Middle East negotiations
Article added on January 9, 2010
On January 6, 2010 Barack Obama's
Middle East envoy George Mitchell granted an interview to Charlie Rose on
the US TV station PBS. Mitchell said about the Middle East
negotiations between Israeli and Palestinians:
“We think that the negotiation should last no more than two years. Once begun,
we think it can be done within that period of time. We hope the parties
agree. Personally, I think it can be done in a shorter period of time.”
George Mitchell mentioned three pillars of the US effort: 1) Get the parties
to political negotiations that will lead to a peace agreement. 2) Make sure
that any peace agreement will provide security to Israel, Palestine and
their regional neighbors. 3) Create economic development and make
institutional efforts, which translates in helping Prime Minister Fayyad
building institutions to be able to govern Palestine.
Still speaking on PBS, George Mitchell said that that the Israeli
freeze on settlements means progress. He also praised the Palestinian
Authority for tackling security (terrorist) issues in an efficient way,
which the Israeli acknowledge too.
George Mitchell defined the difference between Hamas and Fatah as follows:
“Fatah believes in non-violence and negotiation, Hamas in violent resistance and
the destruction of Israel.” He saw however the necessity to bring Hamas and
Fatah together. Led by the Egyptians, the negotiations between the two
Palestinian factions have so far not delivered results yet.
George Mitchell also mentioned the fact the Israeli control over the entire
city of Jerusalem is not recognized by any country. The United Nations
Security Council Resolution 478 declared Israel's 1980 Jerusalem Law null
and void, a violation of international law. Currently, no country maintains
an embassy in Jerusalem.
Since both Israel and the Palestinian Authority want Jerusalem as their
capital, all negotiating parties, including George Mitchell, still have a
lot of work to do.
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The Middle East peace process has stagnated for quite some time.
Israel's Gaza War
has not been helpful, especially given the fact that Hamas is still in
power. At least, since the
the 2009 election
Prime Minister Netanyahu
has realized that the West Bank (Cisjordania), the territory politically
ruled by Fatah, deserves some economic development, in Israel's own
At the same time, Israel has continued to create new settlements. The freeze
mentioned by George Mitchell is only a
“partial” freeze. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had made matters worse when
she declared towards the end of 2009, that she appreciated the efforts of
the Netanyahu government regarding a settlement freeze.
Earlier in 2009, both President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton had
issued much tougher statement. It looked as if they categorically insisted
on a complete settlement freeze by Israel. In that light, Clinton's remarks
toward the end of 2009 must have appeared to be a bad joke by many
Palestinians, including President Abbas.
In consequence, Abbas said in November 2009 he did not wish to seek another
term in the January 2010 presidential election because of his frustration
with the US-led peace efforts and the Israeli refusal to accept a complete
Abbas had been elected on January 9, 2005 for a four-year term. Abbas'
decision made headlines worldwide. Politicians from near and far rushed to
Abbas to convince him to reconsider his decision. Finally, people realized
how important the Palestinian leader was for the Middle East peace process.
Finally, on December 16, 2009 the PLO decided to postpone the election and
to extend the mandate of President Mahmoud Abbas until new elections were
held. Abbas' term in office was due to expire on January 25, 2010.
Naturally, Hamas did not appreciate by the Fatah dominated PLO. Hamas
leaders dismissed the PLO's decision as non-binding.
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How serious Abbas' announcement not to stand for re-election was remains
unclear. In any case, it was a healthy wake-up call. Abbas is 74. He will
not be around forever. Both Israel and the US have wasted the years of Abbas
as president and of Fayyad as prime minister to improve relations between
Israel and Palestine. Never before, Israel and the West had such reliable
partners in the Palestinian camp. Even if one considers that Hamas has to be
part of a credible peace deal, precious time has been squandered.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad (*1952) is younger, but neither a member of
Fatah nor of Hamas. He remains a doubtful future Palestinian leader, not
because he is not able or credible, but because (for now) he lacks the
necessary power base.
The only other possible leader cited by many commentators is Marwan
Barghouti (*1959). Captured by the Israeli defense forces in 2002, he is
sitting in an Israeli jail. Could he become a sort of Nelson Mandela?
In any case, the Israeli and the West should realize that without a
Palestinian state in the foreseeable future, the times of relative security
could end. In 2009, not a single suicide attack was registered in Israel.
Between 2000 and 2008, over 540 Israeli had lost their lives in such
On the Palestinian side, Abbas and his Fatah should clean up their ranks or
reformers should create a new party, whereas Hamas has to realize that
without recognizing Israel's right to exist, there will be no peace.
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