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Talks with Israel might be a good move for Palestinians

Second thoughts  on the ‘peace process’ resuming tonight. 

Maybe I’m trying to make something good out of a bad situation – I’ve written (here and here) that the Palestinians were getting screwed in these peace talks – but now I’m thinking that Abbas may have done the right thing by agreeing to negotiate with Netanyahu, even without Netanyahu’s agreement that the baseline be the ’67 borders. Oudeh Basharat wrote a very wise column in Haaretz today, arguing that point:

Abbas is conducting his policies with one eye on the national interest and the other on the needs of his population.

The needs of the population: The Palestinians have 5,000 prisoners in Israeli jails, they are economically depressed, they are tied up and tripped up by the occupation in a million different ways. Yesterday, because of the Palestinian Authority’s agreement to go to Washington today, they got the promised return (backed by the U.S.) of their 104 longest-serving prisoners. Beyond that, it is likely that Kerry will be pushing Israel for easements on the spider’s web of restrictions that Palestinians face. (He seems to have an appreciation of the problem; as a senator in 2009, he personally importuned the IDF to take pasta off the list of banned imports to the Gaza Strip.) And beyond that, they are likely to see a lot of money coming their way.

In terms of the needs of the population, what was the alternative? The alternative was to let the prisoners rot, for Palestinians’ day-to-day lives to get only worse, not better, and, according to various news reports, for the U.S. to hold up aid to the PA as punishment for refusing to negotiate.

That’s rough. That is a very high price to pay, for 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians to pay, for the principle of refusing to negotiate unless Israel not only releases prisoners, but also agrees to the ’67 borders with land swaps and to a complete freeze on settlement construction.

However, Abbas had to give in on more than just his preconditions for talks. He also agreed to suspend the PA’s plans to go to the United Nations with the intention of bringing the occupation to The Hague, which was a very powerful weapon in the Palestinians’ hands. Further, his decision to negotiate with Israel put a damper on the boycott movement, which was finally beginning to frighten this country’s leaders.

So at the outset of the talks, it seems Abbas gave considerable ground in defending the national interest – the goal of independence – in return for the release of prisoners, substantial economic aid, and the expectation of some relief from the strictures and indignities of Israeli rule.

Was it a good compromise? I think the only way to judge that will be at the end, when it becomes clear whether Abbas has agreed, under Israeli/U.S. pressure, to abandon the goal of independence, or whether he has held onto it.

Again, maybe I’m being optimistic, but it seems to me that even if Abbas could be strongarmed into agreeing to the sort of Swiss cheese, defenseless municipality encircled by the IDF and without a capital in Jerusalem – which is all that Bibi’s talking about – the Palestinians at home wouldn’t accept it; they would rebel. The Muslim world wouldn’t accept it, either.

So I don’t see that Bibi can “defeat” the Palestinians at the negotiating table, even if Abbas were weak enough to let him. And I don’t see Bibi coming anywhere close to a deal that Abbas, with the Palestinians and Muslim world watching him, could accept. Netanyahu actually intends to try to get this man to sign an agreement that gives him less than what he already turned down five years ago from Olmert.  No, this thing is doomed. And since it is, there’s no reason why Abbas shouldn’t emerge at the end with his goal of independence intact – and in the meanwhile he will have gained the release of prisoners, economic aid and possibly a little more freedom for his people. Who knows – maybe he’ll even come out looking more reasonable than Bibi and his lunatic government, which would help the Palestinians on the international front, giving a boost to the resumption of the UN strategy and the boycott movement.

The talks start in Washington tonight. Doomed though they are, the question of which way they go is awfully important.

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    1. XYZ

      The history of these waves of negotiations since Oslo in 1993 shows that Israel releases prisoners, makes other “confidence building concessions” which, of course, do not build “confidence” on the side of the Palestinians since they do not want cooperation (normalization) with Israel, the negotiations begin, then bog down over the same issues, Palestinian “frustration” leads to a big outbreak of violence and Israel is forced to roll back whatever relaxation the Palestinians might have benefitted from . Israel is blamed by the EU and the Israeli Left for the impasse even though it is the Palestinians who are really responsible. It is INEVITABLE that is what is happening this time. You all IGNORE HAMAS in this, who plays “bad cop” or spoier and don’t forget HAMAS is having a reconciliation with Iran who doessn’t want any Israeli-Palestinian relaxation. So all you who think something good is coming from these so-called “negoiations” are living in a fantasy land. Just pretend HAMAS doesn’t exist, just like you might believe in the tooth fairy

      Reply to Comment
      • Your camp decided to ignore Hamas some time ago. I think Jimmy Carter was correct in seeing that as a mistake. By “ignore,” I mean in positive interactions; there was the “just above starvation” bit.

