US President Barack Obama succeeded in pressuring both, the Israeli
Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu and the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas into
direct talks. This week the
leaders, as well as Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Jordanian
King Abdullah II met in
Washington. However their agreement to enter direct talks was not
popular on the ground neither
in Israel nor in the occupied Palestinian territories. All Palestinian parties,
except for the ruling
Fatah, rejected negotiations with Israel. Even president Abbas originally
refused to enter
negotiations because his basic condition, a total freeze on Israeli
settlements on Palestinian land,
has not been met. Many in the Palestinian territories also raised concerns
about him not being a
legitimate representative of the Palestinian side because his term as
president expired twice and he
is therefore not technically supposed to be in office. However concerns
were raised on all sides
because of a lack of leadership and strategy entering these talks.
Meanwhile, tensions and
violence are escalating in the region.
BARACK OBAMA, US PRESIDENT: After nearly two years, Israelis and Palestinians will resume direct talks in pursuit of a goal that we all share: two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.
LIA TARACHANSKY, PRODUCER, TRNN: This week, talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority began in the US after weeks of speculations that both sides are now at the table in Washington, DC. The Obama administration has been pushing for negotiations for months, getting the two sides to agree to indirect talks in February. Now they’ve moved on to direct talks with the hope of reaching the stage of final status negotiations. Mahmoud Abbas originally rejected entering direct talks, because the Israeli-only colony construction on Palestinian land hasn’t stopped. The partial freeze the Israeli prime minister imposed on construction is set to expire at the end of September, and Benjamin Netanyahu asserts he will not renew it. The Arab League supports the negotiations after reportedly strong American pressure. In mid-July, Obama also sent Abbas a letter, after which the Palestinian president acquiesced. His capitulation saw the growth of opposition among the Palestinian public, and in turn, repression from the Palestinian Authority. Diana Buttu is a Palestinian lawyer in Ramallah. She previously served on the negotiation team for the PA.
DIANA BUTTU, FMR. PLO NEGOTIATIONS SPOKESWOMAN: The Arab League completely sold him out. But rather than sticking to his decision, he ends up accepting a watered-down position by the quartet. If he couldn’t even get the quartet to come out very strongly and very affirmatively and demand that there be a settlement freeze and condemn the settlement construction, condemn the home demolitions, condemn the land confiscation, then the question becomes, well, what use, what utility are these negotiations going to be? Are these people really going to be there for the Palestinians when Israel, on September 27 or 28 or 29 or 30, announces that there’s a newï¿½that there’s going to be more settlement construction? So that was the process, one of a president who has always been weak further weakening himself, allowing himself to be weakened, and then grasping for straws. The climax of the whole thing, the apex of the whole thing, is that even now he hasn’t managed to get widespread PLO support, or even Fatah support, for that matter. He seems to be going on this path alone and without any real support on the street.
TARACHANSKY: All the other Palestinian parties reaffirmed the rejection of negotiations in a joint press conference in Syria. But though Hamas was portrayed as fundamentally opposed to negotiations, the representative painted a different picture of the group for The Real News in a recent interview in Doha.
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Hamas has said if the majority of the Palestinian people support a two-state solution, which would essentially recognize Israel if there’s a two state solution, that Hamas would support that. Is that a correct understanding?
OSAMA HAMDAN, HEAD OF INT’L RELATIONS, HAMAS: We were clear: if our people accepted anything through a free referendum among all the Palestinians, inside and outside Palestine, we will respect that and we will live with that even if it was against our beliefs, our political beliefs.
TARACHANSKY: Since the last round of negotiations in Annapolis failed in 2007, the American and Israeli administrations changed. While George W. Bush was replaced with Barack Obama and Ehud Olmert was replaced with Bibi Netanyahu, Mahmoud Abbas declared he will continue to remain in office, despite the fact that his term expired twice. This raises serious questions about his legitimacy as the representative of the Palestinian people.
