A few months before the end of his term in government and in light of the recurring crises, the US President has called for an international conference dedicated to the Middle East. The conference will be held in the autumn of 2007 without setting an exact date. In addition, and contrary to procedures noted concerning such conferences, no previous preparations have been observed in order to guarantee the success of the conference or to achieve accomplishments in congruence with expectations apart from the standpoints of parties that seem unconcerned or hesitant.
Within such an atmosphere, many questions are raised about the extent of seriousness of the invitation to this conference and its ability to achieve a genuine breakthrough in the political impasse at the negotiation level between the Israelis and Palestinians. It seems as though it is merely an attempt at improving the U.S. President’s party, personal and political standing before the next elections.
It is only natural that such a conference would be studied and deliberated within Palestinian society at an early stage considering the high expectations of it. Thus it is necessary to discuss the expectations from such a conference and the many contradictory and incongruous points of view. One reading of the situation suggests that this conference is only a natural culmination of a number of U.S. efforts represented by a series of visits carried out by the Secretary of State, and President Bush’s vision concerning the establishment of a Palestinian state maybe even before the end of his term. Another reading, however, suggests it is an attempt to cleanse the U.S. administration’s bloody hands, after not letting one opportunity pass in recent years to harm the Arab people - especially the Palestinians and the Iraqis. President Bush seems to be seeking to beautify the ugly face of reality and with presidential elections only a few months away, the Republican party is left with an appalling record that will definitely be unappealing to the U.S. voter. Reaching a Israeli-Palestinian settlement would help repair his image.
Despite all the various positions and stands, the established reality on the ground is that the conference will take place soon. There are some official parties connected to the conference that are either daunted by it or indifferent to it. The Israeli viewpoint attempts to continuously lower people’s expectations and ambitions. Some others even go beyond that claiming that the U.S. is not interested in a real peace process in the Middle East region in the first place, that it is merely managing the crisis. This point of view is substantiated by the history of the Arab –Israeli conflict. Over a number of decades, the U.S. administration has resolved most international conflicts but has still not resolved the Middle East conflict, so that now one could be forgiven for thinking it impossible to solve. Some have come to the conclusion that the only explanation is an American interest in keeping the conflict alive in the Middle East to protect American influence in the area.
The Palestinian civil and local society’s main concern is that there is some form of congruence between their aspirations and the halo with which the parties who have extended the invitation have tried to surround this conference. Palestinians have become used to one disappointment after another and do not want to continue towards a new one where the conference is ended with a statement, or at the most an agreement on a declaration of principles. Experience with the first declaration of principles a few years back is not very pleasant and obstacles and impediments are still fresh within the Palestinian collective memory. One can thus conclude that any new declaration of principles will not add anything new unless actual and definitive steps are taken on the ground. The course of action should not only be one of a declaration of principles or of the initiation of a negotiation process since our memories are still filled with negative impressions of a ten year period of barren negotiation. The equation is clear-cut and open, especially since each side has declared its aims and ceilings which keep issues within the realm of crisis management.
In order to cover the subject from all its perspectives it will be dealt with through three main foci that need to be analyzed and they are as follows:-
• Expectations from the International “Autumn Conference”.
• The Preparations Required for an International Conference.
• The Indicators of Success or Failure within the Palestinian Arena.
1. Expectations from the international “Autumn Conference”
Expectations could be intensified due to the balance between Palestinians’ aspirations and what could be required from the U.S. and Israel in this conference. On the Palestinian level, there is a nearly complete consensus that what is required for the success of this conference is that it forms an introduction to the unleashing of a serious peace process that has content and based on international resolutions and legitimacy to lead to ending the Israeli occupation and to a solution that guarantees the inalienable rights of the Palestinians. That is, their right to the establishment of an independent state and the resolution of the refugee problem on the basis of international resolutions and especially resolution 194.
There are a number of conditions that the conference will have to comply with in order for it to be able to carry out such a role and they are as follows:-
1. It will have to be a conference that includes all parties to the conflict and deals not only with the representatives but with all the issues and the tracks of conflict, as the Palestinian – Israeli solution cannot progress unless it is included within a comprehensive Arab Israeli solution. It will be impossible to achieve a Palestinian- Israeli peace without a comprehensive resolution that will present solutions to the conflict on all the tracks and on the basis of the Arab peace initiative which will guarantee Arab consensus towards this process and its results. The participation of all concerned Arab parties to the conflict is an essential and basic Palestinian demand.
The latest developments indicate that the American stand against the participation of some Arab parties at the beginning, especially Syria and Lebanon has currently changed and it seems the Americans now agree on principles to their attendance but within a framework called “The Arab Follow Up Committee on the Arab Peace Initiative”. Despite all this, the U.S definition of the conference seems to be restricted to its being dedicated only to the in-depth deliberation on the Palestinian-Israeli track, i.e. it will not contend with the other tracks. This presents a recurring formula whereby the Arab presence became merely one for the purpose of encouraging Palestinian-Israeli negotiations instead of its being a comprehensive conference that deals with all the tracks within the conflict.
