The Israeli-Palestinian Authority talks

 By Andrew Williams

Freedom For Palestine

Photo: Walt Jabsco

The direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) that began in early September will go nowhere. Presented by the US as negotiations to create a Palestinian state, in fact the objectives of the US and other participants are not this at all. For the US and Israel the current framework of talks allows them to set an agenda that reinforces the occupation – as happened in the Oslo talks (1992-3) and subsequent negotiation processes – simultaneously settlements expand, more Palestinians are displaced, and Israeli missiles are fired on Gaza, whilst Palestinians are told they must not resist. The objectives are to weaken Palestinian resolve, deepen the internal Palestinian divisions, enhance the US’s image in the region and rehabilitate Israel’s battered international reputation. For Fatah’s Mahmoud Abbas, Israel’s chosen negotiating partner, it is hoped the international stage can bolster his reduced standing. Amongst Palestinians there is widespread understanding of, and consequently little support for, this framework.

Israel continues to expand its occupation. Even its claimed freeze on settlement activity, due to end on 26th September, has not been adhered to. In the city of Jerusalem, its suburbs and in the West Bank construction operations have continued. Exclusions of Palestinians from occupied east Jerusalem have increased, segregated Israelis-only roads have been bulldozed through, and over the past couple of months two Arab villages in the Jordan Valley and Negev desert have been razed to the ground. The military aggression against Gaza has been sustained. Israeli air strikes and army incursions into the Gaza Strip continue to kill and injure Palestinian civilians.

The Netanyahu government’s actions reflect its political configuration – a coalition dominated by Likud and other right wing parties, who are not planning to sign, let alone implement, a two-state settlement. Unlike the Oslo talks, or the “Road Map” set out by the Quartet (US, EU, Russia and UN) in 2002, or the Annapolis process of November 2007 – all initiatives the US has since ditched – the current negotiations lack any terms of reference or agreed-upon script. Israel has effectively made it a precondition that Palestinians accept continued settlement activity during negotiations, and that it has a veto in the talks. The Palestinian negotiators have accepted a situation where they have no guarantees or assurances even on whether home demolitions are halted. As Mustafa Barghouti, an independent member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, explained: “It’s like a situation where two people are sitting negotiating over a piece of cheese and while one side is talking the other side, the Israeli side, is eating it.”

On the Palestinian side, the resistance to Israel’s occupation, in the past led by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), is now headed up by Hamas. The success of the 2005 Palestinian uprising in persuading Israel to dismantle settlements and leave the Gaza Strip, propelled Hamas to victory in the 2006 Palestinian Legislative Council elections in both the West Bank and Gaza. Given that the goal of imperialism in the region is not Palestinian self-determination, it was not surprising that the US, EU and Israel reacted to this democratic expression of the Palestinian will by suspending economic ties, reducing humanitarian aid and cutting funding to the PA. Imperialism also opposes Palestinian unity, and so sustained its embargo when Hamas reached agreement with Fatah on forming a unity government in March 2007. Then in June 2007 the US orchestrated with Abbas, who at that time was Palestinian President, an attempted coup in Gaza against Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya. Many in the PA security force were not prepared to carry out the military attacks on Hamas that a coup required, so the attempt was defeated by Hamas, who de facto had to take control of security in Gaza. Abbas dissolved the unity government, appointed a Fatah administration and suspended the Palestinian Legislative Council.

Since then Hamas, as the elected government in the Gaza Strip, has sought to maintain economic activity despite the confines imposed by the siege. The Quartet refuses to discuss with Hamas unless it recognises the Israeli state i.e. gives legitimacy to the military occupation of Palestinian land. No corresponding condition is placed on Israel to recognise the legitimacy of Palestinian rights. Hamas maintains its policy of resistance to the Israeli occupation but has offered the Israelis a long-term truce if it will return to the pre-1967 borders and release Palestinian prisoners. The long term truce proposal has been rejected by Israel; effectively it demands that Palestinians surrender and abandon their national rights. Despite this, in June 2008, Hamas and Israel agreed a six-month ceasefire truce, during which time Israel agreed to lift the Gaza siege. Despite Israel reneging on this in practice, and maintaining the siege and embargo, Hamas sought to continue the ceasefire. In December 2008, Israel launched its invasion of Gaza seeking to terrorise the Palestinians in Gaza into submission.