        Reply to Comment
      • Johnboy

        You do know that Israel agreed to release every one of these prisoners when it agree to the Sharm El Sheik memorandum of 1999, right?

        You **did** know that, didn’t you?

        So that’s a “confidence building concessions” that Israel committed itself to 14 years ago, and not only didn’t they actually, you know, “build confidence” by carrying through on their commitment, but they **also** have the chutzpah to wrap them up in pretty paper and attempt to sell those goods a second time.

        Honestly, do Zionists really believe the nonsense that they spout?

        Reply to Comment
    2. Steve Benassi

      Abbas helping Obama lay ground for UNSC ’67 borders, after November 2014 US Midterm elections.

      Reply to Comment
    3. aristeides

      Maybe one day the US will pick an Arab to moderate the talks. Then we’ll know they’re serious.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Richard Witty

      Give it a chance. You nor I, nor really anyone in journalism has a clue what is being said to whom.

      The important criteria of success or not, FAR more important than the “horse race”, is the merits of the product that they get to submit to legislatures and populaces.

      Until then, the only relevant commentary that I can imagine is advocacy for features of the proposal, and then advocacy or rejection of the proposal.

      The chorus of “its corrupt” is a joint chorus of Palestinian solidarity, in effect preserving the status quo, complicit with the far right Israeli solidarity, in effect preserving the status quo.

      The plane is in the air.

      Reply to Comment
    5. Marc

      How could the Palestinians get screwed, if they made Ramallah their capital and dropped the right of return they could have a viable state tomorrow.

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        It’s typical for Zionists to say stupid things like that.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn9

          It is a typical Zionist response because it pragmatically points out that a Palestinian State logically does not *have* to include Jerusalem. It would be as much a Palestinian State with a capital in Ramallah, which functions as the capital of the PA at the moment. 20 years ago you might have argued that Jerusalem is the social and economic center of the Palestinians but you know and I know that this us not even remotely the case today. So.. why must a Palestinian State include Jerusalem as a sine qua non of its existence?

          Reply to Comment
          • Israel didn’t function as a Jewish state for 2,000 years, and you’re saying the Palestinians have no claim over Jerusalem after 20?

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            I am saying that a Palestinian State can exist without Jerusalem in the same way that Israel can exist as a Jewish State without Hebron and existed until 1967 without the Western Wall. I am saying that Zionists accepted a partition plan which was meant to create a Jewish State without Jerusalem.

            So again, on what basis can the supporters of the Palestinians continue to claim that a Palestinian state can not arise without Jerusalem?

            Reply to Comment
          • First of all, the Likud’s forebears didn’t accept the deal; in fact some of them killed the UN envoy Bernadotte because he wanted to give Jlem to Jordan. Second, the mainstream Zionists agreed to go w/out Hebron/Jlem temporarily, and at the first good opportunity, they took it back with a fair amount of enthusiasm; the Palestinians probably won’t get that oppty – whatever they give up now is gone forever. But above all, the Zionists couldn’t claim a part of Jerusalem on the basis that they’d had it, then the Palestinians took it from them by force; that’s what the Palestinians say Israel did to East Jlem in 1967, and they’re right.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            Likud’s forebearers were a persecuted minority in Zionist circles in the 1940s. What they accepted or didn’t accept was irrelevant since they were excluded from government and all positions of power until the 1970s. They were for example nowhere near as strong as Hamas is among the Palestinians. The mainstream Zionists had no clue whether they would ever see Jerusalem or Hebron. They accepted the partition plan because it gave them a state and that is what was important to them. Are you trying to invent the historical line that before 1967 there was a Palestinian State with Jerusalem as its capital? I am relatively sure that doesn’t correspond to reality, but fascinating historical revisionism on your part.

            Reply to Comment
          • But they didn’t “give up” Jerusalem like you say the Palestinians should – the Zionists agreed that Jlem would be internationalized -shared – while you say the Palestinians should agree that Israel can rule over it all. There’s a little difference. And no, Jlem wasn’t the capital of a Palestinian state before ’67 – but they didn’t live under Israeli rule, either, until Israel imposed its rule on them. Why should the Palestinians agree to leave it like that, except because Israel says so? In terms of justice, the Palestinians are saying share it, Israel is saying no, it’s all ours; and in terms of politics, the whole world agrees EJlem should be the Palestinian capital with no country recognizing Israeli sovereignty over it – and yet you say it’s the Palestinians who are being unreasonable. Okay.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            I am pointing out that a Palestinian State can arise without Jerusalem, like it can arise without Haifa, and again, neither you nor Aristeides have chosen to argue the other side meaning that you agree. Additionally I am pointing out that the Jews accepted a state without Jerusalem and ruled a state without the Western Wall (a site more important to Jews than al-Aqsa is to Muslims) from 1947-1967 because for the Zionists the most important thing was getting a state.

