PA capitulation clears way for 'proximity talks'

On May 7, US-backed “proximity talks” began two months after US special Mideast envoy George Mitchel, announced that the Fatah-led Palestine Authority (PA) and Israel had agreed to resume “indirect” negotiations. The “proximity talks” have been hailed by the Obama administration as a way of supposedly kick-starting the failed Arab-Israeli “peace process”. The talks have commenced despite the fact that Israel has not adhered to the 10-month “settlement freeze” demanded by the Obama administration.

Under the 1949 Geneva Convention on the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War, also known as the “Fourth Geneva Convention”, an occupying power may not transfer parts of its own civilian population into occupied territory. All of the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories militarily occupied by Israel since June 1967 are therefore illegal under international law. This has been repeatedly acknowledged by the UN Security Council and reaffirmed by the UN’s International Court of Justice in its December 2003 advisory opinion on Israel’s apartheid wall.

In May 2009, US President Barack Obama told Fatah leader Mahmoud Abbas, whose electoral mandate as PA president expired in January 2009, that Washington would press Israel to meet its obligations under a 2003 “road map for peace” endorsed by the UN, the US, the European Union and Russia, which included stopping the construction of new Israeli settlements and the expansion of existing settlements. By that time these settlements housed close to 500,000 Israeli citizens in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

However, according to an Israeli Peace Now NGO Settlement Watch project report published in February 2010 there have been repeated violations of the supposed settlement freeze announced by Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu last November. The report noted that in response to a parliamentary question, “Deputy Defense Minister Matan Vilnai admitted that 29 settlements [had] breached the settlement freeze order”.

PA capitulation

Relying on Washington’s support, Abbas had previously stated that the PA would not engage in negotiations with Israel until the Netanyahu government froze settlement building and expansion. On May 2, however, Abbas sought Arab League approval for the PA’s capitulation to US and Israeli pressure to accept indirect negotiations without an Israeli settlement freeze. At a Cairo meeting of the Arab Peace Initiative Committee, only Syria and Lebanon, both of which have been the victims of Israeli military aggression, opposed giving the green light to the US brokered “proximity” talks.

At a press conference after the meeting, Syrian representative Yousef al-Ahmed said: “This committee has exceeded its authority and given the Palestinians the green light to start indirect talks without the Israelis taking steps on the ground … It was clear that the meeting ... was aimed at providing an Arab cover for an already-taken Palestinian decision to hold indirect negotiations with Israel with no guarantees”.

Nabil Abu Rudeina, a PA spokesperson said: “There is currently no idea to hold direct negotiations. The Palestinian and Arab positions on this matter are clear — there must be a clear reference for negotiations and the complete halt of settlements.” The PA’s engagement in the proximity talks confirms that it has opted to continue to pursue its failed strategy of diplomatic reliance on Washington, while informally abandoning its demand that Israel freeze settlement expansion as a precondition for negotiations.

On May 8, Yasser Abed Rabbo, Abbas’ chief adviser, told Israel’s YNet news website, that the decision to engage in the proximity talks was “mostly premised on pledges and guarantees made by the Americans to the Palestinian side in respect to the issues of settlements and the basis of negotiations — Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the Road Map, and the Arab peace initiative”. Rabbo stated that Washington had pledged to ensure all core issues of the conflict would be discussed and that it would supposedly “adopt a very determined stance” against any Israeli provocations to disrupt the talks.

This confirms that the PA leadership continues to view Washington as supposedly a “neutral broker” in the Arab-Israeli conflict. However, Washington is an active participant in the Israeli colonisation of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). As British freelance journalist Jonathan Cook reported in a May 15 article in the Abu Dhabi newspaper, The National, that the US government’s US Agency for International Development (USAID) has “helped to build 114 kilometers of Israeli-proposed roads [in the West Bank], despite a pledge from Washington six years ago that it would not assist in implementing what has been widely described as Israel’s ‘apartheid road’ plan”. Cook noted that USAID had “paid for the construction of nearly a quarter of the segregated road network put forward by Israel in 2004”.

These roads are designed to provide alternative routes to connect Palestinian communities, often by upgrading circuitous dirt tracks or by building tunnels under existing routes, while Israeli-only roads are maintained in order to facilitate Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. Cook correctly pointed out that USAID’s “involvement in building a segregated West Bank road infrastructure would run counter to Washington’s oft-stated goal, including as it launched ‘proximity talks’ last week, to establish a viable Palestinian state with territorial contiguity”.

Fayyad plan

While the Abbas and the Fatah leadership have continued to pursue a failed strategy of reliance on the US government as a “neutral broker”, appointed Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad has continued to pursue economic policies to entrench and normalise Israel’s illegal occupation of the OPT. Over the past year, with the endorsement of Israel, the US and the EU, Fayyad, who has been hailed by both Israel and the US as “the Palestinian Ben Gurion”, has sought to implement an economic policy in the West Bank which is little different from the one proposed by Netanyahu in his Bar Ilan speech in June 2009.

Melbourne-based Palestinian writer Samah Sabawi, in her March 10 article on the Palestine Chronicle website, notes that, “Contrary to all the hype that surrounds economic peace, it is important to acknowledge the fact that it represents more of the same old policies Israel has pursued in the Occupied Territories for decades”. Sabawi noted that since 1967, Israel has “wanted the land the resources but not the people” of the OPT.

As Sabawi correctly argues, Netanyahu’s economic peace plan is a continuation of Israel’s attempt to economically integrate the natural resources of OPT into the Israeli economy. Fayyad, who initially opposed Netanyahu’s economically peace plan, has since fully embraced it. This is most clearly illustrated by in the way in which the PA continued to engage in monthly Joint Economic Committee meetings throughout the period when the PA had supposedly stopped talking with Israel until there was settlement freeze. The primary task of the JEC meetings is to foster joint Palestinian-Israeli business ventures.

Joseph Massad, a professor of Modern Arab politics at New York City’s Columbia University, noted in an April 14 article on the Electronic Intifada website that Fayyad is a “pioneer in normalisation” and that “Fayyad’s plan to establish a Palestinian state in August 2011 is in effect an acceptance of the Camp David proposals offered to and rejected by the late Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat in 2000”.

Given that Fayyad is aggressively promoting an “economic peace” policy which suits Israeli government and business interests, it is not surprising that Zionists around the world have started to be more vocal in their support for Fayyad. On May 13, Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who is described by Jerusalem Post as “one of Israel’s most committed and articulate advocates”, told the Post that Fayyad was “the best [partner] Israel has, and probably the best Israel has ever had”.

Similarly, Bren Carlill an analysis at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council, in an article in the May 13 Melbourne Age, while admonishing the Palestinian people for “their sense of victimhood”, observed that “There is one Palestinian, however, who is breaking the mould. Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is building Palestinian infrastructure, fighting Palestinian corruption and laying the foundations for a viable Palestinian state.”

In an interview with the April 2 Tel Aviv Haaretz daily, Fayyad indicated that he was prepared to give up the right of return of Palestinian refugees to their homes and properties in what is now the Israeli state. In response to the question of whether or not his plan takes into consideration the need to absorb Palestinian refugees, Fayyad responded, “Of course, Palestinians would have the right to reside within the State of Palestine”. The Palestinian state Fayyad refers to is what many analysts have come to regard as little different to the phony “independent homelands” (Bantustans) that apartheid South Africa tried, unsuccessfully, to get its indigenous African population to accept as a substitute for equal citizen rights.