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Friday, July 30, 2010

The "direct talks" farce

The world is abuzz over the supposed fact that the Arab League has given Mahmoud Abbas the green light to hold direct talks with Israel.

From what I can tell, that is not what happened.

Abbas has been adding pre-condition upon pre-condition for months, saying that he cannot agree to direct talks until he gets specific, written concessions from Israel in advance. He has demanded a complete and permanent halt to settlement building (not just a freeze,) a pre-condition of progress in the indirect talks (which were in themselves something that he only agreed to after massive US pressure,) a newer pre-condition of Israel accepting the 1949 armistice lines as the basis of talks and then a condition that Israel accept an international force to guard those borders.

It must be understood that all of these conditions are a violation of the status quo. Abbas had negotiated with Israel directly in the past, as did his predecessor Arafat.

Both Arafat and Abbas, when given real (and foolhardy) peace proposals that would have resulted in a Palestinian Arab state, rejected them when they did not get their maximal demands. They have consistently refused to compromise, which is of course what negotiations are meant to do. They have played a waiting game for the world to pressure Israel to make every concession but have never come forward with their own plan that would take into account any of Israel's legitimate concerns besides empty promises.

Abbas is no fool. He knows that his biggest weapon is the myth of Israeli intransigence, even over decades of Israeli and Jewish offers of peace. But he also sensed that he must give the illusion of flexibility to keep world public opinion on his side.

So he added a new card on the table. He demanded concessions before real negotiations can start. Now, if he agrees to negotiate, he can appear to have given a concession himself - a completely inconsequential agreement to an Israeli demand that has no bearing on the final status of the relation between the two sides. Abbas has turned the idea of direct negotiations into a proxy for real concessions.


This is a tricky game, because he needs to save face for the Palestinian Arabs. He cannot simply say that all his conditions are now out the window. But he can use the Arab League as window dressing to move towards this illusory concession, making the Western diplomats/wishful thinkers ecstatic that they have achieved a "breakthrough" and then they would ask Israel to give up something real in return.

Look at what the Arab League really said:

Hamad bin Jassem bin Jabr al-Thani, who chaired a meeting of foreign ministers and representatives, spoke in response to a question about whether they had given Abbas a green light to start talks.

"I'll be clear. There is an agreement but with the understanding of what will be discussed and how the direct negotiations will be conducted. And we will leave the assessment of the position to the Palestinian president as to when the conditions allow the beginning of such negotiations," he said.

Arab League chief Amr Mussa said at the press conference that written guarantees were required for direct talks.

There "must be written guarantees ... and the negotiations should be serious and final status talks," he said.
The Arab League isn't pressuring Abbas to negotiate. They are providing cover for his position which hasn't changed. If he decides to cave to pressure from Washington, he now knows that the Arab League will not denounce him - which is significant - but he can make it appear to be a huge concession on his part.

The fact is that Palestinian Arab statehood was never the goal. Palestinian Arab nationalism was never a positive movement for the liberation of a people. Since its inception, it has been a reaction and a weapon against Zionism and Jewish self-determination, not a desire to see a Palestinian Arab nation emerge. The idea that Jerusalem is a necessity for such a state proves the point - if a people yearn for freedom, they should eagerly accept a state being handed to them. Only if the goal of the state is to weaken and ultimately destroy another state does this entire farce make any sense.

A people yearning for independence would pressure their leadership to accept that independence as quickly as possible, not to wait for years for more and more concessions. A people yearning to be free would be working on real state-building. They would be demanding that their brethren be released from the UN-administered camps in their very midst. They would be insisting that their people who are stuck in neighboring countries be either given equal rights in those host countries - or allowed to emigrate into their "promised land."

None of this is happening. Instead, the world is sidetracked and distracted by these silly games of "direct talks" and "written guarantees" which are simply smokescreens for the fact that Palestinian Arabs have been screwed by their own and other Arab leaders for decades. They were pawns in 1948 and they are no less pawns today, for the exact same reason - to enable the Arab nation to pressure, weaken and ultimately destroy Israel.

Instead of allowing the world to see this reality, the facts are hidden by layer upon layer of obfuscation, distraction, misdirection, false history, propaganda, and baldfaced lies. "Direct talks" is merely the latest of this ever growing list.

The entire framework is an elaborate game in which the rules have been rigged by its creators, a game within which Israel cannot possibly win but only delay its own ultimate destruction. After a Palestinian Arab state would be established, the next round of demands will bubble up from those who didn't accept these terms, and over years the next set of demands will become more reasonable sounding by dint of their very repetition and acceptance by plenty of Westerners who claim to only yearn for "peace."

(h/t Daled Amos for the list of Abbas preconditions)