x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Israel shows talks are a way to avoid reaching real peace

Stalling for time, just like finger-pointing, is a political tool to avoid making concessions that are essential for political solutions

Finger-pointing is a political stalling technique that Palestinians must learn to use to their ­benefit, an Arabic-language columnist says.

After nearly nine months of negotiations that included unprecedented diplomatic efforts by the talks’ patron, US secretary of state John Kerry, the peace process came to a halt last week. Exasperated with seeing his attempts to establish a baseline understanding upon which to build a viable peace deal foiled time and again, Mr Kerry announced on Friday that the US had decided that it’s time for a “reality-check” about the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks and that America is rethinking its role in the negotiations.

The US move followed a decision by the Palestinian leadership to seek further recognition from various UN agencies and the Israeli government’s decision to renege on its promise to release a fourth and final batch of veteran Palestinian prisoners.

“The Palestinian move to adhere to UN organisations was a riposte to Israel’s extortion and arrogance,” said the Dubai-based daily Al Bayan in its Friday editorial.

“Strangely, many observers surmise that it was the Palestinian UN move that brought the talks to the brink of collapse, as if it were unfathomable that it was Israel reneging on its promises and its incessant violations against Palestinians and their territories that triggered the other side’s reaction,” the paper added.

Blaming the Palestinians for every hiccup in the peace process has come to be expected. In fact, countries have come to adopt finger-pointing as a culture and a tool to dodge responsibility, suggested the journalist Raghida Dargham in an opinion article for the pan-Arab daily Al Hayat.

From the start, and despite Mr Kerry’s goodwill, he has been driving the peace process into a dead-end. Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas has tried his best to avoid falling into the blame trap, where he would be solely held ­responsible for failed US attempts, Dargham suggested.

“But Abu Mazen was set up to receive blame; it is a policy preprogrammed by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been making sure Mr Kerry’s efforts would eventually hit a dead-end,” she wrote.

But, what kind of strategy does the Palestinian Authority have in place for the post-talks phase? Seeking international recognition and integration isn’t sufficient in this regard. What the PA needs is a pre-emptive strategy to face the ­accusations coming its way.

No matter how they might want to portray themselves as wanting to negotiate, the Israelis surely don’t want a two-state solution to materialise.

“Their goal is to circumvent the talks’ objectives and to thwart the peace process,” Dargham went on to say.

“They are prepared to hold the Palestinian side responsible and to mobilise American public opinion to support them in their condemnation campaign.”

It is clear that Mr Netanyahu and his government are preparing themselves for a blaming phase that will follow the end of the peace talks.

For the Israelis, peace talks were a convenient pretext to buy more time. Unlike the other side, they had nothing to lose and, as it turned out, they didn’t lose a thing.

On the contrary, Israel went ahead with its territorial expansion plans and its settlement-building projects undeterred.

For his part, Zein El Abidin Al Rakabi wrote in the London-based daily Asharq Al Awsat about his indignation at Mr Kerry’s statement holding both parties accountable for the gridlock.

“This is a grave injustice,” he remarked. “The Americans have asked both parties to make sizeable or painful concessions – which in itself was unfair. In truth, Palestinians have made so many concessions short of giving up altogether on their basic rights.”

Almost four decades after it was initiated, the peace process seems to be out of wind. Its historic patron, the US, is experiencing a phase of political recoil that significantly undermines its sway in this matter.

Mr Kerry’s investment in the process was indeed based on goodwill, but allowing the negotiations to linger any longer without tangible breakthroughs is a waste of time and credibility.

Meanwhile, there are no indications yet as to whether there will be a return to armed confrontations between Palestinians and Israelis.

A legal battle – and the battle for legitimacy – seem to be the more likely scenarios in the near future, as Palestine is adamant about ­acquiring official international recognition that allows it to take Israel to court over illegal settlement ­expansion, among other crimes.

Stalling for time, just like finger-pointing, is a political tool to avoid making concessions that are essential for political solutions.

For the Palestinian-Israeli issue, the process itself has become the objective, whether or not it leads to peace.