2. The conference should be arranged according to clear principles and should be contingent upon international resolutions and legitimacy and the previous references to the peace process based on the principle of land for peace, so that the process of ending the Israeli occupation of 1967 is the essential issue to be dealt with in the conference.
3. The conference should be completely under international auspices, not only within the framework of the quartet but also with the effective participation of the United Nations in addition to the attendance of a number of international powers that are not members of the international quartet but that play an important role in international politics and are interested in the Middle East and the Arab / Israeli conflict, such as China, Japan, Canada and some European states.
It seems that there is agreement upon the invitation of a number of international parties to the conference apart from the quartet; and this can be considered a step forward on the condition that this international participation under the auspices of the conference is a serious and active one and not just a matter of formalities so that what happened in Madrid is not repeated. Madrid started under participatory auspices but ended later with bilateral negotiations which eventually submitted to the unilateral auspices of the U.S. It is most likely that both the Americans and the Israelis support the mere formalities of international auspices. However, this will place the subsequent process within a framework dominated by the U.S and during the past period it has proven it is not an honest broker, but aligned to the Israeli aggressor, which it continuously stresses to be an ally.
The Palestinians, from a realistic perspective, do not expect that this conference will lead to an agreement that will end the Israeli occupation and establish an independent Palestinian state during its convention. Nevertheless, what is required for the conference to be successful from the Palestinian point of view is that the parties should at least come to an initial agreement concerning the guiding principles of negotiation which depend on unambiguous foundations. The main basis for the guiding principles should be an emphasis on the fact that a two state solution should be founded along the 1967 borders and the fact that the refugee problem should be according to international resolutions and especially resolution 194 and that the solution to the water issue should refer to international law as should be the case in all other issues. If this happens, the proper foundations will be laid down as they will include international resolutions and initiation of the negotiation process will be facilitated and eventually the process will move towards the details of implementation. This is probably what the Palestinians mean by a “framework agreement” which will not be a repeat of previous references but a Palestinian attempt at clarifying interpretations of these previous references concerning each of the issues within the conflict that are presented whether concerning the borders, refugees, Jerusalem, security, water or the settlements.
There is a belief that the existence of these conditions could initiate a subsequent negotiation process that would take place under international auspices and that could lead to a solution based on equity. However, Palestinians can perceive that the current status quo does not realistically allow for meeting Palestinian aspirations due to the internal Palestinian situation which is experiencing its worst forms of division. It has at no other time reached such a status of weakness. Within the same context, some hold the faulty impression that internal Palestinian divisions can encourage the U.S. and Israeli governments to give one of the parties (i.e. the PLO and the Palestinian leadership) rewards in order to consolidate their state of affairs and to undermine Hamas’ position. When investigating the details this interpretation includes a great deal of naiveté and superficiality as both governments will most probably seek to exploit and place pressure on both sides together and will not adopt a method of handing out rewards to one side at the expense of another as both Palestinian sides are weak and weak parties usually do not gain anything, whilst having to implement whatever is dictated to them.
Thus the Palestinians will be entering a negotiation battle within an environment of division and weakness which can only be described as the direst circumstances within the history of the Palestinian cause. One can thus deduce that accordingly the Palestinians are ill-equipped for delving into this negotiating experience next autumn. On the other hand, the Israelis are also not ready for entering a serious negotiation process as there are visible and continuous signs of division even within the ruling Kadima party; and the disassembly and threats towards the government, apart from deepening divisions within the Keneset, all indicate that the Israelis prefer to escape from any serious negotiations especially concerning the final status issues of the Palestinian – Israeli conflict.
It is not expected that the conference will come to anything even if it is held and will especially not reach the results aspired for by the Palestinians. Thus an important question arises - Will this conference culminate into what is aspired for on the Israeli side? This will most probably be a bone of contention and the Palestinians will have to manage this conflict and the intertwined negotiation process with a highly realistic sense and great dexterity from the point of departure that it is necessary to eliminate the worst that could result from such a conference. One could define the “worst” that could result from this conference, not only as that it would culminate in nothing as some have analyzed, but in a negative result such as the establishment of a new basis for future negotiation other than the recognized principles that have been internationally adopted so far (international legitimacy, the road map and the Arab Peace Initiative). Furthermore, the speech by President Bush, in which he declared his invitation to the conference is an indicator in this direction, as the speech was not restricted to an invitation for the convention of a conference but also included some elements of the solution as envisioned by the U.S. administration and which were included within Bush’s letter to Sharon on 14/4/2004. This same letter includes a number of American stands which fall beneath the level of international resolutions. That is, it indicates that there is a necessity for taking the realities of the settlements which are on the ground, into consideration when delineating the final borders; and it also indicates that the refugee problem should be solved within the framework of the Palestinian state and not according to the basis of the right of return which is guaranteed by resolution 194. The letter also indicates that Jerusalem is a sensitive issue that should not be postponed! And these are new principles and a new framework and new grounds which have been included in the Bush speech which incorporated the invitation to an international conference.
