The announcement by Israel’s Defence Minister - Ehud Barak - on September 7 that Israel will proceed to complete 2500 housing units in the West Bank - and commence building another 455 units there - is Israel’s response to the demand by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton that Israel freeze all settlement activity in the West Bank including “natural growth”.
It is also an answer to the Palestinian Authority whose chief negotiator - Saeb Erekat - said on 31 August:
"There can be no middle ground ... He [Netanyahu] needs to stop settlement activities including ‘natural growth’,”Israel has thus made it abundantly clear that :
1. there will be no “freeze”,Continuing Palestinian Authority intransigence in refusing to concede one square meter of land in the West Bank to Israel - let alone agree to moderate or concede other claims infinitely far more difficult to resolve - ensure that the resumption of negotiations will yet once again lead to a dead end.
2. that building activity will continue at a rapid pace and
3. that there is no restriction on planning and development approvals being put in place to ensure that building activity is immediately resumed if negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority fail to reach any concluded agreement within a time frame - possibly six months - expected to be announced by President Obama later this month.
This intransigence has been exacerbated as the Palestinian Authority and Hamas find themselves locked in a bitter power struggle for the hearts and minds of the West Bank and Gazan Arabs.
Indeed the urgent need to patch up their presently irreconcilable differences was endorsed at a meeting of the Quartet - America, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations - held at Trieste on 26 June 2009.
The communique issued by the Quartet on that occasion contained the following plea:
“Noting the detrimental effect of Palestinian divisions and underscoring its desire for these divisions to be overcome, the Quartet called on all Palestinians to commit themselves to non-violence, recognition of Israel, and acceptance of previous agreements and obligations. Restoring Palestinian unity based on Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) commitments would be an important factor in this process. while facilitating reconstruction of Gaza and the organization of elections. The Quartet expressed support on this basis, for the ongoing mediation efforts of Egypt and the Arab League for Palestinian reconciliation behind President Abbas and appealed to all States in the region to play a constructive role in supporting the reconciliation process”
Clearly the Quartet itself had come to the conclusion that the Palestinian Authority under President Abbas was a toothless tiger incapable of negotiating and concluding any form of binding peace treaty with Israel whilst Fatah and Hamas remained engaged in their deadly and divisive end game struggle.
That struggle has continued unabated since June despite the most intensive efforts of Egypt and the Arab League to effect a reconciliation.
President Obama was therefore seriously in error in ever suggesting that Israel should freeze settlement activity in these circumstances whilst complete Palestinian chaos and disunity prevailed.
The Quartet was talking pie in the sky if it believed Hamas would reconcile behind President Abbas. Hamas regards itself as the legitimately elected Government of the Palestinians. Hamas will not abandon that position in favour of anyone - especially President Abbas.
In this politically charged and uncertain environment there is simply no credible negotiating partner to sit down with Israel to implement the obligations under the Road Map or any other proposal President Obama may be contemplating. President Obama’s belief that any negotiations in this current atmosphere can have any possible chance of success is pure folly.
Indeed this view is supported and highlighted by the Quartet’s own statement that:
“these negotiations must result in the end of all claims.”Neither Hamas nor Fatah will ever be able to abandon their claim for millions of Arabs and their descendants to emigrate to Israel. It is written into their respective constitutions and forms the very essence of their continued functioning and existence . To concede that right in negotiations would be political suicide and impossible to abandon by either Fatah or Hamas.
The Quartet persisted with the simplistic notion affirmed in its statement that :
“the only viable solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that ends the occupation began in 1967 and fulfils the aspirations of both parties for independent homelands through two states for two peoples, Israel and an independent, contiguous and viable State of Palestine, living side by side in peace and security”This solution was first proposed in 1937, again in 1947 and could have been achieved at any time between 1948-1967 after Jews living in the West Bank and Gaza were driven out by the invading Arab armies of Jordan and Egypt.
Tried again in 1993, 2000 and now under the Road Map since 2003 - the Quartet have backed themselves into a corner in persisting with the claim that this is
“the only viable solution.”.There are other alternative solutions to “ending the occupation” of West Bank and Gazan Arabs that remain unexplored and unaddressed which do not have to involve the creation of a new Arab State between Israel and Jordan.
The Quartet’s stubborn insistence on its solution being the only viable solution indicates the bankruptcy of its own thinking. It exposes the Quartet’s inability to adjust to the current political void in the Palestinian leadership that has totally destroyed any prospects of the Quartet’s solution even remotely occurring whilst the reconciliation process urged by the Quartet remains unfulfilled.
To expect any other outcome in negotiations whilst the West Bank and Gaza remain split into separate Fatah and Hamas fiefdoms is naive in the extreme.
In these circumstances President Obama’s demand to freeze Israeli settlements was misdirected and totally mistimed.
Freezing building in existing Jewish settlements in an attempt to induce the political eunuch that the Palestinian Authority presently represents to enter into meaningless and ineffectual negotiations would have been a grave error of judgment on Israel’s part.
Israel’s agreement to resumption of negotiations with the Palestinian Authority at this point of time will therefore only be a sop to President Obama. Nothing will come from such negotiations.
The Palestinian Authority now need to decide whether they will take part in such negotiations.
Saeb Erekat has toned down his rhetoric of just one week ago telling Haaretz on 7 September
“Israel’s decision to approve the construction of over 450 new settlement units nullifies any effect that a settlement freeze, when and if announced will have”Given that there will not be any announcement of a freeze - the ball is now firmly in the Palestinian Authority’s court.
To decide whether to negotiate in the absence of any freeze is rapidly coming to the boil - both for President Obama and the Palestinian Authority.
Both are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.