By Stuart Littlewood
The rules of chivalry don’t apply, so the outcome is not in doubt.
However, the White Knight is not quite as white or brave as he seems. Eager to do his lord’s bidding, Mahmoud Abbas is a willing fall guy. On this occasion Obama has imperiously snapped his fingers and announced he wants direct talks started “well before” the Black Knight (aka Israeli prime minister Netanyahu) ends the partial freeze on illegal settlements in a month’s time.
And, by the way, US mid-term elections are coming up in two months’ time and Obama has to look good.
So Abbas jumped.
And Abbas is at least 18 months past the pack-your-bags date when he should have stepped down from his presidential position. He has twice unilaterally extended his stay and called off scheduled elections. He has no popular mandate and continues to blot the Palestinian escutcheon, staining the only democracy in the Middle East (Israel being altogether something else: an ethnocracy).
In the excitement everyone has forgotten that Hamas are the democratically elected power in Palestine even though they have been forced by Abbas and his US-armed gang and their Israeli back-up into confinement in the Gaza Strip. Hamas are not invited to the peace table, so what legitimacy can the encounter possibly have, anyway?
No preconditions except Israel’s
The talks are being held while Israel continues to pound Palestinian civilians in Gaza, maintains the cruel land and sea blockade and murders any unarmed humanitarians sailing to break it, disallows exports, severely restricts travel within the Occupied Territories, carries on with house demolitions, denies access to universities and places of worship, and generally behaves in a brutal and barbaric manner.
Israel has failed to honour earlier peace pledges and gives every indication of wishing only to expand its borders further.
The idea that there can be meaningful talks under these conditions is an insult to the intelligence of the civilized world. Abbas said earlier that he didn’t see much point in talking but he’s been pressured to change his mind.
Netanyahu loudly insists there can be no pre-conditions while busily laying down pre-conditions of his own, in particular ruling out any return by Palestinians to East Jerusalem, which as everyone knows belongs to the Palestinians and is earmarked as their capital, and refusing to extend the temporary halt to settlement building on stolen land.
Palestine, as always, is led by losers. Abbas’s senior negotiator, Saeb Erekat, is described as a newspaper editor, but he doesn’t seem very adept at bringing the Palestinian cause to media attention in the outside world.
His opening shots warn the Israelis that they must choose between “settlements or peace… they cannot have both”. Is this Erekat’s magic bullet for unseating the Black Knight?
Law and justice are not ‘à la carte’
Netanyahu leads a fragile coalition of right wingers and religious nutters. He says that if he were to prolong the moratorium on settlements it could trigger the collapse of his government.
So he must continue in his criminal ways to survive.
To prove his playful sense of humour hasn’t yet deserted him, he goes on to say: “We are coming to the talks with a genuine desire to reach a peace agreement between the two peoples that will protect Israel’s national security interests, foremost of which is security.”
The Palestinians’ national security interests are, and always have been, irrelevant.
Haaretz reports that the pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), in one of its wackiest statements to date, has called on the Palestinian Authority to “abandon its longstanding attempts to avoid making difficult choices at the negotiating table and cease incitement against Israel at home and abroad”.
And you’ll die laughing at this bit: “Now it is time for the Palestinians and the Arab States to grasp Israel’s outstretched hand and match the Jewish state’s unyielding commitment to peace with actions of their own.”
Another pro-Israel group, J-Street, claims the talks could be the last opportunity to save the two-state solution. “The window of opportunity for progress is brief and closing. We believe Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic home, not to mention vital American interests in the region, hang in the balance,” says J-Street’s Vice President for Policy and Strategy, pretending that America’s best interests are geared to the success of Israel’s unlawful and racist expansionism.
From the way America conducts itself internationally, anyone would think that law and justice are some kind of à la carte menu items to be dispensed on a pick-and-choose basis, or not dispensed at all. Or something Americans can send back to the kitchen if their taste buds don’t fancy it.
It is outrageous that Netanyahu should be encouraged to think compliance with the law is optional and in the meantime further concessions can be wrung, under duress, from people the Israelis have oppressed and cheated for 60 years.
The talking’s all done
The talks of course have nothing to do with peace. They are about greed, dominance and more land theft. The plan is to get a weakling Palestinian leader into a corner and arm-twist more concessions from him, until there’s nothing left.
Is this really a good time to bend the knee or tug the forelock to someone as unreliable as Obama or as criminal as Netanyahu?
It is surely an occasion to stand on principle and go over the heads of corrupt meddlers, making a strong Palestinian case anchored firmly in established law and justice so that there is no room to wriggle, and demand that same law and justice from the international community that endorsed it.
It would call for a carefully planned and professionally executed communications campaign to make the world listen, something the Palestinian Authority and the PLO, under Abbas, have fatally neglected.
But Abbas says it’s his “national responsibility” to go along with the talks. Those in Ramallah who dared to disagree were quickly stamped on by his security goons.
Abbas and Erekat belong to the shabby failures of the past. For Palestine the future has to start somewhere. It might as well be here, and now.
America cannot – no, will not – uphold international law or UN resolutions. Like Israelis, the Americans have a cynical disregard for human rights except their own. It goes against all notions of fair play, therefore, to see America acting the host and pretending to be an honest broker.
Abbas should have none of it. If he cannot be persuaded to do the decent thing and go, he at least ought to take the line that the talking’s all done. It was done in the UN. And the UN has treated Israel with gob-smacking generosity at Arab expense, first with its 1947 Partition gift and later by nodding OK to Israel’s territorial gains represented by the Armistice ‘Green Line’. The Israelis should accept this staggering munificence with proper humility, and be content.
Obama would do well to acknowledge that the decisions have already been made. They are enshrined in UN resolutions, in international law, in the Geneva Conventions and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. They wait to be implemented by the nations that are party to those solemn undertakings, including the US.
So please, Mr Obama, no more talking. Cut the charade and do your duty.
Earn that peace prize. Or give it back.
Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation. For further information please visit www.radiofreepalestine.co.uk