Middle East Proximity Talks: Questions for Washington
by Khaled Abu Toameh, Hudson Institute, New York, June 29, 2010
Even if Israel and the Palestinian Authority were to reach a peace agreement sometime in the near future, it is certain that the Palestinian Authority would not be able to implement it or sell it to a majority of Palestinians.
Therefore the first and most important question that decision-makers in Washington and European capitals need to ask themselves these days is: Is there a majority of Palestinians who are prepared to make far-reaching concessions in the context of a peace treaty with Israel? Is there a Palestinian leader who is willing to make compromises on explosive issues such as Jerusalem, settlements and the "right of return?"
Frankly, there is no way that Palestinian Premier Mahmoud Abbas could accept anything less than what his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, rejected at the botched Camp David summit in the summer of 2000. Back then, Arafat refused to sign a document pledging to "end the conflict" with Israel unless he got 100% of his demands.
In addition, there are serious doubts as to whether Abbas would be able to persuade a majority of Palestinians living in refugee camps in the Arab world to accept any peace agreement with Israel that did not include the "right of return" to their original villages in pre-1948 Israel.
Abbas, however, is not in a position to accept even a "partial" agreement on the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees. No Palestinian leader has thus far dared to publicly make the slightest concession on this issue.
Further, Abbas could not sign any deal that excluded the Gaza Strip; he would then be accused
of "solidifying" the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Moreover, although the Palestinian Authority has said it would consider land swap, apparently many Palestinians are opposed to it.
The second question that Washington needs to ask is: Do Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad have enough credibility and support among Palestinians to be able to sell to a majority of them a peace deal with Israel?
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority cannot go to the Gaza strip; they have limited control over the West Bank, and are still lacking in credibility, at least as far as many Palestinians are concerned.
Three years ago, the Palestinian Authority was kicked out of the Gaza Strip by Hamas, thereby losing direct control over 1.5 million Palestinians.
The private and official residences of Abbas in the Gaza strip have been seized by Hamas, which sometimes uses them as interrogation and detention centers.
Just recently Hamas declared that Abbas would not be allowed to enter the Gaza Strip unless he receives permission from its government. This means that when and if Abbas strikes a deal with Israel, he would not even be able to travel to the Gaza Strip to implement it or try to sell it to the Palestinians living there.
Even though Abbas lives and works in the West Bank, many Palestinians have long been questioning whether he really has full control over the area. Moreover, it remains to be seen whether he and Fayyad, enjoy the support of a majority of Palestinians in the West Bank. Some Palestinians are convinced that if a free and democratic election were held tomorrow in the West Bank, Hamas would definitely emerge victorious. Hamas would win, they argue, mainly because most Palestinians still do not regard Abbas's Fatah faction as a better alternative to the Islamic fundamentalist movement.
The third question that the US Administration needs to ask itself is: Where is Abbas supposed to implement a peace agreement with Israel? In Tel Aviv?
So what is the point in launching "proximity talks" between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority while ignoring the fact that the partner in Ramallah would not be able to deliver his side of an agreement?
Also, why do the Americans and the Europeans continue to turn a blind eye to the fact that the Palestinians already have two states—one in the Gaza Strip under Hamas and the second in the West Bank under Fatah?
It is becoming increasingly hard to tell what the Palestinians exactly want. While once a majority of them appeared to support the idea of a two-state solution, many seem to think that the one-state solution, where Jews and Arabs would live together and not apart from each other, is not a bad idea after all. Then there is a third group that continues to believe that the only solution lies in the elimination of the Jewish state.
The only way to move forward with any peace process is by insisting that the Palestinians first get their act together and end the infighting between the two Palestinian states. Perhaps before we search for ways to make peace between Jews and Palestinians, we need first need to find a way to achieve peace between Palestinians and Palestinians.