Believe me, if I thought for one moment that the so-called “Middle East Peace Process Talks” (the phrase is that of the US State Department) had a chance in a trillion in bringing genuine peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours I would back them to the hilt. If I thought that the eloquent words of US Secretary of State John Kerry had a milligramme of credibility to back them, I would sing their praises — and his.
There, in the ornate Benjamin Franklin room of the State Department on July 30 last, flanked by Israeli Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, a dapper Mr Kerry insisted that “with capable, respected negotiators, like Minister Tzipi Livni and Dr Saeb Erekat, standing side by side here today… with their efforts, their expertise, and their commitment, I’m convinced that we can get there.” What exactly “there” might mean I shall leave for a moment. I want instead to draw your attention to certain brutal realities concerning the precise nature of the “peace process talks” now under way.
These talks are talks about talks. They are not, in the diplomatic sense, peace negotiations. They could be, of course. The demand could be made of the Israelis that they withdraw completely from east Jerusalem, including from the Old City and its Jewish Quarter. Since this is likely to be rejected, if not by Ms Livni, then almost certainly by the government she represents (and if not by that government then certainly by the Israeli electorate in the now-promised referendum) then you can easily understand why the status of Jerusalem will be discussed but not negotiated.
The demand could be made of the Palestinian Authority that it must recognise Israel as a Jewish state and agree to a solemn-and-binding peace treaty with that Jewish state, drawing a line under all claims the Palestinian Arabs might ever have made of and pertaining to that state. But Dr Erekat must know (and if he does not, his boss Mahmoud Abbas certainly does), that the life of whoever on the Palestinian side signed such a treaty would hardly be worth living.
No such treaty is going to be signed. And I must, in this connection, draw your attention to an authoritative statement made by Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a senior Palestinian Authority spokesman, who on July 21 declared that any deal reached with Israel would only bind the Palestinians “temporarily.” This warning echoed that made earlier the same day by the other authorised spokesman, Yasir Abed Rabbo, who had declaimed in almost identical terms. The government of Mahmoud Abbas will not sign a final all-encompassing peace treaty. The very most they might agree to is a hudna — a truce, a tactical device to allow them to regroup and rearm.
We must also remember that Abbas has not a shred of a mandate for entering even into talks about talks. His four-year term as president of the Palestinian National Authority expired on January 9 2009. His writ may still run in parts of Judea and Samaria, but it most certainly does not in Gaza, where his Hamas rival, Ismail Haniyeh, holds the reins of power. If the Washington-based talks about talks had any serious purpose, Hamas would have been invited. But they don’t, and Hamas wasn’t.
Another absent party is the Jewish people (as distinct from the Jewish state), against whom the Arab world has launched and enthusiastically sustains a campaign of unrelenting, unabashed racism, spewed out every day by Arab media and every Friday by imams throughout the Muslim world. A genuine peace would include an end to this religiously-motivated hatred. No Palestinian leader anxious to live a long life would dare endorse such a demand.
So the discussions taking place under John Kerry’s patronage are not even genuine. Israel agreed to participate (and to the release of Palestinian murderers from Israeli jails) in order to buy Washington’s acquiescence in the expansion of Jewish communities on the West Bank. The PA (I suggest) agreed to participate as a condition of continuing to receive US financial aid. A document might be signed in — who knows? — a year’s time. But one thing it won’t be is an authentic peace treaty.