Before the “direct negotiations” between Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas start in Washington DC on September 2, 2010, a lingering question persists: Even if they both wish to agree, is there anything on which Abbas and Netanyahu can agree? A quick review of the publicly declared positions by both men renders any agreement between them near impossible. But beyond the irreconcilable publicly declared positions, the political realities around each of these two men severely limit their respective abilities to agree on almost any issue of substance in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
Netanyahu’s political survival is dependent on his pandering to the right and extreme right elements within his government that, if he moves one inch in the “wrong” direction, can end his grip on power within hours. Netanyahu cannot agree with Abbas, even if he wants to; his hands are tied up.
Mahmoud Abbas has already gone below the minimum that the Palestinian people would accept. Even if he wishes to give a little more, he cannot; for it would mean the end of his political career. Many significant Palestinian political parties, including some in his own party Fatah, are challenging his legitimacy, only for agreeing to attend the negotiations; let alone agreeing to further compromises below the already established minimum. Even if Abbas agrees, under the weight of American and European pressures and promises and with an Arab cover, the Palestinian people would take to the streets and soundly reject anything below the minimum that has already been established. Abbas cannot agree with Netanyahu on anything less than the established minimum, even if he wants to; his hands are tied up.
Let us examine the Palestinian minimum and the Israeli declared positions on some issues of substance in the conflict, to see if there is a possibility of an agreement coming out of the “direct negotiations” that will start in Washington DC on September 2, 2010.
On the one hand, the Palestinian minimum has been set by and for Abbas; and on the other hand, the Israeli declared positions have been set by and for Netanyahu as follows:
– Abbas: 1949 Armistice line – generally referred to as the June 4, 1967 territories – Gaza, West Bank and East Jerusalem. Minimum minor exchanges of land can be carefully and sensibly considered.
– Netanyahu: All settlements are part of the state of Israel and must be contiguously annexed. Israeli military must directly control the Palestinian state’s borders with Jordan. Otherwise, the state of Israel would not be safe.
Abbas: East Jerusalem must be under Palestinian sovereignty with unhindered access for all peoples to religious sites. Without East Jerusalem as its capital, a Palestinian state would be meaningless to virtually all the Palestinian People.
Netanyahu: All – East and West – of Jerusalem is the eternal united capital of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people until the end of time.
Abbas: UN General Assembly Resolution 194 must be implemented. The right of return must be acknowledged, and possible compensations and resettlement elsewhere are individual choices; not collective imposition. Any arrangement to the contrary would mean the continuation of the conflict.
Netanyahu: Israel assumes no responsibility whatsoever for the refugee problem, and refugees might be resettled where they currently reside or any other place on the planet Earth other than Israel. This matter does not concern the state of Israel.
Abbas: An arrangement of equal per capita distribution must be put in place.
Netanyahu: Current arrangement of water distribution – in favour of the Israelis by a significant margin – must stay unchanged.
Abbas: All detainees in Israeli jails must be released. Continuing detention of any Palestinian would mean that the conflict has not been brought to an end.
Netanyahu: No one with Jewish blood on his hand will ever see freedom again.
Abbas: All security arrangements must be for the mutual security of both states – not that both states work for the security of one of them. Otherwise, the Palestinian state would be preoccupied with the security of another state; not its own, which would mean continuing the occupation under another name.
Netanyahu: Israeli security cannot be trusted to anyone but Israelis, therefore direct Israeli military permanent presence must be secured in the Jordan valley, on all the mountaintops throughout the West Bank, over the sea, in the sky, and at border crossings of the Palestinian state. Otherwise, Israeli security would be compromised.
Abbas: All settlers must either be relocated back into the state of Israel or stay and live as equals in, and be subject to the laws and jurisdiction, of the Palestinian state.
Netanyahu: Israeli settlements are permanent part of the state of Israel. They will never be under any sovereignty other than that of the state of Israel, and must be contiguously annexed to the state of Israel.
8. Palestinian recognition of the state of Israel as a Jewish state:
Abbas: The state of Israel can describe itself as it wishes, but it is not up to the Palestinian state to recognize such description. States recognize one another, but such recognition does not extend to whatever a state wishes to describe itself.
Netanyahu: Without Palestinian recognition and acceptance of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people, there will be no peace agreement.
9. Secure passage between Gaza and the West Bank:
Abbas: There must be a secure passage between Gaza and the West Bank without any Israeli intervention of any sort. Otherwise, the Palestinian state would not have contiguous territories. All Palestinians must be able to move freely from any part to any other part of the Palestinian state without any external interruption or intervention.
Netanyahu: Anything on Israeli land must be under full, unconditional, unquestionable Israeli sovereignty. Any such passage must be subject to Israeli sovereignty and Israeli law. Otherwise, Israeli sovereignty and security would be compromised.
10. Palestinian sovereignty:
Abbas: The Palestinian state must be a truly and fully independent state; the same as all other states in the world. Within its territories, the Palestinian state must have the same level of sovereignty enjoyed by the state of Israel over its own territories.
Netanyahu: The Palestinian state must be demilitarized, it must not be able to enter into security agreements with any other state without Israeli approval, and Israeli security must be taken into consideration in every act by the Palestinian state, whether domestic or in its international relations.
Keeping the above facts in mind, can anyone point to anything on which Abbas and Netanyahu can possibly agree beyond smiling to the cameras as they shake hands for launching the charade they call “direct negotiations”? Mahmoud Abbas has no room to maneuver; he has already surpassed the use all of his political capital. Hosni Mubarak and Abdullah bin Al-Hussein, and all other Arab leaders for that matter, have stretched their political cover to its limits to shield Abbas from internal Palestinian anger and rejection, and have reached the point after which they can no longer move without risking the wrath of their own peoples throughout the Arab World.
All that is to say: Barring a major shift in the attitudes of Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama or in the direction of political winds within the state of Israel and the United States of America – none of which seems likely in the short-term – there will be no agreement coming out of the Washington negotiations, or shortly thereafter. The foreseeable future is foreseeable; no agreement can be seen. The unforeseeable future and possible alternatives to the Washington negotiations will carry their own challenges, difficulties, opportunities, and promises; but that is a subject for another discussion.
Hope is the stuff from which life is made!