9/5/2013

The Israeli-Palestinian negotiations – what runs behind the scenes

The Israeli and Palestinian teams conducted already 5-6 rounds of meetings and the Palestinian sources so far expressed disappointment. Nabil Sha'ath for example, member of Fatah Supreme Committee told Ma'an News last night http://www.maannews.net/arb/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=627126 that until now the parties were still engaged in trying to fix an agenda and to arrange list of topics to discuss about and did not enter negotiations yet.
The PLO leader Abu Mazen gave a detailed speech earlier this week in front of the Fatah Revolutionary Committee in which he exposed his concerns and hopes. The telling fact was that he did not express hope for the negotiations to succeed but instead elaborated the importance of mobilizing international support for the Palestinian cause and the boycott on Israel because of the settlements.
It means that as far as the Palestinians are concerned they perceive the negotiations not as aim but as tool to mobilize pressures on Israel. The EU boycott on Israel on the background of the settlements was perceived in the speech as strategic success and Abu Mazen mentioned that also the USA positions are not far from the EU's that can be understood that the PLO aspires at widening the gaps between Israel and the USA as it happened with the EU. Hence, it is classical blame game strategy that is aiming not at reaching an agreement but at triggering the USA to present a "bridging paper" that will create a friction between the USA and Israel.
That's why the main complaint of the PLO is not regarding lack of progress- to the contrary lack of progress serves their interests – but the low profile involvement of the USA part – Martin Indyk. That's exactly why the Israelis are not interested in his presence or deep involvement.
The format of bilateral negotiations is not liked by the Palestinians either because it suggests an agreement and not compelling Israel into international dictate. So, not only the low profile of the USA involvement bothers them but also the disappearance of the Quartet from the frame. That's why the main Palestinian negotiator Sa'eb Areiqat went to Moscow last week- to try and revive the Quartet that Russia is a member in. but the chances of the quartet to return into the frame are slim to zero because of the superpowers showdown over Syria and EU boycott measures against Israel.
Last meeting in Jerusalem was very telling in this respect: exactly at the same time when the delegations met- without Indyk – the Fatah Revolutionary Committee was in session in Ramallah. There were telephone calls exchange between Ramallah and the Palestinian delegates in Jerusalem. As far as we know from Palestinian sources the exchange was not about how the negotiations go, but about the next stages of prisoners release. The need to make these clarifications stemmed from the doubts whether Israel will proceed with releasing prisoners also without progress in the negotiations. This discloses the PLO strategy not to have the negotiations succeed but rather have the prisoners free. If this is correct – we expect future crises to erupt not on the issue of the negotiations but on the issue of prisoners.
However, issues of negotiations are also discussed for the sake of trying to fix an agenda. Here the two conflicting concepts prevent an agreement. While the PLO insists to base the negotiations on the UN state resolution based on 1967 borders, the Israelis insist on basing the agenda on the security needs. The latest events in Syria and the weak western position to face genocide in Syria only emboldened Israel strong view on not relying on international forces as caretakers for the security. We understood that this argument was very forceful in this week meeting in Jerusalem.
So, the only formula the Israelis can agree to is of interim borders that keep the main depth of the West Bank in actual Israeli hands while the final borders have to include the major settlements blocks with possible swaps. But as interim borders are not negotiable because of the UN resolution on Palestinian statehood, so the only option is to have final borders agreement with large Israeli settlements blocks.
Last night AP published a comment by Palestinian source that Israel agreed to evacuate settlements and army bases in the middle of the West Bank and give them not-destroyed to the PLO as part of a deal on temporary agreement. http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4426295,00.html Nabil Sha'ath in the above mentioned reference denied the report, but it fits the Israeli position about interim solution. We cannot rule out that in a side chat the Israelis tried to lure the Palestinians into accepting the interim solution approach but as the Palestinians are not targeting agreement but pressures on Israel as strategy they are not going to be lured.

Sun up- until now the negotiations did not produce agenda and not even negotiating teams. This does not bother the Palestinians as they are not interested in agreement but in mobilizing international pressures on Israel. They focus at this stage in completing the release of prisoners and we expect crises to erupt on this issue and not on lack of progress in the negotiations.