24. Aug, 2010
“Despite the fact that Obama and the Europeans act like Abbas is the head of a Palestine government, he represents almost no one but a largely corrupt cabal armed and financed by the Americans and the European Union“
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton has announced that direct “negotiations” between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas will begin on September 2, 2010. It is reported that Abbas agreed to these talks only after heavy pressure from both the United States and the European Union. As part of the pressure President Obama is said to have told Abbas in June that the U.S. could do more to help the Palestinians if direct negotiations were ongoing.
George Mitchell, the United States special Middle East envoy, vowed that Washington would be an “active and sustained partner” and when necessary would offer “bridging proposals” to move the negotiations along. Abbas, who is the head of Fatah, has agreed to enter the negotiations without preconditions. The only proviso he has put forth is that if Israel suspends its “settlement freeze” he will stop participating in the talks. We shall see.
To take just one example, in 2000 Yasir Arafat was pressured by President Bill Clinton to attend Camp David II. Arafat, who was a more skillful leader than Abbas, knew that there had not been a proper groundwork laid for a successful summit between himself and then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. But the Americans got him to the table by promising to be “active” and “impartial” in the process and also not to lay blame on any one party if the talks failed.
Barak showed up with a list of “red-line” non-negotiable items and demands that foredoomed the meeting. Clinton was active all right, but most of his activity was directed at twisting Arafat’s arm to give in to the Israelis. When, despite a number of compromises on the part of the Palestinians, the talks failed, Clinton betrayed his promise to Arafat and publically blamed him for the failure.
Abbas is in an even weaker position than Arafat was. At least Arafat was a respected statesman and the elected leader of the Palestinian people. Abbas is not generally supported by his people as witnessed by the fact that his Fatah party was defeated in free and fair elections by Hamas in January 2006. Despite the fact that Obama and the Europeans act like Abbas is the head of a Palestine government, he represents almost no one but a largely corrupt cabal armed and financed by the Americans and the European Union–which might have a lot to do with their ability to get him to the negotiating table.
Even though Abbas’s status as the leader of the Palestinians is open to question, Obama will try to do to him what Clinton was not able to do to Arafat, that is brow beat Abbas into signing an agreement with the Israelis.
Assuming that this is accomplished, the question is how would Abbas implement the agreement?
Prime Minister Netanyahu has proclaimed that an agreement with the Palestinians is “doable.” But that just means he sees Abbas as weak and vulnerable and therefore more easily cheated out of a Palestinian homeland than any prior Palestinian leader.
And what does President Obama get out of this exercise?
Well, he is able to say that he too is trying really hard to settle this seemingly endless conflict. He promised to try to do so, and here he is keeping his promise. That should carry him through the November elections. Further down the line, however, he has made the political mistake of promising to present his own peace plan if, after one year of negotiating, the Israelis and Palestinians have not made serious progress. If things actually work out this way, Obama might find himself, by virtue of his peace plan, in the midst of political turmoil just as he prepares for reelection. After all, how does the President implement any prospective plan? By waving a magic wand and making all the political obstacles presented by the Zionist lobby go away? Or does he just put it on the table and then run away from it?
Just to vary the perspective, here is a possibly relevant comparative case. At the beginning of 1918 Leon Trotsky, the People’s Commissar for Foreign Policy in the new revolutionary Soviet government, sat in the city of Brest-Litovsk (located today in Belarus) trying to negotiate a peace treaty with the aggressive representatives of imperial Germany. World War I was still raging and the German armies had been consistently victorious on the eastern front. As a result, the Russian army was in a state of collapse. For their part the Bolsheviks were desperate to end the war so that they could concentrate on consolidating power in a struggle against competing Russian forces. In other words, at Brest-Litovsk the Germans held all the cards. So they demanded that Trotsky stop lecturing them on the dialectical nature of class conflict and accept terms that essentially turned most of western Russia into a satellite of the German Empire. Trotsky was appalled. But the pan-European revolution that was suppose to tip the balance of power in favor of Communism had not materialized, and Vladimir Lenin decided that to not accept peace on German terms would mean the eventual collapse of the young Soviet government in Russia. Lenin forced the Bolshevik Central Committee to accept the draconian treaty terms laid down by the Germans. The catch in all of this is that the Germany went on to lose the war on the western front which meant that the balance of power in the east finally did shift in favor of the Soviet regime. The men in Moscow were very lucky.
Is there a lesson here for the Palestinians?
The Palestinian struggle is also a two front affair. There is Palestine proper and then a worldwide front where a movement of civil society seeks to isolate the Israeli government because of its barbarous behavior and policies. If the fate of South Africa is an applicable precedent, that front should gain strength and eventually raise the cost of occupation and apartheid in Israel to a point where the Israeli government serious considers a change of policies.
In the meantime, what should the West Bank Palestinians do?
Should they make amends with Hamas and continue to resist as best they can for however long it takes to wear the Israelis down–assuming that can be done?
Or should they cut their losses and sign a draconian treaty with the Israelis in the hope that, when and if, Tel Aviv loses the war on the worldwide front, the treaty terms can be favorably restructured?
Of course, moving in that direction raises the question of whether such a deal might not take the wind out of the anti-Israel boycott movement, and thereby weaken the second front?
Then there is the question, what does Abbas and his Fatah party followers really want? Do they want a just peace for the Palestinians, or like Lenin, do they want to consolidate their power even if it is in a diminished Palestine?
It is a complicated affair and there are no clear cut answers to any of these questions.
"This is not a time to mince words as this is literally a day of judgment for our prime minister and government," said Naftali Bennett, head of Yesha, the main association of settlers in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territory.
Yesha wrote a letter warning Netanyahu there would be "serious diplomatic and political implications" if he reneges on his promise to resume issuing building permits for settler homes when a partial, 10-month moratorium concludes on September 26.
The Palestinians initially insisted they would not sit at the negotiating table with the Israelis without guarantees the moratorium on building permits be extended.
But no such guarantee has been made public in statements from the US administration sponsoring the talks and the Middle East peace Quartet when they announced the new round of negotiations.
River to Sea Uprooted Palestinian