TOO SOON FOR A SUMMIT
الخميس, 25 آيار (مايو), 2017
"It is too soon to come up with an American initiative during President Donald Trump's visit and arrange for a tripartite summit," writes Hani al-Masri on the Palestinian website www.masarat.ps
The visit focused on mending U.S./Israeli relations that witnessed some tension under Barack Obama, and to take confidence-building steps between the two sides so as to create a climate that permits them to resume their negotiations. This is what a number of U.S. officials have said.
Lowering the ceiling of expectations does not mean that there is no water is flowing in the river. In fact, much water has flowed during this period. Three tracks are planned to proceed in parallel: A security track that takes priority over the other tracks; an economic track that is, in effect, a bribe for the Palestinians; and a political track whose steps are being very cautiously explored so as to ensure that it does not quickly collapse.
The Trump administration is promoting the view that the negotiations it is preparing for will be unlike their predecessors. There are leaks that the negotiations will seek to bring the various points of view closer together, similar to what Jordan witnessed some years ago. And according to one source, this process is scheduled to last from 6 to 9 months, or from 12 to 16 months, according to another source.
Informed sources indicate that the Palestinian side has suggested that negotiations should begin from the point at which previous negotiations ended, and that it has expressed a readiness to accept land-swap ratio of 6.5%. The Palestinian proposal – according to these same sources – included the suggestion that Jerusalem should be an open city and the capital of two states, and that the refugee problem should be resolved based on Clinton's [2000 'parameters'] criteria. The Palestinians also proposed the deployment of international forces along the borders in the Jordan Valley, and in any other areas agreed upon. And they could be under U.S. command or U.S. troops so as to ensure that Israel feels safe.
The Palestinian side has displayed a dangerous flexibility by expressing its readiness to abandon its previous preconditions for resuming negotiations, such as a freeze on settlement activities, releasing the fourth batch of pre-Oslo  prisoners, specifying the agreed terms of reference, and a timetable for the negotiations and for implementing what is agreed upon. Moreover, President Mahmoud 'Abbas has repeatedly and publicly called for a tripartite U.S./Israeli/Palestinian summit, and for a Russian/or French/Israeli/Palestinian summit before that.
For its part, Israel's position is very intransigent. It has conjured up new issues such as: Ending the payment of salaries to the families of martyrs, prisoners, and wounded (as a means of diverting attention away from its settler colonialism); ending Palestinian incitement in the media and in school curriculums; tightening Palestinian measures against terrorism; and negotiating without any Palestinian preconditions – in other words, in accordance with Israel's preconditions whose essence is to create new racist occupation and settlement facts on the ground under the cover of negotiations, which would render Israel's solution as the only practically possible outcome.
In addition, Israel wants the Palestinians to recognize it as a state for the Jewish people, accept its security control over the entire area from the Mediterranean Sea to the River Jordan, that not one single Palestinian refugee should return to the lands from which they were forcefully expelled as required by the right of return, Palestinian acceptance of Jerusalem as the united capital of Israel, no freeze on settlement activities, while offering to accept a disarmed Palestinian 'state minus' at best – as Netanyahu has described it – over half the West Bank's area.
The American position overlaps with Israel's position on most of these points, except that it demands a larger withdrawal of Israeli forces from the lands occupied in 1967, as well as slowing down the pace of settlement activities a little. And, again according to sources, Trump told 'Abbas that there will be no return to the 1967 borders, using the Palestinians' acceptance of the principle of a land-swap as a strong argument in favor of this. He also stressed, that, unlike its predecessors, his administration will not denounce settlement activities.
Moreover, Trump did not declare his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state, which gives him a free hand and allows him to pursue policies that are consistent with Israel's position that opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and that offers nothing more than mere self-rule and Bantustans that go by the name of 'state.' At the same time, and during his visit to Bethlehem, Trump's National Security Advisor said that Trump might announce his recognition of the Palestinians' right to self-determination – which represents a serious retreat from the U.S. position under the two former presidents Bush Jr. and Obama both of whom recognized the need to establish a Palestinian state.
