While President Obama prepares for a photo-op for the resumption of direct negotiations between the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and Israel, Palestinians got ready for protests (1). There is frustration and anger in the Palestinian streets, in the minibuses that serve as public transport as much as among the political activists. The PNA decision to resume direct talks with Israel has provoked an almost unprecedented climate of tension between the Palestinian people and their leadership.
Palestinians have struggled for over 60 years for a just peace that respects their rights and they continue to do so today. Why do Palestinians then resent the PNA entering into negotiations, which aim to reach an agreement within one year?
For Palestinians living with the daily effects of Israeli policies, the answer is clear: None of the necessary conditions that would allow the negotiations to bring about a just peace, that is the respect for international law and human rights, are in place.
The world community has accepted international norms on which to build justice and international relations. International law is clear regarding Palestine: settlements and the Wall, appropriation of land via force, the annexation of Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights, apartheid systems like the one imposed on Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the continued denial of the refugeesâ right to return to their homes are all internationally recognized as illegal. Israel has the legal obligation to end these violations of international law and the international community has the duty to ensure Israeli compliance. Based on international law, negotiations would be straight forward. Yet, all rhetoric surrounding the negotiations carefully avoids mention of these rights, rules and treaties. In this void, it is only the balance of power to guide the negotiating parties and, under these conditions, Palestinians are bound to lose in front of the US-Israeli alliance.
In fact, the very way in which the negotiations have been re-launched, is a resounding victory for the law of the jungle over the law of nations. The PNA has demanded as a pre-condition for negotiations a settlement freeze â the very constructions, which together with the Wall annex almost 50% of the West Bank and make a two state solution impossible. Israel instead has declared defiantly that it would end a phoney 6-months settlement âfreezeâ, the main effect of which was to concentrate illegal settlement construction within Jerusalem district. The Wall construction and home demolitions continue unabated, which have forced some 266,442 Palestinians in 78 communities into impossible living conditions which will force them from their homes (2). The US and the Quartet failed to press Israel to stop any of these crimes, and the PNA appears to have surrendered by not insisting that these continuous violations of international law are addressed before negotiations start.
The Palestinian people have no doubt about the outcome of the talks: it wonât respect even the most basic precepts of international law and human rights and wonât bring peace because the legacy of previous negotiations remains unchallenged. The latest efforts merely evoke the vision of a âstateâ with temporary borders traced by an illegal Apartheid Wall, where Palestinians will be forced to exchange the pursuit of self-determination and their human rights with such a truncated âstatehoodâ made up of Bantustans on less than 13% of their homeland.
If the outcome can be predicted, then why re-start the negotiations?
The current PNA leadership knows that most of their capacity to stay in power depends on support from Western powers and their ongoing cash flow. The financial crisis created recently by the donor community was therefore an effective tool to convince the PNA to agree to negotiations. Furthermore, the PNA prime minister Salam Fayyad has committed himself to the establishment of a Palestinian state by mid-2011 in order to justify his hold on power. Both Netanyahu and Obama know that this is probably the last chance for them to deal with a Palestinian leadership that is weak enough to be potentially coaxed into an agreement along the lines of an Israeli vision of Bantustans.
The White House is in dire need of an international success. Despite Obamaâs inspiring rhetoric, the US has not gotten out of the quagmire in Afghanistan and Iraq. The âwithdrawalâ of US military from Iraq, which somehow bypasses the continued presence of more than 50 000 military personnel, only marked the inglorious end of a failed war of destruction.
Israel has probably the deepest interest in âpeace talksâ without a hope for positive results. A scenario modelled after the âOslo Processâ will help Israel to re-direct international criticism for its crimes against the Palestinian people towards an expectant approval of its commitment to negotiations. That process has shown Israel is good at paying lip service to Western-backed negotiations whilst bulldozers continue to destroy and steal Palestinian land and demolish homes for settlements.
This time around there is a sense of urgency for Israel as the global movement for boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) is starting to bite. As opposed to decades of inconclusive negotiations, within five years of the call for BDS by Palestinian civil society, Israel is feeling concrete pressure to end its violations of international law. Settlement business announces huge economic damage (3); the Norwegian Minister of Finance last week announced the divestment of the national pension fund from two additional Israeli companies involved in war crimes against the Palestinian people (4). Elbit Systems, a major Israeli arms company, has seen over the last year 13 financial institutions announcing the exclusion of its shares from their portfolio (5). Trade unions, artists, intellectuals, churches and student campuses have joined the BDS movement.
If the PNA wants to represent Palestinian rights based on international law, it should take the lead from its people, which call for Israeli accountability, instead of calling for a return to the negotiations table. If the international community really wants to promote peace in the region, it has to put pressure on Israel until it is ready to accept the validity of international law and human rights.