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Occupation magazine - Commentary

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Coercive diplomacy

By Abdaljawad Hamayel
Ma`an News Agency

Reports have surfaced of mounting American pressure vis-a-vis the Palestinian Authority and President Mahmoud Abbas to accept unconditionally the start of direct talks with his Israeli counterparts.

PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat, in a recent interview with the The Financial Times, made clear that Palestinians would pay a political price whether they accepted or rejected the American proposal.

We are in a situation where we are damned if we do and damned if we dont. There is a cost if we agree [to direct talks] and a cost if we dont, he told the British publication.

And so it seems that the US envoy for Middle East peace, George Mitchell, is using a `coercive approach` backed by the Obama administration in its showcase of diplomatic progress over which the US appears adamant at placing both sides across the table.

Palestinian negotiators have repeatedly said that in principle they do not object to holding direct negotiations on the condition that Israelis halt settlements in the entire West Bank including East Jerusalem. The current partial freeze on settlement expansion that expires in September is only placed on settlements within the rest of the West Bank excluding East Jerusalem, which many supporters of the two-state solution see as the future capital of a Palestinian state.

The Palestinian demand of a complete freeze on settlement building is based on the historical failure of the peace process, in which Israel continued the build-up of illegal settlements while simultaneously negotiating with the PA. This has repeatedly undermined the Palestinian leadership among its own constituency and has served as the genesis for the rise of more Islamist and radical elements in politics.

A recent video of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dating back to 2001 shows him bragging on how he disrupted the Oslo peace process by manipulating the United States, stating, I know what America is. America is something that can easily be moved, moved to the right direction. He added that the US would not get in our way.

What way was Netanyahu referring to? To the successive governments policies of building illegal settlements on Palestinian land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

At this juncture, American pressure on the PA and the use of coercive diplomacy to instigate direct negotiations without a complete freeze on settlements including East Jerusalem unfortunately seems to be like an endless replay of the same movie, in which Netanyahu successfully circumvents the initial American pressure diverting it to the Palestinians, who are unfortunately more vulnerable due to the lack of pro-Palestinian institutional lobbying in the US.

The fact that Americans are willing the jeopardize once again the entire peace process in order to navigate around pressuring Israel indicates why such negotiations have failed thus far. The only way for these negotiations to result in a comprehensive end of the conflict is for the US to call like it is.

American diplomatic strategy in dealing with the Palestinian-Israeli conflict must focus on the reality on the ground and not on the empty promises given in closed rooms that have no political consequences for the actors giving them. Using coercive diplomacy yet again toward the Palestinians has resulted in the weakening of Abbas locally and has not been met by any significant positive steps from the Israeli side.

Palestinians in the West Bank have significantly worked on reforming public institutions and have ensured security for both Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinians have rejected violence, specifically under the leadership of President Abbas, who went as far as declaring the entire Second Intifada a mistake. Palestinians are showcasing their ability to abide by international conditions as outlined in the Road Map for Peace, which ironically was partially written by Mitchell himself.

Israel, on the other hand, has shown no sign whatsoever of derailing its settlement enterprise, a major condition in the plan envisioned by the Quartet.

These and other violations including the build-up of a wall on Palestinian land, proclaimed illegal by the International Court of Justice advisory opinion in July of 2004. Not to mention the endless human rights violation, well-documented by several human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Israeli B`Tselem, etc. Then there`s the unnecessary restrictions on movement, the inequitable distribution of water within the West Bank, and the very fact of an illegal occupation in which an entire population is held under military rule that at times seems more than trigger happy and to say the least morally corrupt.

American pressure on the PA to accept direct talks without a complete freeze on settlements seems to be misplaced and strategically flawed. It only aims at presenting the world with what is perceived as progress and in giving President Obama a foreign policy win without arousing the fury of Israels comrades in the US before he and the Democratic Party enter into a heavily contested midterm election.

America has a vested interest in ending a conflict that arouses strong anti-American sentiments across the region, particularly when the two wars it is involved in hinge largely on local sentiment. American strategic interest is peace and to achieve peace it has to learn from its past mistakes. It must be the honest broker it proclaims itself to be.

Abdaljawad Hamayel a Palestinian writer completing his masters degree at the Johns Hopkins University`s School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC.

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