x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Concession on 1967 borders is last-ditch effort

The Palestinian Authority has offered to resume talks, and given up its insistence on 1967 borders. It was the last bargaining chip, and its surrender shows the desperate straits of the two-state solution.

Desperate times call for desperate measures, as the old saying goes. And with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu resolutely stamping out hopes of a negotiated two-state solution, these are indeed desperate times for the fractured Palestinian leadership.

On Wednesday, Nabil Shaath, a member of Fatah's central committee, announced that Palestinian negotiators would be willing to drop their demand for a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders - that is, a state bounded by territory seized by Israel in the Naksa, or 1967 War. As a condition for resuming peace talks, Palestinian negotiators demand a settlement freeze.

This is the last concession that the Palestinian Authority had to offer - that negotiators would do so now is, in part, an acknowledgement that the clock is ticking on a viable two-state solution as Israel daily changes the facts on the ground. In recent days, Mr Netanyahu refused to abide by Israel's Supreme Court's decision to evacuate settlers from an illegal settlement in Hebron. By calling for resumed talks at the same time, the Israeli prime minister barely bothers with a fig leaf to hide his duplicity.

Under the circumstances, many Palestinians will object to negotiations on this basis. The 1967 borders are one of three crucial elements for a lasting peace, alongside refugees' right of return (which Israel refuses to even discuss) and control of East Jerusalem (which, as the Palestinian Papers showed last year, negotiators have already offered to surrender).

Israelis may imagine these concessions are to their benefit, but because lasting peace is impossible without resolution on all of these three issues, they are doing themselves no favours. The hell-bent pace of settlement building might ensure that a two-state solution becomes impossible on the ground, but demographics and basic justice will always be against an apartheid Greater Israel.

The latest offer does apply pressure by showing that Palestinians genuinely want to reach a lasting peace. The international community, we hope, will throw more weight behind Palestinian claims.

But a deal based on these terms would be a disaster. Israel is unlikely to halt settlement building, even if negotiations resume. Its last settlement "freeze" was nothing of the sort. In the long term, Palestinians must make their case through international diplomacy and peaceful resistance.

In a sense, then, this concession is merely symbolic, but it highlights the weaknesses of the current Palestinian leadership. The Palestinian Authority needs to play to its strengths before there is nothing left to negotiate about.