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Ramallah seeks an out

by Khaled Amayreh
Al-Ahram Weekly
4 - 10 November 2010

The Palestinian leadership is looking for side exits from a moribund peace process that appears set to collapse, writes in the West Bank

Increasingly frustrated by US inability -- or unwillingness -- to force Israel to end its decades-old military occupation of Palestinian territories, the Palestinian Authority (PA) is preparing a list of alternatives that would forestall the looming breakdown of US- sponsored talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Obama administration has been saying that the only path the Middle East peace process should take is of direct bilateral talks between the two sides. However, under the rubric of direct or indirect talks, Israel has continued unrelenting settlement expansion schemes in the West Bank and especially in occupied East Jerusalem, often flying in the face of American and international calls for a new settlement moratorium that would allow for the resumption of peace talks.

The PA, itself coming under strong public pressure to adopt a stronger position vis-à-vis Israeli intransigence and arrogance, has vowed to boycott already precarious talks if the Binyamin Netanyahu government refuses to freeze settlement building. For its part, the Israeli government has vowed to go on building more settlements, which Palestinians and international observers argue will destroy any remaining possibility for the creation of a viable and territorially-contiguous Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders.

The entire peace process is based on the assumption that a viable Palestinian state will be created alongside Israel. But constant and unmitigated Israeli land grabbing in the occupied territories, the presumed future home of the would-be Palestinian state, is underscoring the precariousness of the peace process and the near impossibility of establishing a real Palestinian state.

Unable to convince the US to exert pressure on Israel, mainly due to the immense influence of the American Jewish lobby on US policy on the Palestinian issue, the visibly weak Palestinian leadership has been consulting with key Arab states, such as Egypt, for the purpose of putting up a joint diplomatic Arab plan to force Israel to stop its strident settlement expansion plans.

According to PA officials, the first alternative being contemplated is to try to persuade the Obama administration to recognise a Palestinian state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem if Israel refuses to stop settlement expansion. `For the time being, we are focussing on the first option, namely negotiations,` PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was quoted saying late last week.

However, it is highly unlikely that a weakened US administration would be in a position to recognise a Palestinian state based on vague borders. Israel views the occupied territories as `disputed` rather than `occupied` land, and successive US administrations have more or less refused to take a final and committed stand on the issue, insisting that `border problems` should be ironed out and resolved in bilateral talks.

Hence, it is unlikely that approaching the US to recognise a Palestinian state would work, especially given the strong opposition to such a plan inside the administration, namely from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. If the US said `No` to Palestinian solicitations to obtain American recognition for a declared Palestinian state, the PA and its Arab allies would reportedly switch to a second alternative -- asking the UN or the UN Security Council to recognise a Palestinian state.

A resolution to that effect by the UN, however, would have little practical effect in being added to dozens of UN resolutions demanding Israel to end its occupation of Arab land and terminate and reverse its illegal measures, including the building of settlements on occupied territories, all of which stand ignored by Israel. Similarly, a draft-resolution demanding Security Council recognition of a prospective Palestinian state is likely to be vetoed by the US.

If this alternative too failed (and it is widely expected it would), the PA -- probably under Egyptian advice -- would call for the convening of an international peace conference. However, such a conference would be anathema for Israel, which would reject it outright.

Israeli officials and leaders, displaying much arrogance, have said repeatedly they would not allow other nations or a group of nations to dictate Israel`s borders. In other words, Israel would reject and ignore any effort by the international community to force it to adhere to the rule of international law regarding the occupied Palestinian territories. Egypt strongly favours the idea of holding an international peace conference, believing it an inevitable requirement for genuine peace.

Indeed, Egyptian officials have voiced mounting frustration with Israel`s prevarication and stonewalling policies, with one Egyptian official quoted as saying that the impasse in the peace process must end in order to ensure Palestinian rights. `An international summit would redefine the fundamentals and the borders of a Palestinian state that would be erected on the territories occupied in June 1967, with or without Israeli settlements.`

The Egyptian official added that in any case something has to be done to keep the current peace process alive and to prevent its collapse. Meanwhile, some believe that the various parties to the peace process only have an interest in keeping the process symbolically alive, rather than seeing it succeed in achieving its stated goals.

Regardless, there is no doubt that revisiting old alternatives reflects more Palestinian and Arab frustration vis-à-vis American failure to pressure Israel than it does the formulation of an enhanced Palestinian-Arab position that would make a real difference in the peacemaking process as a whole. Meanwhile, with every day that passes Israel keeps up its intensive settlement expansion schemes, pushing any prospective settlement further away.

In addition, the continued drifting to jingoism and racism in Jewish-Israeli society means that reaching a dignified resolution to the Arab-Israeli conflict will be much more difficult than before. Last week, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, spiritual mentor of the ultra- fundamentalist Shas Party, was quoted as saying: `God created non-Jews like donkeys so that they will serve Jews.` And: `The only real function of non-Jews is to serve Jews. This is why God keeps them alive.`

Yosef is not a marginal figure in Israel. He has hundreds of thousands of followers and he is often described as a `kingmaker` regarding his personal influence on various Israeli governments. Still, Yosef`s fascist-like comments didn`t raise any eyebrows in Israel, neither in the government, nor among intellectuals, and not even in the media. This is not news, but it is telling.

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