The no-preconditions-for-talks mantra that was put on repeat by Israeli PM Netanyahu prior to the start of direct negotiations between Israel and Palestine is well known. Netanyahu rejected out of hand the requirement that the talks be based on 1967 borders as well as the Palestinian desire to see illegal settlement construction halted in all Palestinian territories, including Arab East Jerusalem. Through enough pressure, though, Palestinian President Abbas was pushed to the negotiating table despite being rejected out of hand by Netanyahu. Abbas is now threatening to leave the peace talks if the limited construction freeze (ineffective and not including East Jerusalem) is not extended. Netanyahu, meanwhile, is trying to push back against what he considers to be more preconditions by, ironically, introducing new demands of his own.
The entire Middle East quartet (the US, EU, UN and Russia) believes that the construction freeze should be extended in order to preserve the peace talks, but Israel is firmly grasping to the belief that settling on Palestinian land should not be a disruption to the peace process. The Israeli PM, while concurrently chastising Palestinians for ‘reintroducing preconditions’, has been busy demanding concessions from the Palestinians.
Among Netanyahu’s demands are the annexation of the Jordan Valley by Israel, the demilitarization of Palestine, Israeli control over Palestinian airspace and electromagnetic field, acquiescence to the assumption that major settlements will remain in Israel and that Palestine recognize Israel as a Jewish state (thus abandoning the sacred right of return.)
Essentially, Netanyahu is saying that the Palestinians have no right to demand anything of Israel in the process of negotiations while Israel has the right to place strict and limiting preconditions on any final deal – preconditions that make a Netanyahu’s vision of a future Palestinian state unviable.
[tweetmeme] Netanyahu’s hypocrisy on the subject of preconditions was almost humorously evident in two recent pieces in Haaretz and YNet News, both Israeli. Haaretz – in two paragraphs – reveals the Israeli PM inability to acknowledge Palestinian demands while making his own:
“We got rid of the preconditions before the talks. We can’t reintroduce them five minutes after the talks begin. We have to sustain a negotiation,” he said.
Netanyahu said that in any agreement there will have to be an Israeli Defense Force presence in the West Bank in view of the possibility that an eastern front could reopen because of “an internal change in Palestinian politics.”
My translation: Palestine cannot demand concessions from Israel in peace talks and, if there is to be peace, here are the concessions the Palestinians need to make. In YNet, this same hypocrisy was shortened further into one paragraph:
In talks on Tuesday, Netanyahu will place two main demands on the table. The first is that any agreement struck between the parties represent an end to the conflict and an end of Palestinian demands placed on Israel. He will also demand that Israel’s security be ensured and that Israel be recognized as a Jewish state, a matter that has already received significant opposition among senior PA leaders.
Translation: Netanyahu demands that Palestinians stop their demands. Of course, there is a slight difference between the Palestinians demand that the settlement freeze be extended and Israel’s demand to be, for example, recognized as a Jewish state. The consequence of not extending the freeze is an immediate end to the negotiations while the consequence for not recognizing Israel as Jewish – if Netanyahu is to be believed – is not the end of negotiations, but rather an indefinite continuation of the conflict.
Put another way, Israel has conditions for peace whereas Palestine has preconditions for negotiations. Perhaps an inconsequential difference when the consequence of failing to meet Israel’s conditions or Palestine’s preconditions is identical: failure of the peace talks. Perhaps more frustrating about the juxtaposition of the consistent Israeli diatribe against Palestinian demands and the relative Palestinian silence concerning Israeli demands is the legal legitimacy of each side’s demands.
Settlements are considered illegal by international law. Demanding that Israel stop settlement expansion, then, is simply demanding that Israel start complying with international law. Furthermore, under the Bush Road map, signed by both Israel and Palestine in 2003, called for the freeze of settlement construction and the evacuation of many illegal settlements and outposts. Thus, Palestinian preconditions can be simply understood as a commitment to past agreements (though it must be noted that then Israeli PM Ariel Sharon rejected the settlement requirement).
While the Palestinian demand for an extension of the settlement freeze is therefore rooted in past agreements and international law, the Israeli demands for peace are generally new or stand in opposition to international law. The claim that Israel must annex the Jordan Valley to defend its eastern front is a rather disingenuous way of making permanent the many colonies that have been established in the region. Moreover, it would represent a permanent annexation of territory (much like East Jerusalem) that was captured by war – illegal under UNSC Resolution 237. The demand that Palestine recognize Israel as a Jewish state (and therefore abort the physically and symbolically important right of return) is a relatively new demand that has not been an issue in past negotiations. From Yossi Alpher:
One way or another, the Israeli prime minister is trying to introduce an additional core issue to final status negotiations, one not mentioned in the Oslo accords of 1993, which stipulated that borders and settlements, Jerusalem, refugees and security would constitute the agenda…
At Camp David in July 2000, the Israeli delegation led by PM Ehud Barak presented a “Jewish state” position, but made little fuss over it. After all, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 of November 1947, which created the State of Israel, called for the establishment of “Arab and Jewish states” in Mandatory Palestine, and Israel incorporated the term “Jewish state” in its declaration of independence. Hence it was logical that the subject would come up in negotiations over the establishment of the Arab state mentioned in 181. The PLO, incidentally, accepted 181 more than 20 years ago…
I would argue that Netanyahu’s insistence of recognition of Israel as a Jewish state in some ways constitutes an understandable reaction to the Palestinian positions reflected in the failure of negotiations in 2000 and again in 2008. (It also in some ways reflects Israel’s ongoing search for a Middle East identity–a topic worthy of separate treatment.) Yet at the tactical level, Netanyahu’s brandishing of this demand so provocatively and long before negotiations have even begun to approach a conclusion, has generated little Arab understanding and much Arab negativism about the negotiations.
Here, typically, is what Jordanian commentator Urayb ar-Rintawi had to say about the Israeli demand on Sept. 16: “Having been established over six decades ago based on the banishment of the Palestinians and their expulsion from history, Israel wants to expel us from ‘history’ today once more: From the contemporary and old history of Palestine. It wants us to willingly and happily adopt the historical Zionist narrative. It wants us to recognize the ‘Law of Return’ that transforms Palestine into a ‘reserve homeland’ for every Jewish person or possible Jewish project in the world, after we drop ‘the right of return’ for six million refugees scattered in Palestine and the Arab world.” (my emphasis)
It would seem, then, that Netanyahu is not only glossing over international law by dismissing Palestinian demands, but is also trying to reform the already agreed upon core issues of the conflict. Moreover, the Israeli Prime Minister is trying to introduce a new requirement that is inherently opposed to a core issue: the refugees’ right of return.
It would be a shame, though unsurprising, if this round of direct negotiations were to come to a close with a renewal of settlement construction in 6 more days. While Palestine continues to reiterate its plan to withdraw from negotiations if settlement construction continues Israel seems inclined to stand up to the international community. All in all, the main characteristics of these young talks have morphed into the denial of Palestinian demands and the imposition of new Israeli demands.
Photo from Revista Amauta