Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Another Perspective on Peace Talks: Is the Onus Now on the Palestinians?

We are used to considering the Israeli –Palestinian conflict in various big picture scenarios such as: this conflict destabilizes the entire middle east, precludes any unified action by nations in the area, and it continues to breed generations of terrorists outraged at the treatment of Arabs. Efraim Karsh, a professor at Kings College London brings a different perspective in his article The Palestinians, Alone.
"What then are we to make of a recent survey for the Al Arabiya television network finding that a staggering 71 percent of the Arabic respondents have no interest in the Palestinian-Israeli peace talks?"

"While the ‘Palestine question’ has long been central to inter-Arab politics, Arab states have shown far less concern for the well-being of the Palestinians than for their own interests....it was common knowledge that the May 1948 pan-Arab invasion of the nascent state of Israel was more a scramble for Palestinian territory than a fight for Palestinian national rights."
Karsh describes how Jordan, Egypt, Syria and Lebanon had intended to divide up Palestine between them if the Israelis had been defeated. He then sets up his final point by listing a number of instances where an Arab state’s self-interest caused them to act, often brutally, counter to the interests of the Palestinians. Consider this example.
"Shortly after the Persian Gulf War, Kuwaitis then set about punishing the P.L.O. for its support of Hussein—cutting off financial sponsorship, expelling hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers and slaughtering thousands. Their retribution was so severe that Arafat was forced to acknowledge that ‘what Kuwait did to the Palestinian people is worse than what has been done by Israel to Palestinians in the occupied territories’."Finally Karsh comes to his conclusion.
"Against this backdrop, it is a positive sign that so many Arabs have apparently grown so apathetic about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. For if the Arab regimes’ self-serving interventionism has denied Palestinians the right to determine their own fate, then the best, indeed only, hope of peace between Arabs and Israelis lies in rejecting the spurious link between this particular issue and other regional and global problems."

"The sooner the Palestinians recognize that their cause is theirs alone, the sooner they are likely to make peace with the existence of the state of Israel and to understand the need for a negotiated settlement."
Most of the press coverage has dealt with the actions and attitudes of the Israelis. Of late Netanyahu has been going around saying he is ready for direct talks right now, let’s get to it. What that enthusiasm actually translates to is arguable, but it is certainly better than having him refuse to participate. There was an article in the Washington Post describing pressure that Obama is putting on Abbas to agree to begin these direct negotiations. The partial contents of a letter from Obama to Abbas were provided anonymously by a PLO official. Obama was quoted as asking:
"[Abbas] to go to direct negotiations and [writing] that he can’t help the Palestinians unless they go to direct negotiations....he expects [Abbas] to agree to this demand, and that not accepting it would affect the relations between the Palestinians and the Americans."That seems quite clear. If there are no direct negotiations there can be no progress and it will all be the Palestinians fault. If Abbas agrees he will face the wrath of many of his people. If he refuses to participate he risks losing his greatest ally, the growing world-wide sympathy for his cause. The Arab foreign ministers have endorsed the notion of direct talks, but left the issue of timing up to Abbas. That appears to contribute additional pressure on Abbas to accede to Obama’s request.

It would appear that Obama thinks there is a path forward that he, at least, thinks is reasonable. We shall see.

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