One can only conclude after a review of the complete speech that the American President is trying to bridge the gap between the Palestinian and Arab call for dealing with the final status issues on the one hand and the American-Israeli option named the state with temporary borders option on the other hand. The Americans and Israelis require that this conference lays down the basis for the forthcoming negotiation process after the conference ends, on the basis of a state with temporary borders even though it does not use that exact terminology and this is the worst result from the Palestinian perspective. Thus, Palestinian pressure should continue for a “framework agreement” that would present detailed interpretations of the principles of international legitimacy concerning the final status issues. However, if these attempts fail, the Palestinian and Arab sides will have to re-emphasize previous references i.e. international resolutions and the principle of land for peace, while continuing to work for the initiation of a serious negotiation process under international supervision in order to translate these references into political behavior. Otherwise, the worst will prevail and the principles of the whole “political game” will change; as once the old principles of the game are obliterated and a new negotiation system with new principles is drafted, the biggest losers will be the Arabs and Palestinians.
2. Palestinian Preparations
Discussing Palestinian preparations from the official point of view is an important issue as it is useful for discovering the actual Palestinian expectations according to the concept of what is possible and closer to reality in light of the preparations that are being carried out, and whether the Palestinians are at least prepared to face the worst option of changing the “rules of the game”.
The idea of convening an international conference next autumn was presented unexpectedly and without previous warning, and with the passage of time, this invitation to a conference is amassing special importance as its suggested date is drawing nearer. Without doubt, the expected results depend on the preparations that are being made by various concerned parties and especially the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians. At the beginning of Bush’s launching of his invitation its most important attributes were that it took all the parties by surprise, and dumbfounded the Palestinians as it came without introductions and was enveloped in total obscurity and was mainly of an impromptu nature at least that is how the declared initiative seemed. It was also ambiguous, and Rice could not conceal or circumvent this fact despite her aptitude and intelligence especially during her expeditions to the area after Bush launched his initiative. She did not answer any questions posed to her by either the Israeli or Palestinian sides however on the Israeli side she was always prepared to hear their point of view but she never gave any answers and remained a good listener who interacted with Israeli desires.
The controversy over the naming of the invitation and whether the event was intended to be a conference, meeting or symposium in addition to the ambiguous nature of the event and whether it was going to be at an international or regional level - all these queries were posed by the Palestinians and other important ones such as: the timing or exact date of the conference, the nature of the invitees, the conference, the agenda, and the outcomes within a timeframe. However, since there were no available answers, the Palestinians’ first reaction was exaggerated especially since there were no clear answers to the points raised and only Israeli leaks on the conference which stated that it was a point for normalization and that it would not be an international conference despite the fact that this is also groundless. The Israelis wanted to perplex the Palestinians and mix the cards with the aim of pressuring the Palestinians and embarrassing them. With time, the American administration began to consider answering and to “engineer” the conference slowly in light of the stands declared by both the Palestinians and later the Israelis.
The Americans were interested in careful preparation and Rice suggested that bilateral meetings that would take place between leading Israelis and Palestinians would form the basis for the preparations for the conference. Five meetings were thus held including the Palestinian President on the one hand and the Israeli Prime Minister on the other and they were closed bilateral meetings that included only Abbas and Olmert by themselves and without the participation of any third party. The meetings were held without setting a previous agenda and without any minutes or taping; they were in the form of brainstorming sessions on the basic issues whereby Abu Mazen noted that they penetrated the barriers of the inviolable concerning discussion of the final status negotiation issues which are – Jerusalem, the refugees, security, the settlements, the borders and water, thus delineating the shape of the independent state which could result after an agreement over these basic issues. In the final meeting between ‘Abbas and Olmert the former declared for the first time that he was 70% optimistic and that the Palestinian delegation to the preparations and discussion sessions had achieved a number of successes some of which were:-
- Extending the list of invitations to the conference to include Syria and Lebanon. The Palestinian side insisted upon this as they are states that also have occupied lands.
- The crystallization of a unified Arab stance after Abu Mazen’s visit to Saudi Arabia, which provided a substantial thrust forward to the preparations and the crystallization of stands. Whilst the Israeli government wanted only Saudi Arabia to participate by itself in the conference, so that it could benefit from Arab-Israeli normalization procedures, the stern Saudi stand which was apparent during the press conferences showed up the Arab position and thus unified it in support of the Palestinian stand.
