In Arabs Back Indirect Talks Between Palestinians – NYTimes.com, Michael Slackman reports:
Arab ministers gathered late Saturday at the offices of the Arab League here at the request of the Palestinian leadership, which sought regional support before agreeing, again, to enter into indirect talks.
But while the Palestinians and the Arab ministers agreed to endorse jump-starting peace talks that have been stalled for more than a year, they did not give ground on the issue of settlements.
We keep hearing how important the issue of Palestine is to the Arab world. The collection of unelected kings and despots who rule these countries are touchingly concerned about the self determination of the Palestinians. Yet if it’s so important, why do the Palestinians require “regional support” to participate in “indirect” negotiations with Israel?
This reminds me of a 27 year old observation by Daniel Pipes:
Recognizing the critical role of Arab help has several implications for Middle East politics. First, it means that the PLO has very little of the political power so often ascribed to it. The PLO may appear to shape the policy of most Arab states, but in fact it reflects their wishes. It brings up the rear, echoing and rephrasing the weighted average of Arab sentiments. This suggests that it will moderate only when its Arab patrons want it to; so long as the Arab consensus needs it to reject Israel, the PLO must do so. Aspiring peacemakers in the Middle East must therefore not make settlement of the Arab-Israeli dispute contingent on PLO concurrence, for this is to give a veto to the organization least prone to compromise.
If the Palestinian Authority require support (or perhaps permission) to negotiate however gingerly with Israel, maybe it isn’t quite so independent as advertised.
Slackman reports further:
The vote was in part a response to the sustained diplomatic efforts by the United States. But it was also an effort to offer some political cover to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, who wanted broad Arab support to avoid the political fallout he and his Fatah faction might face if he made the decision on his own.
What sort of political cover does Abbas need?
Of course one problem is that his political culture – cultivated by his own official media – rejects Israel’s right to exist. Furthermore with the Palestinian leadership split between Fatah and Hamas and Hamas refuses to negotiate with Israel. Finally, it’s not even clear that Abbas has any real power within Fatah. The very fact that Abbas requires “political cover” shows that he is incapable of making any significant concessions.
Slackman’s article quoted a Qatari diplomat apparently referring to American guarantees. A companion piece in the New York Times U.S. Says It Will Open Israeli-Palestinian Talks – NYTimes.com reports:
Mr. Abbasâ€™s change of heart, administration officials said, came after reassurances from the United States, including a letter from Mr. Obama prodding the Palestinian leader to re-enter talks with Israel.
Separately, these officials said, Mr. Mitchellâ€™s deputy, David Hale, indicated to the Palestinians that if Israel proceeded with the construction of 1,600 housing units in Jerusalemâ€™s ultra-orthodox neighborhood of Ramat Shlomo, the United States would abstain from, rather than veto, a resolution in the United Nations Security Council condemning the move.
American officials also said that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, had promised the United States that Israel would not proceed with this project, though he had repeatedly refused to declare a halt to building in East Jerusalem.
So the Palestinians dropped out of talks with Israel. The United States eventually guaranteed a bonus for Abbas to return to talks. In other words, the Obama administration rewarded Palestinians intransigence.
And I guess that the article wouldn’t be complete without some gratuitous Bush bashing:
For veterans of the peace process, the prospect of Mr. Mitchellâ€™s shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah, the West Bank headquarters of the Palestinian Authority, illustrates just how much ground has been lost in the past eight years.
Let’s go back eight years. OK, how about 9 years. Let’s recall, what Barry Rubin does:
In 2000 we were told that a negotiated solution was needed as soon as possible because Arafat could not hold back the alleged tidal wave of pressure demanding a state immediately. So the United States and Israel supported the Camp David summit. It failed because Arafat rejected peace. We were then told the exact opposite by some of the people demanding speed: that having this meeting was a big mistake because Arafat was being rushed and pressured.
If there had been true progress between 1993 and 2000, Camp David would have been an important milestone. That it was a failure shows that the post-Oslo success of the peace process was illusory. It was based on ignoring Arafat’s perfidies and didn’t follow real definition of the word “progress.”
The Times then gets soundbites from a couple of former peace processers, the latter is Martin Indyk:
â€œOne way or the other, weâ€™re going to get to American ideas,â€ said Martin S. Indyk, another former negotiator, who is now at the Brookings Institution. â€œItâ€™s much better if they come out of a process where weâ€™ve listened to both sides and figured out what their minimum demands are.â€
Mr. Indyk said he worried about the talks being disrupted, either by a terrorist attack or by a decision by Jerusalem authorities to build housing in East Jerusalem. Israel and the United States have been warily eyeing Syria, which the Israeli government accused of transferring Scud missiles to the militant group Hezbollah.
One of the problems with peace processing is that building by Israel is equated with terror attacks. Indyk is honest enough to admit that. Of course it underlines why peace processing has failed. It has rationalized Palestinian terror to the point that it is a complication not a negation of the peace process.
Beyond all these hurdles, some analysts say a fundamental rethinking of Middle East peacemaking is needed, given the strength of Israel and the weakened, divided nature of the Palestinian Authority.
â€œThere is a fundamental asymmetry between the parties, and unless we acknowledge that, weâ€™ll be stuck,â€ said Daniel Levy, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation.
I would agree with Levy – an extreme left winger – rethinking the premises of peace processing is necessary. But the asymmetry I see is from conflating legitimate actions by Israel with illegitimate ones by the Palestinians. Unfortunately, Levy’s perspective is a lot more prevelant in diplomatic circles.
Crossposted on Soccer Dad.