Commentary

Intransigence and Fatigue in U.S. Mediated Negotiations

Middle East In Focus

Middle East In Focus

The US Secretary of State John Kerry continues his push for a negotiated agreement between Israel and Palestine, even though neither party thinks such a deal is possible or even desirable. The Israelis are distrustful of US security assurances, while most of the Palestinian population has lost faith in the negotiations. Meanwhile, bad weather in the region has caused havoc in Gaza, with many in the region calling on Israel to lift its blockade there.

Following recent and ongoing bad weather in Gaza, Maan News, one of the Palestinian dailies, cited reports by Palestinian medical officials that: “The results of winter storm Alexa in Gaza will lead to a health disaster unless the world intervenes....Spokesman for the Gaza ministry of interior Islam Shahwan called on Egypt to fully open the Rafah crossing to allow supplies and aid into Gaza....The Gaza Strip is currently under a state of emergency due to severe weather conditions caused by a historic storm front moving south across the Levant. UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness said on Saturday that large regions of the Gaza Strip were a ‘disaster area’ and called on the international community to lift the Israeli blockade in order to allow recovery efforts to proceed.”

But the weather doesn’t seem to be the only challenge for Palestinians during this time of the year. A Gulf Today editorial calls on the international community to put pressure on the Israeli government so that its demolitions policy in West Bank ceases: “The demolitions resulted in the displacement of 41 people, including 24 children, some of whom were uprooted for the second time this month....The repeated destruction of Palestinian structures results in forced eviction, displacement and dispossession of vulnerable Palestinians. Such actions cause huge human suffering. They leave families without shelter and compromise their livelihoods at a time when weather conditions are deteriorating. They also run counter to international law. Israel should desist from such deplorable activities and immediately halt demolitions.”

Against the background of an ongoing blockade in Gaza and demolitions across the Occupied Territories, the American Studies Association has endorsed a boycott of Israeli universities, a move which ADL has called as ‘morally bankrupt’. Writing for the Times of Israel, Stuart Winer notes: “The membership of the American Studies Association endorsed its national council’s call for a boycott of Israeli universities....Two-thirds of the 1,252 members who voted approved the boycott, according to an ASA announcement Monday, a day after the deadline for voting....The ASA resolution calls on American universities to end collaboration with their Israeli counterparts. However, the organization clarified that the resolution ‘does not apply to individual Israeli scholars engaged in ordinary forms of academic exchange, including conference presentations, public lectures at campuses, or collaboration on research and publication.’”

Meanwhile, the negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians are grinding to a halt amidst finger pointing and distrust between all the parties involved. It is not a secret that the Israeli PM Benyamin Netanyahu is unhappy with the current US proposals, not least, according to Yedioth Ahronoth’s Nahum Barnea, because it robs the prime minister of his main objections to a peace agreement: “The military plan devised by a huge team of experts, led by General Allen, robs Netanyahu of the immediate argument he has raised every time he was required to discuss the outline of the future border between Israel and Palestine: Security arrangements. Now there are security arrangements, and they include a long transition period before we leave the Jordan Valley, international supervision over border crossings, and more....There is a consensus in Israel over the need for tight security arrangements. The American plan breaks the consensus and reopens the internal argument over the 1967 borders and the fate of the settlements.”

But Netanyahu is not the only one who might be unhappy with the US administration’s proposals. In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Barry Rubin also expresses his dissatisfaction with what the American plan offers, suggesting it would ultimately have a deleterious effect on the security of the state of Israel: “War without end. That is what the Obama administration promises the US, Israel and the Palestinians. If the current Obama-Kerry plan for an Israel-Palestinian deal is implemented, scores of Americans will likely die. This was revealed recently by US Secretary of State John Kerry, particularly in a speech at the Saban Forum....It is no accident that Israel has never been willing to trust its security to a third party. This is a roadmap for increased conflict. For example, is the US air force going to bomb a building in Gaza that is an open headquarters for Gaza rocket and terrorist attacks?...Israel would not benefit from what can only be called ‘ObamaStrategicCare.’If you like it, no matter what you’ve heard, you can keep your strategic patron or plan, you can keep your ally (Obama), and you’ll save money. No one will be able to take that away from you.”

The problem for Mr. Kerry of course is that the Israelis are not the only ones who are skeptical about the ultimate outcome of the negotiations. A recent poll for example, indicates that optimism for the negotiations is low and that “A majority of Palestinians believes that the current peace talks with Israel have reached a dead end and see no point in their continuation, a public opinion poll published Monday showed. The poll also showed that a majority of Palestinians expect the talks to fail....According to the poll, 51% of respondents expressed opposition to the talks with Israel, while only 33% supported their continuation. Another 56% of respondents said they did not expect the negotiations to lead to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”

Given the difficult environment in which the US mediated negotiations are taking place, according to the Palestinian daily WAFA, the Europeans are also trying to do their part, at least with the Palestinians, promising financial support should a peace agreement ever materialize: “The European Union (EU) Monday said it will provide Palestinians and Israelis “an unprecedented package of European political, economic and security support” in the context of a final status agreement. The EU’s Foreign Affairs Council said in its conclusions on the Middle East peace process that the EU is ready to contribute substantially to post-conflict arrangements for ensuring the sustainability of a peace agreement....he European Union said that ‘it is in its fundamental interest to see an end to the conflict, establish lasting peace and prosperity along its southern borders and simultaneously develop its political, economic and trade relations with both parties.’ It urged both parties “to take bold and concrete steps towards a just and lasting solution to the conflict within the agreed timeframe.”

Considering recent debates about corrupt and questionable accounting practices in Gaza, where over one billion US Dollars seem to have been mismanaged, to say the least, the aforementioned promise comes with a big question mark behind it. If we are to believe a recent Saudi Gazette editorial however, things are not quite as bad as they appear: “Auditors in the European Union have just discovered that $1.3 billion that the EU has given in aid to Gaza has been paid out in salaries to thousands of Palestinian civil servants, who in fact have not been to work for four or five years....The EU auditors may protest that the money has been squandered, but they would be entirely wrong. The EU cash has gone into the fragile Gaza economy and if it had not been provided under this program, would almost certainly have come through some other, perhaps less-targeted, EU aid channel. At least this way, keeping unemployed bureaucrats on the payroll means that the new Palestinian state will have an experienced cadre of officials from which to draw.”


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