- Coming closer to the definition of a clear and defined agenda i.e. a timeframe for implementing peace in the area and the definition of a specific date for the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Observers noted that after all these consecutive Arab developments, the American administration itself started to develop its stands and to work on the crystallization of a work agenda. Thus Rice’s statements began to carry more positive content that was more congruent with Palestinian aspirations. After that the parties agreed to widen the circle of participants and Syria declared, through one of its top officials, Walid Mu’allem, that the Syrian position will be outlined after they receive an official invitation. This took place despite the fact that ‘Amr Mousa declared that Syria will attend the conference. It seems that the form of Syrian participation is in a state of flux as the invitation extended to it will be either as one of the Arab states who are following the general situation or due to the fact that it has occupied lands; thus the status of Syrian attendance and the principles upon which it will depend will reflect differing roles for Syria within the conference. In addition, no one has mentioned the possibility of extending an invitation to Lebanon until now especially since it is not a member of the Arab Initiative Follow-Up Committee, whereas an invitation will be extended to all the members of which Syria is a member and Lebanon is not, so one could conclude that Lebanon will not be invited.
One of the developments that the Palestinians worked for was an attempt at lobbying for the attendance of international parties within the UN Security Council under the condition that they attend on the basis of their membership in the UNSC and not as members of the European Union, and the attendance of China as the attendance of all international parties will be in the favor of Palestinian interests. There is also a rumor that the French President Sarkozi asked Abu Mazen to request, from the American president, the specific presence of France and not just as a member of the European Union states. To date, it has been agreed that 36 states will attend the functions of the coming conference.
As for the agenda, it has not yet been crystallized for a number of reasons, the most important of which have been Israeli unwillingness to participate in a serious and genuinely international conference and only wants a public relations conference as can be concluded from the statements previously made by Sharon and that Olmert has recently reiterated, declaring that it will be impossible to reach peace with the current Palestinian generation. Furthermore, one should review Sharon’s unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the disengagement plan. The correct decision should have been to refuse to deal with any Israeli move that is unilateral and not coordinated with the Palestinians and to totally refuse to applause it. This being due to continued doubt in Israeli intentions especially since there is an absence of a central power in government, an absence of a peace movement within Israel and the existence of a semi rebellion against Olmert because he is delving into “taboo” issues from the Israeli perspective. In addition, the Israeli right will hinder any genuine and official movement towards negotiation. Thus the Israeli situation is conceivably the actual obstacle challenging the success of a serious conference.
However, this obstacle could be overcome, or at least its role could be reduced, by preparing for the conference professionally and well, so that the failures at Camp David will not be repeated. One should also note that the events in the Gaza Strip and the resulting internal Palestinian dilemma gave an opportunity to the U.S. to empower the Palestinian authority in Ramallah and support Abu Mazen by opening up political horizons for the authority in the West Bank, whilst starving and besieging Gaza in order to destroy the “Hamasestan” experience as it is named by many. In the final analysis, pressure will be placed on the authority in the West Bank in relation to any subsequent negotiation process, with the excuse that it only represents half the Palestinians and that the authority only controls half the lands. Thus, there is a structural weakness within the Palestinian position, which requires refusing this division and separation between the West Bank and Gaza and the refusal of two political agendas – one put forward by the PLO and another by Hamas, and there should be no escape from arriving at a solution for this separation between the two parts of the country.
Upon conclusion of the agenda, it was declared that a team was appointed headed by Sa’eb ‘Erekat and a negotiation team headed by Abu ‘Ala’. There was also news of the formation of two negotiation teams on both the Palestinian and the Israeli sides. These two teams were supposed to commence, for the first time, with their talks after participating in the meeting between ‘Abbas and Olmert. The bilateral committee will begin hearings of the deliberations in preparation for documentation of the bilateral rounds of meetings in order to reach at a working paper on the context of the agenda. However, it is important to note that the invitations to the conference have still not been officially extended till now and if that is not achieved there will be no value to the conference or it will be postponed until matters are clearer and an agreement is reached concerning pending issues, which could be very probable. One can thus only conclude that there continue to be obstacles whether on the Palestinian or Israeli arenas, which could pose as an impediment against the success of the conference or even lead to canceling it instead of holding it and emerging without any notable results or postponing it to some point in the future.
3. Indicators of Success or Failure from the Palestinian Perspective
Whilst Fateh and Hamas both demand from each other to initiate steps towards reconcilement due to fears that the Israeli government will be the only party to gain interests from this conference by normalizing its relations without giving anything in return to the Arab States; on the one hand, new information has become available after 5 bilateral meetings between Olmert and ‘Abbas and 10 consecutive visits by Rice to the area within the past year. However, 6 weeks have passed since the extension of the invitation to the conference and there is still lack of agreement over an agenda, and on the other hand despite the positive indicator on the numerical level, as 36 states have already been invited, there are only 13 months left till the U.S. presidential elections and there is a previous prime minister – Tony Blair working as a resident international envoy to the area. In light of all these details and facts, it is important to research the possibilities of success or failure of the conference and their indicators on the Palestinian level even though there are many doubts as to its success. There is even a conviction that this “meeting” or conference will undoubtedly fail and all indicators point to this result as the nature of the meeting is not ambiguous and the results are evident, whether from the timing of the invitation, the references of the conference or its nature and authorities. It is important to consider the timing of the invitation and understand its meaning as it is not out of mere co-incidence that this invitation came after the Gaza incident and can be interpreted as an American-Israeli attempt to invest in the Palestinians ‘weakness in order to gain Arab consent and coverage for American plans in the area against Iran and ‘Iraq.