The fact that Trump added Hamas to the list of terrorist organizations during his visit to Saudi Arabia is worrisome, especially since he and his aides have raised the issue of ending the payment of salaries to the families of martyrs, prisoners, and the wounded, after the Palestinian delegation agreed to discuss this in a joint U.S./Palestinian committee. There were also leaks of a Palestinian readiness to transfer responsibility for the prisoners to a civil society organization rather than the PLO. Responsibility had been transferred to the PLO in 2014, whereas there had previously been a [PA] cabinet portfolio in charge of this matter – which only targets the responsibility further. One potential 'compromise' is based on not paying the salaries of those 'whose hands have shed Jewish blood.' But that would be playing with fire since it would be really touching upon a sacred matter [by sanctioning acts of resistance to Israel].
It is important here to warn against doing anything to undermine the status of the martyrs, the prisoners, and the wounded; the heroes fighting for freedom. Any damage done to them would amount to political suicide by the Palestinian leadership. If the PA under the late Yasser Arafat used to pay salaries to the families of Israeli agents so as to ensure that they would not have to pay for their fathers' crimes, how can Israel raise this issue when it is building a monument to commemorate Baruch Goldstein who carried out the 1994 massacre in the Abrahamic Mosque [in Hebron], and when it gives five-star treatment to Yigal Amir who assassinated Yitzhak Rabin, so much so that he has already married twice while still in prison?
The above makes it clear that the gap between the Palestinian and Israeli positions remains very wide. It shows that Trump is unlikely to realize his dream of a historic deal that he continuously brags about. Moreover, 'Abbas realizes that if he were to allow any deal to pass that does not secure the basic minimum of national rights, he would no longer represent the Palestinian people who have stood their ground and have been struggling for over a hundred years, and who are ready to continue their struggle.
This is evident from their resistance, which has persisted despite everything, and from the epic collective [hunger] strike by the heroes of freedom of dignity [Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails], which entered its 37th day yesterday, coupled with the ongoing popular action in all its available forms. For the prisoners' battle is that of the entire Palestinian people, and its options are only that of victory, inscribing a new chapter in the book of Palestinian struggle.
The Palestinian leadership's argument for its current policy that is hostage to the Trump administration (and is deluded about his ability to reach a historic solution or may be trying to save its head and secure its own survival) is that with its excessive flexibility, it is throwing the ball into Israel's court, making it responsible for foiling Trump due to its extremism and its unwillingness to offer anything that would help him succeed.
The Palestinian leadership also argues that it cannot stand in the face of the violent storm, or to fail to ride the American bandwagon that the Arabs are racing to jump on as evident from the legendary generosity of the vast deals whose huge price is being paid by the Arabs without receiving anything in return, and is being offered to an American president who is threatened with impeachment and who commits a mistake, or has a new scandal chasing him every day.
Abu Mazen needs to reconsider his calculations. For U.S./Israeli disagreements are too small to be wagered on. It would be a mistake to base his policy on this losing wager, since if Israel fails to respond positively to Trump, he will simply drop this file as all his predecessors have done; alternatively, all efforts will be redirected towards the weaker party that is open to pressure and to making concessions; namely, the Palestinians and Arabs. And Trump will benefit from the Arabs' lust in pursuit of his protection and succor against the so-called 'Iranian threat.'
The Palestinian position that provided cover for marginalizing the Palestinian cause by playing the role of false witness at the U.S./Islamic summit that focused on terrorism and the Iranian threat and ignored the Palestinian problem and Israeli terrorism, will not save the Palestinian leadership's head for long. For what is being demanded of it is much more than what it is offering, despite its already grave nature.
Establishing an Arab/U.S./Israeli NATO is not as easy as Netanyahu has been portraying it. It needs time and Palestinian cover. This is why it is possible to put a spoke in its wheels, rather than pave the way before it. Moreover, Iran, its allies, and Hizbollah may have their own schemes and interests; but they are not enemies of the Arabs and the Muslims, nor are they an easy bite to be easily swallowed.
"Finally, the Trump administration will not fight on the Arabs behalf. On the contrary; it has taken their monies and will arm them and provide them with experts, but will get them to pluck out their thorns with their own hands – especially, now that it has taken all that it wants from the Arabs in advance and before offering them anything in return," concludes Masri.