As August 2010 crawled to an unbearably hot end here in Ramallah, September was welcomed with a break in the temperature and the resurrection of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine. The talks, on the other hand, were not welcomed by Palestinians as openly as the cooler temperature. Protests across the occupied territories displayed Palestinian discontent with President Mahmoud Abbas engaging with Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu. To be sure, Palestinians want peace with Israel, but many are upset with the concessions America and Israel pushed on Abbas before the talks started
Before the talks, Abbas was adamant that Palestine would not engage directly with Israel until the latter halted all settlement construction throughout the occupied Palestinian territories – including East Jerusalem. Abbas, of course, held firmly to this demand thanks to the US President espousing the same demands last year. Yet, Abbas was pushed into talks without a moratorium on construction or concrete terms of reference.
[tweetmeme] As is obvious to anyone reading any newspaper or watching any television, peace talks have started with an agreement that negotiations must be concluded by August of next year. While it is clear to anyone who follows this site, I think that there is a slim chance that the negotiations will make it to next August. However, if Obama is able to put enough pressure on the two parties so that talks can advance and survive until next Ramadan, August will be a very interesting month here in the Levant.
Not only will Muslims across the world be celebrating Ramadan, but Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad has promised to unilaterally declare Palestinian independence along 1967 line in August. Fayyad’s plan was started more than a year ago and was based on building Palestinian institutions in order to discredit the claims that Palestine is not ready for independence. Thus, if talks between Abbas and Netanyahu fall through and if both sides are fortunately enough to avoid a third intifada, Palestinians could potentially be ready to unilaterally declare and end to the occupation (though such a declaration would not be met – at least immediately says the optimist – with an Israeli withdrawal).
The danger of course is that a unilateral declaration of independence immediately after the failure of peace talks and possibly within the throws of another violent struggle could easily anger Israelis and result in a deepening of the occupation. On the other hand, declaring independence immediately after another round of failed talks could become catalyze either a mass nonviolent effort to enforce independence and force withdrawal or, conversely, a mass return to violent resistance.
On the other hand, there is always the chance that somehow Israel and Palestine are able to forge peace diplomatically over the next year, in which case Fayyad’s declaration of independence would become the crowning achievement in a year that defied the odds.
In any event, those who are fortunate enough to be in Israel or Palestine next August will have an exciting and hopefully joyous reason to celebrate. As I plan to leave the region by the end of the year, perhaps I should start planning my return – hopefully to an independent Palestine.
Photo from The Punch