Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Tariq Shadid – Proximity talks: the continuing story of the pie in the sky

Have you also grown tired of the word 'proximity talks'? Any idea what it exactly means? Proximity talks are diplomatic discussions between intermediaries on behalf of the involved parties, taking place while these are close-by, but not engaging in direct communication. This catchword has now for several months dominated news reports about Middle East politics, with a lot of to-and-fro about whether or not they will be taking place, and when. It seems that each of the involved parties have their own interest in keeping the pie in the sky termed 'peace process' alive, but the main beneficiary of this process is obviously, without the shadow of a doubt, the zionist entity known as 'Israel'.

With the Arab and American 'green light' for proximity talks, the zionists are yet again undeservedly rewarded for their tireless efforts throughout the past 17 years of the 'Oslo-era' of lying, stealing land, committing massacres, destroying Palestinian infrastructure, ethnic cleansing, and oppressing and besieging an entire population with a racist system resembling closely that of Apartheid – only much harsher, and much more deadly.

The Americans

Let's have a look at the parties that are involved in this issue, and see whether their motives for supporting these talks can be clarified. Starting with the most obvious, the Obama administration has the clear purpose of trying to maintain credibility after having made far-reaching promises, most outspokenly worded in last year's infamous Cairo speech. After at least having tried, Obama would always be able to say that he cannot be expected to succeed at something that four previous administrations before him proved to be unable to achieve. Getting two irreconcilable parties to the negotiating table, even if only 'in proximity', in the American conscience undoubtedly would count as an achievement in itself, which could then be scrapped from the to-do-list - so that difficult domestic issues could finally be given the necessary undivided attention.

It is quite likely that this is also the reason why the Americans have continuously been making contradictory promises to each side in the conflict. London-based newspaper Al Hayat reported on May 1st that chief PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat told the Arab league that Obama had promised a prolonged 'settlement freeze' in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to the Palestinians, but did this off the record in order to appease right-wing factions in Israel.

Even more strikingly, the New York Times reported that American administration officials had said that the US was pondering measures of pressure on Israel, like dropping the United States' automatic support for the zionist state in the UN. Nevertheless, the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz quoted the State Department's deputy spokesman on May 2nd, who refused to directly comment on this news, but clearly stated that the U.S. will maintain its support for Israel at the United Nations.

Arabs and Palestinians

The Arab League, with its myriad of political and economic interests in keeping its relations with the United States in perfect shape, on May 1st gave its go-ahead to the new negotiations, reportedly 'making a consultative decision on engagement in proximity talks for four months'. What is worrying about this time period, is that the end of it practically coincides with the announced Israeli 'temporary construction freeze' which is scheduled to end towards the end of September.

Still, according to Erekat, the condition for Arab League support would be a halt of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank – it is however unclear whether this would include East Jerusalem. I guess this means we don't only get a 'temporary freeze', but also 'temporary proximity talks' to coincide with it? The motive for the Arabs to agree on this can only be to appease the United States, since they must be as aware as anyone that nothing can or will be gained for the Arab side from these 'negotiations'.

On the Palestinian side, it is clear that the Palestinian Authority also has a strong interest in engaging in the proximity talks. It is not far-fetched to state that Abbas' decision in March to retreat from the US-brokered talks was taken with enormous reluctance, as his administration would have suffered a disastrous blow to its already fragile credibility in the Palestinian street if it had pursued these talks. After all, this refusal only came after the announcement by the Israelis to build a zionist settlement in East Jerusalem, during American Vice President Joe Biden's visit to the region. Apparently, it is assumed that waiting a while and then entering these proximity talks anyway, without any change in the situation, will be deemed acceptable to the Palestinian population. Timing is everything, right?

'Three-track strategy'

The Abbas-Fayyad strategy, as explained by Fayyad in a May Day event at the headquarters of the General Palestinian Labor Union, runs on three tracks: the political track, support for non-violent resistance, and the building of state institutions. With regard to the first, the political maneuvering of this administration during the turbulent past year through the Goldstone-debacle, the Biden-Netanyahu crisis, and the brazen Israeli infringements on East Jerusalem – even on the Al Aqsa mosque on March 16th – has clearly illustrated how desperate the PA is to appease the Americans.

In other words, the political track is to quell any significant opposition to Israeli measures of oppression, if these endanger the PA's relations with Washington. Therefore, Abbas agreeing to re-enter into 'proximity talks' came as no surprise whatsoever – what would indeed have been surprising would have been if he had continued to refuse to do so.

Fayyad's track of 'supporting non-violent resistance' can clearly be seen as demagogic rhetoric aimed at gaining more popular support among the Palestinian masses. After all, there are practically no available examples of the PA's direct involvement in any more-than-symbolic demonstrations against the occupation, while there are plenty of examples of attempts to prevent them from happening. In this past year Israelis, settlers as well as soldiers, have stepped up their direct aggression against the Palestinian civilian population through often lethal violence, raids, targeted assassinations and ruthless clampdowns on non-violent demonstrations.

However, when popular leaders of non-violent resistance, like the Stop the Wall activists, are jailed by the Israeli occupation forces, no significant voices of protest are heard from the higher levels of the Palestinian Authority. The PA's forces, in the meantime, seem to have been spending most of their active time in the Palestinian streets arresting and detaining members of Hamas. It is what the American master wants, so it is what he will get.

Then, what exactly is Fayyad-style support for non-violent resistance? It mostly seems to mean that when a Palestinian village challenges the Guinness Book of Records by making the world's largest ever musakhan (a traditional Palestinian food), he will be there for a photo-shoot of him having the first bite of it.