Speaking only of Palestine and Israel whilst neglecting the U.S. as the main sponsor will cause problems and will not help to clarify the picture or analyze positions and objectives. The U.S. called for the autumn conference in order to achieve its aims through hinting that reinvigorating the peace process will help it gain Arab support and will build an alliance of moderate Arab states against Iran. These are the crystal clear aims and they should remain clear within Palestinians’ minds. The U.S. administration is suffering from a comprehensive crisis in its external policy in the area and if the Palestinians do not recognize this crisis they will be unable to utilize it for their own benefit within their struggle against Israel, or to harvest any fruits for the benefit of the Palestinian question and neither will they succeed in cutting their losses or reducing the substantial dangers currently facing them.
As for the references to the conference, they are no doubt President Bush’s proposal for the conference and clearly not the UN resolutions or international law. Bush’s speech, in which he launched the idea is clear and states that – “one should take the old and new facts into consideration.” The new facts are those within the American letter of guarantees to Israel which Bush granted to Sharon and even the refugee issue, which will be solved within the framework of the Palestinian state as was mentioned in more than one American guarantee to Israel and not according to international resolutions. Thus the refugee issue is settled from the American point of view, with the knowledge that the U.S. is not merely a neutral party; as the suggested event in the autumn is a meeting or seminar and no international conference can be called for by only one state, as any international conference that can be described as such should be called for and headed by the General Assembly and Security Council of the U.N. However, the autumn meeting shows up the controversy as the party calling for the conference and the head of the conference who will be deciding everything is the U.S. Thus, it will not contain any international attributes, which are extremely important for the Palestinians. This is due to the fact that the international attribute will render the international resolutions and international law present. The Palestinians should therefore emphasize the reference to an “international attribute”. As for the American reference, even though it has been presented in an ambiguous fashion in order to find acceptance from the Palestinian and Arab sides, this ambiguity can only be in favor of the stronger party and the occupying state and it is impossible to interpret or utilize this ambiguity in the interests of the weaker Palestinian party. This in itself constitutes a paradox as the Palestinians are weak and in need of the greatest amount of clarity, and even if this coming meeting culminates in a statement or a declaration of principles or a framework agreement which is ambiguous, it will not be implemented on the ground as only the stronger party can implement it on the ground.
In order not to give the impression that the Palestinian party is participating under duress, it is important to mention that the Palestinian leadership carries the responsibility of the narrow margin provided to it and which it did not exploit or seek to find alternatives for. In his speech at the UN, President Abu Mazen emphasized the olive branch which will never fall from his hand in allusion to a symbol utilized by the late President Arafat, and it is notable that the latter retained two options, whereas President ‘Abbas emphasized the fact that he has only one option. Some observers state that the Palestinian leadership’s behavior and its adherence to one option only, which is that of negotiation has kept the Palestinians at the mercy of the party they will deal with. This is due to the fact that the Palestinians have only depended on the negotiation option and have purposefully left out any other options in addition to intentionally getting rid of forces that they previously possessed.
Negotiations and conferences are not a magic wand as some may believe that the coming conference will bring a magic solution to the conflict, while others are neglecting the fact that the age of miracles has long gone. Furthermore, introductions lead to results and on the Palestinian arena even the sweetest results taste bitter, and even though it is unlikely that President ‘Abbas will sign an agreement that will cause the disintegration of the Palestinian cause during the coming autumn, merely another failed meeting could lead to dire results to the extent that President ‘Abbas and the Palestinian leadership continues to reiterate that failure of the autumn conference will lead to disastrous results. The leadership has also continuously showed its apprehension from the possibility of failure of the conference, which will lead to a dangerous situation.
Negotiations and conferences cannot also be considered magic words as they essentially reflect the balance of power and the concerned situation on the ground. The talent of the negotiators will not change facts on the ground and will not be able to side-track or alter the logic reflected by the balance of power. However, the Palestinians’ behavior has taken a strange trend that continues to ignore the facts on the ground as Israel has continued its military offensive in all its forms – the Wall, intensifying settlement, continued daily arrests, incursions into cities and assassinations of Palestinians. Whilst these facts are occurring and the Israeli aggression continues the Palestinian Authority and its security forces are racing with time in order to stop all forms of Palestinian resistance. So, in effect the Palestinian Authority is implementing the Road Map in its first stage (security) from one side only, that is, the Palestinian commitments, whilst ignoring what the occupation forces are perpetrating on the ground.
