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Abbas’ conciliatory Security Council speech

Feb 27,2018 - Last updated at Feb 27,2018

Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the Security Council last Tuesday was carefully designed. It was clearly moderate, it did not hint at any change in Abbas’ pacifist negotiating strategy, it kept the door wide open for negotiating a settlement although in a different format, and even when he needed to reaffirm his position against an American monopoly on the peace process, he actually invited the US to maintain a significant role in any future peace efforts.

Rather than Washington, Abbas called for the convening of an international peace conference with assured US participation, as a UN Security Council member, he invited all council members to take part, and as a leading member of the “Quartet” — the US, the UN, the EU and Russia — which Abbas also called upon to participate. But in addition to that, Abbas made sure to invite US participation in the envisaged peace conference.

But, there was a major international Arab-Israeli peace conference in Madrid in 1991 under the joint sponsorship of the US and Russia. It was a great event, it was viewed as a major breakthrough, it was widely represented with Arab states’ leaders sitting around the same conference table with Israelis for the first time ever. The UN and the European Commission were represented as well.

But because Israel has been constantly opposed to subject its conflict with the Palestinians, or with the Arab states, to any international format, knowing that its chances of winning any argument in such an environment, it only agreed to the Madrid conference as a ceremonial inauguration of direct bilateral Israeli-Arab negotiation, set then to begin in Washington immediately after the four-day conference had ended. Since then Israel wanted the US and the US alone to handle the talks. Even as Russia was a co-sponsor, it did not take long before its role had quietly lapsed, while the Arab and Israeli delegations were meeting round after round at the US State Department in Washington DC, with the US in full control of the endeavor.

In Madrid there were no negotiations, only speeches, no resolutions and no discussion of substance. The Madrid international exercise, which had long been sought by the Arab side, was no more than a face saving cover, for the related Arab states, to agree to sit with Israelis face to face to negotiate peace.

Although that happened 27 years ago, when surrounding regional and international conditions were much more favourable for peace making than they are today, the outcome of the entire effort was very poor, far less than the most modest expectations. Israel’s intransigence then as is now, had blocked any progress towards reasonable peace agreements with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians.

For Israel, direct negotiations were the primary goal in the hope that that would lead to normalisation, engulf the conflict rather than resolve it and create a state of peace without ending the occupation of the Arab and Palestinian territories or addressing the Palestinian rights.

An international conference under the present circumstance, if ever possible, would have no power whatsoever. The US will control the whole scene on behalf of the same extremist Israeli demands. At best, the US would introduce the same ideas that the Jared Kushner-Jason Greenblatt team has been flying in the past months.

If the entire United Nations Organisation, with its 193 members, with all its resolutions during the past seven decades and with the weight of the Charter and the rule of international law buttressing its tasks, had no power in resolving the conflict, why should an abridged version of it, held elsewhere, be expected to do any better?

The truth of the matter is that Israel, since it was created, never respected UN rulings or judgements, and it managed to escape accountability due to American protection at the World body. If anything has changed, it is that American protection is getting more definite and solid, as well as practiced openly, with the inevitable result of enhanced Israeli defiance, indifference and intransigence.

It is hard to believe that such simple realities are unknown to the Palestinian leadership.

Abbas must be aware of the fact that any conference would have no value without US presence, therefore, he made sure the US must participate. The question is would a US delegation at the envisaged Abbas mini international conference adopt different positions from those of US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, who probably would be the one to attend.

Apparently, what lies behind the Abbas international conference idea is to unlock him from the corner he painted himself into when he declared his boycott of the Trump administration. The international conference might offer him a face-saving opportunity for retreat, actually much like the Madrid conference three decades ago.

The Abbas message at the Security Council was clear. He did not want to abandon or even change his negotiating strategy, he did not want to shun the United States and he still hopes that further recycling of the many exhausted, indeed failed, peace process formulas may yield some results, or at least buy him time, results or no results.

In his case, that is understandable. At this late stage, Abbas can change a strategy he adopted and insisted on defending despite massive and accumulated failures. In the intricate world of politics, when leaders’ policies fail they make room for others to come up with alternatives.

Radical change of the Palestinian and the Arab strategy in handling the Arab-Israeli conflict is well overdue. Evidence is piling up every day that the many circulating formulas have all failed. There is no point in panting endlessly behind the mirage. Israel is not only not hiding its intentions in rejecting everything the Palestinians and the Arabs have offered so far, but it is also supporting its defiance by creating irreversible facts on the ground.

If Abbas still believes that his conciliatory approach would gain him favour in Washington, it did not take long before he was proven totally wrong. The new Trump decision to advance the date of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem to next May, to coincide with Israel’s national day, on the day the Palestinians commemorate their worst catastrophe ever, is just one reward for Abbas’s additional conciliatory message.

Expecting the UN or the US or the Quartet, or the EU or the so-called international community to do anything different is delusional. Not until the Palestinians, with Arab backing, reassert their rights and come up with a new strategy for ending the occupation to the very last inch in accordance with UN resolutions, removal of all settlements as was the case in Sinai and Gaza, and seeking full justice for the Palestinian refugees, including unfettered exercise of the right of return, not until that happens should one expect others to change.

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Comments

"ending the occupation to the last inch" is the delusion that will never happen"
Israel is not suicidal, it will hold onto whatever it feels necessary for its security.
How many countless generation of Palestinian lives must be ruined because the Palestinian elite demands "every inch".

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