As for the third track, that of institution building, it is obvious that this one depends entirely on the first (political) track. In short, there seems to really be just one 'railway to nowhere', namely that of gathering money from Western donors in order to build 'state' institutions in return for Palestinian political subservience to the American-Israeli-European doctrine. Dividing it into three illusory tracks is merely a matter of applying cosmetics to try and make the strategy appeal to the people living under occupation. Only in this way, the word 'resistance' will fit into the strategy somehow, to satisfy that Palestinian spirit that continues to refuse to surrender to zionist violence and oppression.

The Israelis

Only one of the involved parties seems to be in a position to snub the world's largest superpower, the United States of America, and that is the zionist entity. In full confidence, it continues its arrogant course of voiding Palestinian land from its original inhabitants, and replacing it with Jewish settlers, while promising peace.

Whoever has not read the interview with Moshe Ya'alon, Israel's Vice Premier, in Yedioth Aharonoth on March 26, may be fooled into thinking that the pie in the sky will eventually come drifting down, and be happily shared by all those living in the Middle East. Being not only Israel's Vice Premier, but also the current Minister for Strategic Affairs and the former Chief of Staff of the Israeli Army, one should assume that he knows what he is talking about.

He spells it out quite clearly: Netanyahu's gestures, from the announcement of the two-state solution to the decision to freeze construction in the settlements, are all "maneuvers". And to illustrate it more clearly, he states: "Nobody in the forum of seven thinks that we can reach an agreement with the Palestinians."
He also explains why, when asked. "Some of what we have to do is maneuver with the American administration and the European establishment, which are also nourished by Israeli elements, which create the illusion that an agreement can be reached." And there is a very good reason for this, as he further explains: "I say that time works for those who make use of it. The founders of Zionism knew how to make use of time, and we in the government know how to make use of time … So we have to make use of time in order to keep on building."

Is there then any Israeli willingness to share, is there any readiness to withdraw from occupied Arab land? Not according to Moshe Ya'alon. "Why is it taken for granted that in order to obtain peace, we must withdraw? As far as I am concerned, there is no discussion of this at all. No discussion."

What about the crisis between Israel and the USA? "True, there is a crisis right now, but the relationship between us is deep, strategic, based on common values, goals and challenges …. This crisis is minor … We need to see what has happened here in the past seventeen years: the idea of land for peace has failed …. What, the Americans do not see it?"

Also, there is little or no ambiguity about the fact that when Israel is talking about a freeze, it has no real intention to do so – it is just maneuvering. Ya'alon explains: "We had to do a diplomatic maneuver, and we went with the lesser of the evils … immediately after the freeze, we will continue to build in Judea and Samaria as we did before … It is a distorted perspective that the settlements are an obstacle to peace."

Finally, there should be no doubt whatsoever that the expansionist plans of the zionist state, which brought it into being in the first place, and which embrace ethnic cleansing, racial superiority and land theft as their core principles, have not changed during the 62 years since the Nakba. Ya'alon states it very clearly, when asked if the settlements will ever be evacuated. "I do not accept that. What has happened to us in recent years obligates us to stop with everything connected to withdrawal." Will there be an official annexation? "We will get to that. At least in the settlement blocs."

A finger in the pie?

It is highly unlikely that the Arab League, the United States, and least of all the Palestinian Authority are unaware that this is the true position of the Israeli government. Throughout the decades, words like those of Ya'alon quoted above have been the driving force behind zionist thought, and they have not changed. The fact that the Arabs are playing along with 'proximity talks' illustrates how deeply they believe in their own weakness. It illustrates their defeated spirits, since after our long colonial history no one can any longer hide behind the excuse of naively falling into the colonizer's web of false promises by actually believing in it.

It is not in the interest of the Arab nation to engage in these proximity talks, since they seem to be clearly playing into the hands of the zionist colonizers. They are simply part of the zionist strategy, as clearly illustrated by Ya'alon, Who can deny that having gone from demanding the dismantling of the illegal settlements, as was the case before the Oslo agreements, to merely demanding a freeze in the construction of them, even if only as a 'precondition for talks', is an immense moral defeat in the face of zionist expansion? This runs contrary to the spirit of the Palestinian population, their aspirations, and their rights.

The hollow words of Fayyad could actually gain some true meaning, if the Palestinian Authority decided to make a real and credible effort to support non-violent resistance. Repairing its political ties with Hamas – which is definitely not helped by its continuous detention of its members – and doing its best to consolidate Palestinian unity is the most vital counter-strategy to foil the Israeli tactic of creating false hopes. A Fayyad-style 'three-track strategy' may sound good, and may in principle even be a good idea, but is meaningless as long as the resistance part of it is symbolism rather than real action, and as long as Palestinian unity is not incorporated into those tracks as a main priority.

Challenging the occupation by supporting the people in their struggle against it, would be a big surprise for the Israeli-American-European axis, that they would find difficult to deal with, and so would refusing to engage in proximity talks. But would Abbas and Fayyad be willing to miss out on the dollars and euros that they are supplied with for their so-called "state institution-building", for a state that will obviously never be a true state? This undoubtedly would be the price for empowering their own people – a price that they have so far not demonstrated any willingness to pay.

When you are lacking in material power, there is always one force left which will leave your adversary in search for an effective response, and that is the will to refuse. The first Intifada of 1987 baffled not only the Israeli occupiers but indeed the entire world community, merely on the basis of the power derived from the people's refusal to continue to live under occupation, and presented the zionists with the greatest challenge they have ever faced in their violent history.

But until those who are responsible for leading the Palestinian nation by virtue of their position and power, change their minds, the pie in the sky of false zionist promises will continue to hover over our heads, and create a multitude of ulcers in our digestive tracts. We all know that someday a strong wind will come and blow the whole pie away. And you certainly don't need to be a meteorologist to predict that storm – just read the words of the zionist wind makers, who are already preparing it.

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