Reference to the bilateral negotiations mode is a dangerous matter especially since the autumn conference does not have any implementation capacities and the utmost it can achieve is to bestow its blessings upon and ratify whatever will be agreed upon between the Palestinians and Israelis as was frankly expressed by more than one responsible source (Bush, Olmert, Rice) Thus, if the two sides (the Israeli and Palestinian) do not reach an agreement, the conference will more than likely be cancelled or postponed. However, it is important to note here that the dangerous development is that the bi-lateral (Israeli-Palestinian) deliberations have become the reference and this is a dangerous situation as it means a new reference for the negotiations has been created and new rules for the “game” have been established even before the conference is held. All these new developments have surfaced since the beginning and they did not wait until the conference was about to be held in order to establish these new bases and methodologies which will destroy the Palestinians’ cause and their finances. The bi-lateral negotiations between the two sides are taking place especially to establish new references and to discuss strange combinations of solutions for the final status issues that are far removed from the international resolutions or the Arab Peace Initiative. At the same time we should not forget that there is more than one “Road Map” and that what is being in effect implemented on the ground is the Israeli “version” of the Road Map.
It is true that there could perhaps be an outlet that parties could revert to – that being the “cumulating” or “mixing” of a group of issues from various sources in order to reach an agreement. This in itself is dangerous on the Palestinian level especially since the Bush vision will be adopted alongside the Road Map, international legitimacy and Arab legitimacy with interim and final solutions. Thus the situation remains ambiguous. The Palestinians have to understand that they are repeating a bad or bitter experience and that what will take place will be an even worse experience than before. It is true that the Palestinians can see something brewing, however they do not know that the pot contains only stones. According to previous experience and history, they are ready for a real deal in one case only and that is if the Palestinians are ready to accept what Israel offers. Even though the Palestinians tried in Camp David and other tracks and failed; so if they are ready to accept an interim state or one with new features then they cannot call it a state. This process can only be called blindfolding and leading adrift as the proposed state is to be established “in stages” and even the autumn conference will be convened in a number of sessions with the first in November, the second six months later and so on until the conditions of the settlement are ready to be imposed on the Palestinians.
Perhaps it would be more appropriate for the Palestinians to postpone the conference and to pay greater attention to their internal concerns in addition to revising their negotiations tracks and the previous agreements in order to benefit from the lessons learned. It is not reasonable that the Palestinians stand watching any more in the sidelines while the Israelis are creating new realities on the ground. What makes the Palestinians even more apprehensive is the fact that their officials continuously emphasize their will to follow the negotiation option to the end. But if a negotiator once tries to stop or suspend negotiations until the Israelis stop their settlement activities and assassinations, perhaps they will succeed. The Palestinians should have gained compensation for the efforts of the PA and its security forces to stop the acts of resistance by demanding that the Israelis take the initiative to stop their incursions, assassinations and settlement activities. This condition – if it is implemented – is not extreme, nor is it against international law, on the contrary overwhelming international support can be gained for Palestinian demands by suspending the negotiations from the Israeli side until the former “suspends” its assassinations and other acts of state terrorism. What is even more ironic is the fact that the Israeli assassination forces kill members of the resistance and make incursions into Palestinian cities either before, during or immediately after each bi-lateral Palestinian –Israeli meeting that is decided and declared. The Palestinians however, never seem to take a stand or to comment on the crimes as if the murders and incursions that take place happened on another planet. It is also not reasonable for the Israeli government to declare the Gaza Strip as an enemy entity while there is no reaction from the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank and the meetings and dialogue continue as if nothing has happened. Perhaps the world and the Israelis are getting the impression that the Palestinians are abnormal as they have not shown a normal reaction and we should at least defend our image!
The Palestinians have to take interest in some alternatives and establish a strong stand backed by the Arab stands. In all cases the Palestinians have to avoid attending the conference so that they will not have a vague declaration of principles imposed on them. The best example is Israeli Prime Minister Olmert who retracted his great expectations from the conference and only declared that he would be very satisfied if the conference produced a joint statement by the atendees and that it would be non-committal. He has also stated on more than one occasion that the final agreement with the Palestinians will need 20-30 years until it can be accomplished. He also declared that the Palestinians do wish to reach an agreement but that they are unable to do so because they are weak; and this slogan is currently being repeated by all the politicians in Israel:- There is no Palestinian party able to implement and this is a ready-made excuse which will be used from now on. It will also be dangerous to shelve whatever agreement is reached at. However, a dangerous declaration made by the Israeli minister of Foreign Affairs, stated that if the Palestinians and Israelis do not agree on political issues, then attention should be placed on economic and security issues and that the form and structure of the future Palestinian state should be discussed. This is the most dangerous development to appear within the last months. As thus the Palestinians will have made the Israelis a reference, not only for the current situation but also for the future state and its structures. The Palestinians should not participate in promulgating and marketing a new illusion on the existence of a peace process when there is no peace as this is what the Americans want and the time has come to declare a firm position concerning ending the occupation and requesting a timetable for its termination. If it is impossible to end the occupation then the least the Palestinian leadership should do is to revert to the internal front and consolidate elements of steadfastness in order to regain popular and international support for the Palestinian problem. They should also nurture and expand popular resistance and boycott settlement produce on the levels of work, dealings or commerce. Another important issue is to reactivate international resolutions and especially the International Court of Justice decision that was ignored and place a plan for dealing with the Gaza Strip whilst at the same time taking into consideration the clearly positive response by the Palestinian leadership to the American and Israeli condition concerning negotiations with Hamas and their fear of an interruption of the flow of funding and stopping the negotiations or peace process in the case that there is a reconciliation with them.
