Motives Behind Israeli Insistence on Direct Negotiations

Ibrahim Abdel Karim: Motives Behind Israeli Insistence on Direct Negotiations

  • 9 August 2010

A year-and-a-half after the end of negotiations between Israel and Palestinian Authority, the US administration succeeded in launching discussions for “getting close” as a precursor to direct negotiations. This initiative came immediately after US presidential envoy to the Middle East, Gorge Mitchell spoke with Israeli and Palestinian sides on various contentious issues, such as Israeli colonies.

Events of the last few months show that Israel has made intense efforts to start negotiations, although it seems dismissive of the predictable outcome of a tug-of-war between two unequal sides.

Netanyahu has also been able to impose a method of negotiation that dispenses with extensive and formal negotiations and prefers secret discussions around narrow frameworks. For this reason, he has given the job to Attorney Isaac Molcho, along with former national security advisor Uzi Arad. Both men have prepared the negotiations files with the help of a team of experts and concerned parties on which discussions are to be held with Mitchell, and when needed direct discussions between Mitchell and Netanyahu.

Israel wants to give new definitions to references on various issues under negotiation that divert from the understanding developed through earlier efforts. The discussions to “get close” would concentrate, with the agreement of both parties and the meditating party (the US), on seven issues related to a final settlement—namely borders, colonies, refugees, Jerusalem, security, water and Palestinian prisoners. However, Israeli negotiators would put issues of security in the West Bank and water among top priorities. However, negotiators estimate that Palestinians would raise the matter of borders at the beginning of the negotiations, taking advantage of the stance of the US in this regard in order to put more pressure on Israel.

Although, as agreed, the first phase of the “getting close discussions” would take the form of shuttle diplomacy by Senator Mitchell between the two sides. Mitchell is said to have made it clear that he would not limit himself to playing the role of a “postman” between the two sides, but would make proposals for resolving disputed issues based on the positions made by the US President Barack Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, which are based on a “two-state” solution living side-by-side in peace and harmony. This includes the establishment of a viable Palestinian state based on the June 1967 borders, with an agreed upon exchange of territories and a solution to the other final settlement issues as part of an agreement.

The Netanyahu government is seeking to use the “getting close” deliberations toward the possibility of a new American initiative that would reduce differences with Palestinians. Such an initiative would not be very different from the one proposed by Clinton in 2000 and rejected by Palestinians and Israelis for different reasons.

In this sense, many Israeli positions and views have been appearing at various internal and foreign levels as subjects of discussion. Undoubtedly, Israeli government is fully aware of exactly what it wants. In its endeavor to be seen as the side that wants to get rid of the burden of controlling Palestinians, Israel seems eager for a complete settlement with Palestinians. In its view, this can be achieved by Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, giving up their demand for right of return of Palestinian refugees into Israeli territories, and allowing the unification of Jerusalem and its colonies. In addition, Israel wants complete control of its borders, routes and passageways, its security presence along the Jordan valley, and a “two-state” solution on its terms that include a defanged military and an incomplete sovereignty for the Palestinian state, excluding Jerusalem and having a temporary border. This would be merely an “enhanced” version of the geographical, political and security status of the existing Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, and would leave the settlement of the issue of Gaza Strip to a future date.

As regards Israeli negotiating strength vis-à-vis Palestinians, the former is well aware of the current weakness of the Palestinian Authority in wake of its decline internally, the split between the West Bank and Gaza, and the lack of effective foreign support for it. For this reason, the Netanyahu government will not hesitate in putting forward its demands to Palestinian Authority and even in dictating its terms, although it might theoretically appear that both sides are equal. This means that Israel would try to use its “might” as the basis for the negotiations, which would abort the discussions on issues that have been up for settlement since Oslo Accords of the early 1990s.

Israelis think that renewed engagement with Palestinians would help in alleviating international pressures they currently face. In the event Israelis fail to impose a solution on Palestinians, which is the likely outcome, Israel would definitely concentrate on showing the Palestinian Authority as being incapable of being committed to its role in any agreement reached. In addition, it would blame President Mahmoud Abbas of being unable to deliver of what was demanded of him (as has already been stated by the Knesset speaker Reuven Rivlin). All that the Authority wants from going back to negotiations is to expose the true face of the Netanyahu government, which is opposed to peace with Palestinians and Arabs.

At the American level, the Netanyahu government wants the resumption of negotiations to contribute to restoration of relations with the US to their pristine state and to defuse the several threats and warnings emanating from the US in recent months. It also would also neutralize the upshot of the Biden and ‘Ramat Shlomo incident’ and lead to the creation of a stable partnership with the Obama administration in confronting the Iranian threat. For this reason, the Netanyahu government would try to attract and appease the “judge” instead of taking serious steps and measures for a fair solution to the problem. In return, it is believed that the Obama administration would respond in accordance with its own criteria and it would exert real pressure on the Israeli government to desist from the “possessive tactic” that Netanyahu is famous of practicing.

On Israeli internal front, Netanyahu government is seeking to calm all sides by showing that it is not giving any concessions. This gives the government another chance to survive and perpetuate its rule. This issue came to the fore in the understanding among the ruling right wing coalition parties that did not have any noteworthy objections on the decision of the government. However, it is expected that objections would come from the Labor party against Netanyahu’s ineffectual actions especially after recent statements made by party ministers for the withdrawal of the Labor party from the government. They are also pushing for work to be started on changing the composition of the coalition and are involving the Kadima party into the government in case any serious political move happens due to the enigmatic style of Netanyahu.

As regards the prospects of getting “closer discussions” and as long as Israel is the strongest side, it is expected that the Netanyahu government would be exposed to the world as being opposed to a permanent settlement that meets Palestinian demands. The strategy of the Israeli government would also be exposed, a strategy based on draining the Palestinians dry and of continuously blaming it of the crime that Israel is accused of committing, namely the “inability to meet the requirements of the peace process”.

Netanyahu is playing a game where he does not want to reach a solution and at the same time refute accusations that Israel is opposed to a solution. It is an attempt to present Palestinian demands as difficult conditions that if fulfilled would throw the prospect of Israel as a Jewish state in disarray. Consequently, Israel prefers to maintain its fixed position in the hope that this would push Palestinians into despair, leaving Israel as the sole decision-making force. It is obvious that this would merely push problems and solutions to the future.