03/09/2010

Dead end

Yesterday in Washington, the handshake between Mahmud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu opened a new round of negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis. Only change noted yesterday, the leaders agreed to meet every two weeks to progress towards a peace agreement. But nobody could ignore the discontentment that has prevailed for two weeks in the Palestinian Territories. The attacks this week by Hamas are merely one expression of it, more visible because violent. Since the announcement of the resumption of negotiations, the Palestinian civil society in its majority has repeatedly criticized the decision of Mahmud Abbas, whom she accuses of having sold the Palestinian participation at the conditions imposed by Israel.

Concerning Israel Prime Minister, no concessions are foreseen for the moment whether on the status of Jerusalem, the continuation of settlement or the right of return for Palestinian refugees. Although he spoke of « painful concessions » required from both parties, not one Israeli concession is looming on the horizon yet.

In his speech Benjamin Netanyahu also stressed that the withdrawal from southern Lebanon and the Gaza Strip had not had the effect of stopping terrorism. It is obvious that the attacks this week by Hamas against Israeli settlers will reinforce the Israeli position in the negotiations. Netanyahu admits the creation of a Palestinian state only if the airspace and borders remain under Israeli control, and that for « safety reasons ».

But the most controversial issue is undoubtedly that of the colonies. Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian chief negotiator announced early last week that the Palestinians would withdraw from talks if the moratorium on the settlement was not extended by Israel. But according toHaaretz, the U.S. administration is now pressuring Abbas to accept to negotiate, despite a resumption of settlement building.

The process of negotiations is thus already meeting a dead end where Mahmud Abbas cannot accept the resumption of settlement building while negotiating, with the risk of a political death. On the other hand, Netanyahu knows that an extension of the moratorium means the downfall of his government. So the common ground is thin, if not nonexistent. To get out of this cul-de-sac, two scenarios are possible. First, to let Mahmud Abbas impose the conditions of peace to his people by force. The consequence will be the establishment of a Palestinian police state, where freedom of expression and association will be restricted keep the Palestinian  Authority in Fatah’s hands.

The second scenario is preferable. Benjamin Netanyahu could indeed rebuild a new coalition including Kadima and excluding the supporters of the settlers. This would make possible the continuation of the moratorium on the settlement. To achieve this, the American pressure should influence the Israeli government, not Mahmud Abbas. Unfortunately it is very likely that the pro-Israel lobby will not allow the Obama administration to do so. The horizon of this new round of negotiations seems really bleak.

Nathalie Janne d’Othée