Another issue of note is the popularity of the phenomenon of “gifts” and “initiatives inducing trust” that have been presented as a main feature of the environs leading up to the conference and what should be concluded from this feature of gifts “bestowed upon” the Palestinians by the Israeli side and which include releasing a limited number of prisoners or some confiscated funds or dealing with the issue of the “pursued” Palestinians or lifting some checkpoints which sever the contiguity of the West Bank and access of movement across it for the population by transforming it into isolated Bantustans. These – the “gifts”, since they do not come within the context of commitment to international resolutions or the implementation of signed agreements are extremely dangerous as the Israelis control them solely. And no matter how large or small these “gifts” are, the fact remains that files concerning all issues are still open and that not even one issue has been resolved. At the same time it seems that the Israeli army is playing a clear role in decision making concerning all the issues. This means that strangely enough, the Israeli army’s role and worth has doubled since the war on Lebanon so that the army can work to regain its clout and deterrent power, in order to impose peace from a “vantage point of power”. There are also aggravations and harassments aiming at creating possibilities for attacking Syria or Lebanon or Gaza or Iran or participating in attacks against them.
4. Taking the Stand of Refusing to Participate in the Autumn Conference
The Palestinians are not alone in experiencing a crisis. Israel and the U.S. are also experiencing a deep and complex crisis but the Palestinians have yet to realise that they can exploit this situation to achieve an independent Palestinian state. Sometimes one finds that it is strange that the same negotiating team that started the process still remains. On the other hand, the Israelis, who are an essential side of the equation, are unprepared for the autumn conference and it is most probable that only a meeting will take place. The Palestinians are experiencing their worst situation ever and the conference will be without any authorities or agendas and remains ambiguous. In addition, the Israelis and the U.S. are allies and share a common theory, which all ads up to an inevitable and direct question concerning the Palestinians - Why should we go to this conference? And – Will we be forced to pay a tough price after attending, similar to the one the Palestinians are still paying due to the failure of Camp David? These questions should be seriously researched and put forward to the PA and its leadership so that they can answer especially since the Palestinians cannot be one of the ordinary participants in this conference. Otherwise, they will be like a “lamb” being led to the slaughter. Thus if the Palestinians are going to an “alter” they should consider the actions they should take and the possible disasters that could result if things will follow a similar path to that which was formed after Camp David.
Entering into a negotiation process with only one card in their hand and a shaky internal situation means awaiting dictates and that they will be forced to respond only to the solutions offered or whatever will be “granted” to the Palestinians as a percentage or parcel and they will not be able to raise or change whatever is offered of this percentage. The Palestinians situation is similar to that of a man who is burdened with debt but is nevertheless going to an investment conference even though he does not have the funds to buy his daily bread. So instead of wasting their time and efforts on participating in external conferences, it would be more pertinent for the Palestinians to mend their internal affairs and strengthen this front as it is passing through the worst phase ever. There are many problems – those between Hamas and Fateh; and on the level of the national project on the whole in addition to an internal problem within Fateh itself. And in light of all the elements against the Palestinian position the autumn conference, other than it will not add up to more than a waste of time, and will perhaps lead to giving up more rights, due to lack of a Palestinian and Arab standpoint that can place pressure on the Americans and Israelis to commit to ratifying the Palestinian project with a reasonable ceiling of Palestinian demands, it will also lead to “dwarfing” the Palestinian negotiators’ personality and credibility when that negotiator comes out with the “tidings” of Israeli facilitating steps for the Palestinians, like lifting a number of checkpoints, when the results on the ground the next day are going to be exactly the opposite to the statements as the situation gets worse and more difficult to the extent that Palestinians worry more whenever an official promises them that the Israelis are considering an issue seriously.
There is a basis for believing that going to that conference will constitute both a strategic and tactical mistake as it will make the Israeli occupation gain the most and it will be a historic precedent as it exonerates Israel of its international commitments in light of the existence of an authority, ministers and institutions of state that are not really genuine. Whereas if the administration of daily affairs had been left to the Israelis, they would have been obliged to meet their commitments and the occupation would have been more costly to the Israelis. In the final analysis, the Palestinians have not seen any improvements and no positive changes are evident within their daily lives. There is no difference between those who live in Jenin, Gaza or Jerusalem as there is no tangible element on the ground or that is visually observable that can make the Palestinians optimistic apart from the declarations and empty talk that has had no practical implementations. According to the best scenario, the autumn conference will not result in anything positive for the Palestinians and it is hoped that the Palestinian leadership will not participate in it until it is able to place a number of political principles for entering any negotiation process while insisting on Arab support and not just being satisfied with an Arab stand that supports the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations as if their role is merely as a witness to verify the handing over of the Palestinian question to American and Israeli clutches.