Since 2007 the Fatah-controlled PA has further degenerated; under US tutelage, it focuses on defeating the Palestinian resistance, with its security apparatus coordinating directly with Israeli occupation forces in the West Bank. Palestinian detainees regularly emerge from PA prisons testifying to interrogators using torture. Meanwhile Fatah’s leadership shows little concern about reconciliation with the elected Hamas government in the Gaza Strip.

Abbas has no mandate to present himself in negotiations as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians. He lost the legal authority to act as Palestinian President when his term of office ended in January 2009. And his political authority has declined as Fatah has increased its collaboration with the occupation. When in June Abbas made a statement that he “would never deny [the] Jewish right to the land of Israel”, many Palestinians considered the national struggle was being betrayed with such an endorsement of one of Zionism’s prime principles. A widely signed open letter was sent to Abbas protesting that he did not have authority to surrender Palestinian national rights. Inevitably Fatah’s support has fallen amongst the population and has passed the point where Fatah is willing to risk standing in elections. For a year and a half Abbas has not submitted himself for re-election and in July this year he even called off West Bank municipal elections, which Hamas were boycotting, because Fatah expected it would lose to independents.

Palestinians have significant experience of what happens in US-backed talks. The most recent direct talks started just three years ago; at the Annapolis conference in 2007 Palestinian were promised a Palestinian state within a year – again that did not happen and the negotiations ran aground. Palestinian opposition to the current talks is widespread, not just confined to supporters of resistance movements. With reduced legitimacy amongst Palestinians, Fatah’s leadership are reliant on US promotion for their influence, so in return they have subordinated the PA to the US’s agenda. Even within Fatah this approach does not command much support, many are opposed to Abbas’s participation in the negotiations, including the jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti. Others with long established association with Fatah also oppose the negotiations. Diana Buttu, a former PLO spokesperson, who worked as a legal adviser and negotiator on past Israeli-Palestinian talks, has attacked Abbas for falsely claiming that the PLO backs these talks, saying there is a “rogue party that is acting on behalf of its own interests and not the interests of the Palestinian people”.

Across Palestinian society there is widespread understanding that Israel is unwilling to allow the creation of a viable Palestinian state and that the current talks’ framework can only undermine the cause of national liberation. When at the end of August 2010, Hamas demonstrated its view of the talks by its militarily retaliation against Israeli attacks on West Bank Palestinians, the actions were widely applauded by a broad range of Palestinians including by Fatah and secular activists.

The Palestinian resistance is not alone in the Middle East. Other national liberation struggles are succeeding in resisting imperialist occupation. Israel was driven out of southern Lebanon in 2000 and defeated there again when it attacked in 2006. The US led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have failed to defeat the local resistance movements that have arisen to confront them.

In Palestine the resistance movement confronts an occupation by a fearsomely well-armed colonial settler state backed by US imperialism. Therefore achieving victory in the struggle for self determination will take a very prolonged fight, with no short-term success in sight, without a change in the relationship of forces in the region and internationally. However, Palestinians have demonstrated a remarkable and inspiring capacity to sustain a high level of struggle over decades. Their resistance has a grinding impact on Israel’s international standing and they achieve notable results, having in the past five years regained control of Gaza from Israel and repelled the Israeli assault on Gaza.

Israel, on the other hand, despite its immense military machine, has not won a real war since 1967, except for the invasion of Beirut in 1982. Capable of waging war, it has long been unable to achieve victory – hence the recourse to more brutal forms of warfare, which in turn exposes Israel to international condemnation. The bombardment and killing of civilians in its attacks on the Lebanon in 2006 and on Gaza in 2008-2009 are widely regarded as war crimes. Its May 2010 commando raid that killed nine passengers on the Mavi Marmara humanitarian aid ship further inflamed global opinion.

The flotilla and convoys that focus international attention on the siege of Gaza have given some significant assistance to the Palestinian struggle, underlining the importance of international solidarity be being able to deliver concrete assistance in the struggle.

To follow the progress of Viva Palestina 5 – the international aid convoy to Gaza that departed from London on Saturday 18th September – visit the websites of Viva Palestina and Palestine Solidarity Campaign.