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Dim Prospects for Peace

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by Wafa Amr

6 Apr 09 | Ha’aretz

Benjamin Netanyahu’s noncommittal attitude toward Palestinian independence and the appointment of Avigdor Lieberman as foreign minister is a problem for those seeking a two-state solution.

The United States is at a loss as to how to deal with Netanyahu and his rightist coalition. U.S. President Barack Obama, determined to part from the policies of his predecessor George W. Bush, who stalled on peace-making in this region, appointed George Mitchell his peace envoy two days after taking office. His hopes for early engagement were dashed. Not only is Obama facing Israeli evasiveness on the two-state solution, he is uncertain what type of Palestinian government he will be dealing with – if moderate Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad insists on resigning to make way for a unity government that may or may not be committed to PLO-Israel peace deals.

Jordan, where some 60 percent of the population is of Palestinian origin, is worried about the prospects of internal instability if Netanyahu fails to restart a political process with the Palestinians that will lead to statehood. Jordanians genuinely fear the revival of Israeli calls to transform the small kingdom into an alternative homeland for the Palestinians.

Egypt, mediating between Israel and Hamas for the release of abducted soldier Gilad Shalit, and between the Palestinian factions to end rivalries and divisions, is also disturbed. The last thing Egypt wants is to end up with responsibility for Gaza if Israel pushes the Hamas-run coastal strip into its arms.

Other Arab states are also under pressure. The offensive on Gaza has raised the level of Arab hostility toward Israel, increased demands to retract the Arab peace initiative and escalated calls for internal reforms.

However, there are Palestinians – and they are many – who believe Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition may be good for the Palestinians. Those Palestinians believe it is time the world started dealing with a government that accurately reflects its hard-line policies, rather than engage with a government that poses as a peacemaker but carries out rightist policies on the ground.

Prospects for peace now seem dimmer than ever. The Palestinians have no illusions that Netanyahu will offer peace proposals that would satisfy the aspirations of any Palestinian – basically ending the occupation and establishing a state on lands occupied during the 1967 war. The Palestinians argue that the burden is now on the international community to take practical steps to ensure that Israel commits to a two-state solution, halts settlement activity and engages to “make” peace – not run in vicious circles in a futile peace “process.”

Ehud Olmert’s land offers to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his comments on the division of Jerusalem may seem, to Israelis, far too generous. But the Palestinians saw a frenzy of settlement activity and daily incursions by Israeli troops into West Bank cities that led to the loss of the Palestinian Authority’s political viability, because it is engaged in negotiations while facts continue to be created on the ground.

Under Netanyahu and his right-wing allies, the Palestinians expect to see more settlement growth, more Palestinian homes demolished in East Jerusalem, and a resistance to relinquishing security control to the Palestinians in West Bank cities. Settlements and the absence of sovereign security mechanisms contradict the very purpose of these negotiations: To end occupation and create an independent, viable, contiguous state.

Abbas, who shuns violence and believes that negotiations are the only path to statehood, is in a dilemma. A senior Palestinian official said Abbas told U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her visit to Ramallah last month that Tzipi Livni refused to join Netanyahu’s coalition because he did not explicitly support a two-state solution, “so do you expect me to accept less than Livni?”

Abbas’ peace policies have been further discredited at home and abroad by the Israeli offensive in Gaza. His Islamist rival Hamas declared victory against Israel and seeks to reap the benefits of the victor in reconciliation talks with Fatah in Cairo. It is unclear if the deep ideological differences between Fatah and Hamas can be reconciled in talks in Cairo, scheduled to begin next month, or whether the Palestinians would agree on a political platform of a new government consistent with international requirements to keep the much-needed aid flowing.

But it is clear that Abbas and Palestinian moderates are left with little time and little remaining credibility to prove the rightness of their path. With a right-wing government in Israel and slim chances of a final deal, the Palestinians are at a critical crossroad. They need to start a serious debate on what course to take. They tried fighting without negotiations, but that course failed and led to their isolation. They tried negotiations and fighting, which got them nowhere; and briefly, they tried only negotiations, but that also got them no closer to statehood.

In the meantime, for the Palestinian Authority to engage in negotiations without sustaining further damage, it is preconditioning a complete freeze on settlement activity and a halt to raids in the West Bank. International donors’ aid and Netanyahu’s economic peace will not stop the erosion in the credibility of Palestinian moderates who are expected to sign a “political” deal with Israel to end the conflict.

Unless the Palestinians see Israel freezing settlement activity and really relinquishing security control, they will continue to have serious doubts as to whether it is part of Israel’s intentions to accept a Palestinian state next to Israel – not only in Gaza, but more importantly in the West Bank as well.

Therefore, Palestinians believe the world can now see for itself that a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu, which does not support a two-state solution, might well bring about the option that neither Palestinians nor Israelis want: the one-state solution. The dissolution of the Palestinian Authority by further losing credibility would amount to admitting the bankruptcy of the negotiations path.

The writer has covered the Middle East, and Palestinian-Israeli relations in particular, for a host of international news organizations.

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Written by Editors

6 April 2009 at 2:41 am

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