The autumn conference has become a status quo that we have to deal with, thus delving into expectations and drawing up scenarios is perhaps inappropriate and it is perhaps more appropriate to read actions well in order to know better how to administer the deliberations within the conference professionally in order to benefit from the various legitimacies and the celebrities present to gain rights; as the conference is not a solely Palestinian one, which means that the Palestinians will need the greatest number of supporters and friendly states to get a chance to influence and change some of the expected disadvantages.
It is important to also mention the economic dimension as there was talk about some of its aspects both directly and indirectly. Some aspects were put forward, for example, by the Israeli Prime Minister Olmert, in one of his meetings with Abu Mazen, when he suggested the convening of a Palestinian / Israeli economic summit alongside the autumn conference, and this was discussed by the President’s office with the Palestinian private sector. The Palestinian private sector’s stand is worthy of presentation and exposition as it explicitly states that this sector refuses to be used as a tool of Israeli policy or part of its philosophy and they are not concerned with holding an economic conference or meeting on the periphery of the autumn conference or before or after it, despite the fact that the international delegate (Tony Blair) is adamant about this issue. Their clear stand is that any special arrangements for a meeting or economic conference in which the Palestinian private sector would take part will have to be after the success of the autumn conference. Then and only then, will the private sector agree to be party to such a meeting. There is clear justification for this position as it is estimated that if the Israelis wish to make the autumn conference fail they will take the economic option as an alternative and will take up a few projects or deal with a “Marshall-like” plan that will be presented to the Palestinians in order to avert attention from the political issues by covering them up with economic ones.
This apprehension by the private sector has made it insist on the fact that any future economic conference, which will probably be held at the beginning of next year, will not be held unless the autumn conference is a success. What is more, the Palestinian private sector took an unprecedented step forward when it requested that the Israelis delineate the principles for partnership between them according to basic principles such as a solution based on two independent states and defined borders etc. It is worth noting that it is the first time that the private sector demands that the Israeli private sector takes a political stand and does not merely concentrate on investment. The Palestinian private sector also refuses to deal with its Israeli counterpart within the context of the occupation. That is, agreement between the two sides on shared principles on the political level will be the basis for economic cooperation. As for depicting the solution of the Palestinians’ problems by reducing them to the level of a mere economic crisis and suggesting that the flow of funds is the end of Palestinian ambitions; these illusions should be denounced and exposed so that they will disappear.
5. Future Prospects
The most important task is to pay greater attention to the internal Palestinian situation in order to set it to rights and repair the damage that has occurred between the two Palestinian factions. Another important issue is researching the possibility of attending the conference without paying a price, especially by paying attention to the points of strength held by the Palestinians, one of the most important of which is realizing that the U.S. is the one in need of holding this conference. However, the main problem lies in the essence of the official Palestinian stand which cannot say “no” to the U.S. and its demands, which is a wrong stand and thus they are not benefiting to the greatest extent from the United State’s current need. The Palestinians can say no to the U.S., but the main question here is how to say it and from then on how to find their own path or some of its landmarks. Another important question that remains is – Can we make use of the conference to our own advantage i.e. to that of the Palestinian question? Will that be possible and how? If the answers are negative due to the fact that the price estimated will be very high and will chain the Palestinians as it is unavoidable. Then the Palestinians will definitely refuse to go to the conference and that will be the logical choice that should be adopted and the right decision to be taken; as saying “no” in an intelligent way is achievable and also practical, if someone other than the Palestinians will say “no”. To achieve this Palestinians have to remain steadfast locally, regionally and internationally as follows:-
First: By taking care of their internal affairs.
Second: By taking the Arab dimension into consideration and by coordinating their stands with the Arab countries who are invited and who will come to the conference. The basis for coordination could be the Arab initiative.
Third: The Palestinians should be careful to avoid being utilized as a “bridge” or “ferry” for Arab/Israeli normalization.
Fourth: The Palestinians should present creative ideas and stands to gain allies and friends at the conference.
This stand is one against nihilism as everything negative has been pre-arranged and the Palestinians cannot change it. At the same time, it is a stand against “surrender” and the lack of the existence of the least possibility for improving the conditions with a duty for responding to the invitation, whatever the consequences. Between these two stands, is the responsible political view that looks at issues from the point of view of interest and researching the possibility for utilizing the internal position alongside both the regional and international environs in favor of Palestinian interests, in addition to using the methods available for a means out of the impasse surrounding the Palestinians and their problem and strengthening their position by depending on all the cards that can be accumulated and avoiding the policy of political bla