BUTTO: Mahmoud Abbas was elected in January 2005, which would mean that his term expired in January 2009. But a year before his term actually expired, the PLC [Palestinian Legislative Council] passed a piece of legislation indicating that there should be presidential and parliamentary elections at the same time. Mahmoud Abbas interpreted that passage of the piece of legislation to mean that his term expires when the PLC’s term expires, which was in January 2010. And the problem is is that nobody’s pushing for elections.
TARACHANSKY: Abbas is not the only leader being isolated going into these talks.
BUTTO: My indictment of the Palestinian leadership is not confined to that of Fatah and Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas has been just as much a failure of leadership as Fatah has been over the course of the past four years. People who voted for Hamas were expecting something. They weren’t expecting what they got. What they’ve gotten in Gaza is a worsening. There’s a huge human rights situation that needs to be addressed in the Gaza Strip, and that should not be condoned. They too have failed to come up with any strategy to actually liberate Palestine. They too have failed to move down the path of reconciliation with Fatah and with the other factions. And so my indictment against the Palestinian leadership is one that is across the board. We’ve seen a complete failure of leadership, whether that is coming from Fatah, whether it’s coming from Hamas, whether it’s coming from leftist factions. Nobody has put forward a strategy, a vision, and nobody is immune to these indictments of a failed leadership.
TARACHANSKY: As Reuven Pedatzur writes in Haaretz, “The [Israeli] government has no policies, and its ministers have no idea what the prime minister will tell his Palestinian dialogue partners in Washington. The phrase ‘the policy of the Israeli government’ is a fiction. The only policy is that of the prime minister.” Palestinian leader and former presidential candidate Mustafa Barghouti spoke at a Ramallah rally on Wednesday: “These talks will fail, and the risks are higher than ever for Palestinians. . . . What is needed is a unified stance in rejecting Israel’s terms for these negotiations.” But unity talks have been underway for years and failed to move the Palestinian factions closer. Hamas even canceled the latest meeting with Fatah because Fatah agreed to negotiations with Israel. The Palestinians are not alone in their concerns about the process. Moshe Arens asks in the Israeli daily Haaretz, “So what’s happening here? Is this an oriental version of ‘the Emperor’s New Clothes’?” Referring to US president Obama’s insistence on these talks happening now, he writes, “How far will these negotiations proceed before someone declares that ‘the emperor is naked!’? … the negotiations will turn into a blame game.” Meanwhile, unrest is heating up in the region. Two attacks in two days in the West Bank led to the death of four settlers, one of whom was pregnant. After the first shooting, Nahum Barnea wrote in Yediot Ahronot: “the terror attack, with all the frustration it provokes and with all the anger and fury it evokes, provides the prime minister with a tactical, PR weapon.” But though the media and leaders concentrated on attacks on Israelis, the provocations were not one-sided. In the weeks leading up to the negotiations, the Israeli policy of home demolitions intensified. Also, 200 ancient Palestinian graves were bulldozed in a Jerusalem cemetery. And this week, the Jewish spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called for a plague to strike the Palestinian people dead. The main settler association, the Yesha Council, declared that because of the attacks on the settlers, it considers the partial freeze over. Israeli settlers then rampaged Palestinian homes in Hebron, defied the construction freeze all over the West Bank, and damaged Palestinian olive groves near Nablus. It’s unclear how many Palestinians were injured in these attacks. From across the Israeli and Palestinian political spectrum, concerns were raised about the leadership and its lack of strategy entering these negotiations. However, despite the strong popular opposition on the ground and the growing violence in the region, Obama is determined to push ahead. As his administration managed to pressure the sides to come to the table and handpicked the negotiating partners, it seems it will also be dictating the terms of the talks. And though not everyone agrees with Obama’s methods, everyone agrees the stakes are higher than ever. Arab League chief Amr Moussa even said at a press conference on Friday that this round of talks will be the last.
End of Transcript
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