Catastrophe Ahead After Peace Talks Collapse

The many consequences of this series of events will take some time to clarify, but they are likely to be destructive.

The Israeli decision to break off negotiations with the Palestinians last week after the Palestinian groups Fateh and Hamas announced their reconciliation agreement reveals the darkest and most destructive sides of Israel and its Western backers vis-a-vis their declared desire for a negotiated peace agreement: their inconsistency, insincerity and hypocrisy. You might say these are normal attributes of any political actor, which is true to some extent. But here this kind of behaviour also advances the accusation that Israel and the United States in particular only wish to negotiate peace on their terms, and not on terms that treat the Palestinians and Israelis equally.

I say this because in their reconciliation announcement Fateh and Hamas made it clear that the unity government and the desired subsequent negotiations with Israel would be based on three important principles that have long been an Israeli and American demand, and that the Quartet in 2006 specifically demanded from Hamas: that Hamas adhere to three conditions of non-violence, adherence to previous agreements, and acceptance of Israel’s right to exist. On this basis, it was assumed, Palestinian negotiators would speak for all Palestinians, and Israel, the United States and other countries could deal with Hamas.

Well, the national unity agreement between Fatah and Hamas last week precisely mentioned that Hamas had agreed to these three demands; the UN Secretary General’s special representative to the Arab-Israeli peace process, Robert Serry, made it clear after meeting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas that the national unity government would respect the existing PLO commitments that include recognition of Israel, non-violence, and adherence to previous agreements. In other words, the UN sees the Palestinian unity agreement terms as having met the conditions that the Quartet set on 30 Jan 2006.

So what did Israel do in return for Hamas meetings its conditions, with the United States in tow? It immediately ended the negotiations and told President Abbas that he had to choose between peace with Israel or a “pact” with Hamas. The American government, predictably, described Palestinian unity as “unhelpful.” So when the Israelis and Americans suddenly came face-to-face with a united Palestinian leadership that openly and explicitly accepted the Israeli-American terms for diplomatic engagement, the Israelis-Americans ignored their own terms for talks and totally shattered the most recent attempt to negotiate peace.

This kind of reckless hypocrisy or straightforward lying is bad enough in itself, but it is made even worse by the fact that on the Israeli side there are ministers in the Netanyahu government who reject the Quartet’s three conditions: They reject Palestine’s right to exist; they reject previous agreements (most notably the Oslo Accords); and, they reserve the right to use violence against Palestinians and other Arabs and to create their envisioned Greater Israel from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River.

This only reminds us yet again why the peace negotiations that the Americans have mediated single-handedly have failed to produce any meaningful results during the past 20 years, since the Oslo agreements. It is because the Israelis deem it appropriate to set the terms they wish for the negotiations, and to ignore those same terms when they wish, while the United States meekly follows the Israeli position.

The consequences of this are enormous, starting with the likelihood that few will continue to believe what the United States tells them is Washington’s position on the issues. The United States will not be trusted as a mediator for some time, and Palestinians and other Arabs perhaps will think twice about “giving up violence, accepting previous agreements and recognizing Israel’s right to exist,” because it now seems that doing so would only result in diplomatic punishment.

Palestinians also expect to get punished for joining UN organizations, whose main aim in life is to spread adherence to the rule of law and non-violent conflict resolution.

The Quartet has now officially died a merciful death in the wake of the United States abandoning the three key principles it had once demanded of Hamas. Netanyahu for his part responded to Hamas’ acceptance of these three critical principles by announcing on April 24 that he would vastly expand Israeli settlements by approving the construction of another 350,000 homes for Jews only, and prepare for “widespread death and destruction through bombing campaigns and full-scale ground invasions.”

The many consequences of this series of events will take some time to clarify, but they are likely to be destructive. Political violence is sure to escalate on various fronts, and the idea of negotiating a comprehensive peace agreement will probably remain dormant for some time. The United States will find it very difficult to regain the key parties’ trust, which is essential for any serious mediation.

A reasonable conclusion is that Israel prefers violence, chaos and perpetual warfare to the terms of non-violent negotiations and respect for agreements that it had itself set in 2006.

Rami G. Khouri is Editor-at-large of The Daily Star, and Director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, in Beirut, Lebanon. You can follow him @ramikhouri.

Copyright © 2014 Rami G. Khouri—distributed by Agence Global