            I am not arguing what the Palestinians should or should not do. I am simply pointing out that if what was of the utmost importance to the Palestinians was a state then they could establish one without Jerusalem. So, if the Palestinians really really really want a state, then yes they are being quite unreasonable in making demands on issues like Jerusalem and refugees which are only going to torpedo the talks and prevent a meaningful Palestinian State from arising. This is especially the case since they already have a capital in Ramallah which at present serves as the cultural, political and economic center of the West Bank.

            Reply to Comment
          • rsgengland

            The Palestinians have never ruled or governed from Jerusalem.
            At no point in Jerusalems’ history has there ever been a Palestinian government, and for that matter, a Palestinian state {except for the Mandate period 1917 to 1948].
            Israel did exist for a short period in the second century CE.
            And Jordan controlled Jerusalem then!!!!!!

            Reply to Comment
          • rsgengland

            Typo error.
            Meant to say that after the Mandate finished, Jordan annexed Jerusalem, until Israel liberated it in 1967.
            The Israel state as a functioning entity was in reply to Larry’s’ comment about 2000 years of Israel not existing for 2000 years . 200 years is a major issue in the fraught landscape of this conflict and its history.

            Reply to Comment
          • aristeides

            The stupid part is making the claim that if the Palestinians would only do (whatever the poster wants) Israel would give them a state, just like that.

            Israel is and has always been committed to the settlement project, which involves taking the West Bank, and isn’t going to give that up no matter what the Palestinians do.

            All this “peace process” crap is nothing more than a smokescreen under which more land grabs can be carried out until Israel finally takes the whole thing.

            Reply to Comment
          • Kolumn9

            The only way you can support your line of reasoning is axiomatically by claiming that by definition Israel is incapable of allowing a Palestinian state to be born. This is contradicted by the historical reality of the repeated willingness of Israel to see a Palestinian state arise including in parts of Jerusalem. The main stumbling blocks are usually control over the holy places in Jerusalem and the waving of the demand by the Palestinians to flood Israel with the descendants of refugees. So, the original poster is correct and all that is preventing a Palestinian State from being created are the Palestinians not being willing to give up Jerusalem (specifically the holy places) and the right of return (specifically an unwillingness to accept a fixed limit within a fixed timeframe with no room for the Palestinians to reopen the issue at a later time).

            Still, clearly both you and Larry are trying to avoid replying to pretty straightforward questions. Can a Palestinian State arise without Jerusalem? My answer is yes once again and neither of you have actually bothered to argue to the contrary so I presume you agree.

            Reply to Comment
    6. tod

      brilliant marc, you have a clear picture:-))

      Reply to Comment
    7. Laurent Szyster

      “Netanyahu actually intends to try to get this man to sign an agreement that gives him less than what he already turned down five years ago from Olmert.”

      Why would Abbas refuse ?

      Why do you suppose he refused Olmert’s offer because it had not enough of this or that land, that many token refugee returned and such and such agreements ?

      Two hard questions, lest ask a third one: what’s different now ?

      Well in 2010, Abbas slap bitched Obama nine months into a building freeze imposed on Israel by the US President. Hezbollah was doing great, the Egyptian structural crisis was looming larger every day, the US were leaving Irak and Gaza was smoldering from Hamas’ show of martyrdom in support of its strategic goal: no peace, never.

      Three years and an Arab Spring later, Meshal fled Damas, Syria is a butchery, Nasrallah went into Homs, Ahmedinejad is gone, the Muslim Brothers went up and down in Egypt and a world economic crisis came in.

      The Palestinian Authority is in tatter, Fayyad refuses to govern it for the exclusive profit of its caïds and their customers. Hamas, the other illegitimate palestinian government, is not so popular, it has been neutralized by an Iron Dome and is now financially strangled by the Egyptian Army on the other border of Gaza.

      When Abbas and Hanyeh look at Syrian refugee camps in Jordan, I think they know it can get a lot worse.

      And their constituencies see the same image on their TV screen.

      The word is peace.

      Real peace.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Engelbert Luitsz

      The zionist and AIPAC member Indyk and the war criminal Livni are the brokers of deceit in this round. Surely they will try to trade the West Bank for more pasta. (are poets still denied entry?)

      Reply to Comment
      • aristeides

        WINEP founder Indyk.

        Reply to Comment
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