

The efforts of the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians come to ensure that whatever government is elected by the Israelis in February 2009, it will not attempt to reverse the “accomplishments” already made.

The speakers at the UN Security Council repeatedly used the word irreversible as a way of insisting that the process has the international seal of approval and that future governments (whether in the US, Israel or Palestine) will not be able to abscond themselves from these commitments and the overall process.

For Palestinians, and to a lesser degree for the Israelis, the UN Security Council resolution was not very reassuring. These important statements by Qureia, and even by Olmert, did little to give hope and optimism to people who are fed up with words and public declarations. The situation of the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, is a much higher source of concern than any public statement. The absence of commitment by the international community to come up with mechanisms to stop Jewish settlement activity is yet another source of pessimism.

Whether the activities of the Israeli, Palestinian and US leaders will ensure that the peace process is irreversible is hard to tell. As polls indicate that hardline Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu is poised to win the upcoming elections in Israel, most Palestinians are clutching at the straws of America’s president elect. To most Palestinians, the irreversibility of the peace process is now left to whether Barack Obama will be able to provide them with the hope and change that brought him the recent victory. Until proven otherwise, these are very fragile straws.

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