There’s supposed to be a news blackout from the reconvened Middle East peace talks going on this week. The Palestinians insisted on that lest their reluctant negotiators be branded as doing something that smacked of legitimizing the Jewish state. But one of their team broke their silence this week in order to complain about the fact that they have been called upon to actually talk one on one with their Israeli counterparts:
“We had an agreement on three-way negotiations. The Americans from the beginning were supposed to be there. I don’t see why the Israelis don’t want the Americans there, as witnesses,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, told The Times of Israel. “These are not two-way negotiations,” she added.
This would seem to be violation of their undertaking to keep quiet about the talks but Ashrawi had an explanation:
“I’m not discussing the details or the facts,” she said. “I’m just telling you it’s the Israelis who don’t want the Americans, even though the Americans are totally biased in favor of Israel.”
Asked why she believed the Israelis would request the removal of a party favorable to them, Ashrawi said “they feel they can exploit their power over the Palestinians.”
In saying this, Ashrawi couldn’t have told us more about the negotiations had she produced a transcript. Nor could she have given us a better indication of just how dim the chances of success for this effort are. The Palestinian fear of being trapped in a room with the people they are supposed to be crafting a deal with has nothing to do with fear of Israeli power. It’s all about the fact that the last thing they want is to actually reach an agreement they’d have to justify to a Palestinian people that is still not ready to accept a Jewish state no matter its borders are drawn.
In one sense, Ashrawi’s desire to keep U.S. envoy Martin Indyk in the room is understandable. Contrary to her claim, far from being inclined to bolster the positions of the Netanyahu government, his clear bias is one that that leads him to push for Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.
But that’s not the real explanation.
It’s not exactly a secret that the ardent desire of Tzipi Livni, the head of the Israeli delegation, is to entice the Palestinians to embrace peace after three times rejecting offers of statehood that would include a share of Jerusalem and almost all of the West Bank. Supposedly that’s exactly what the Palestinians want, although they insist they will never compromise on forcing every Jew out of not only every settlement but the parts of Jerusalem that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. But the continuing stream of invective about Jews and Israel pouring out of the official Palestinian media and the so-called moderates of Fatah makes it hard to believe they are finally ready to take yes for an answer. Since PA leader Mahmoud Abbas seems no more capable or willing to accept the peace that he rejected in 2008 when he fled negotiations with Ehud Olmert convened by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, his primary fear is not the Israeli intransigence the Jewish state’s critics bewail but that Livni will give him what he says he wants.
The Palestinians never wanted to come back to the table after four years’ absence. But with the U.S. prepared to put the screws to Israel to gratify Secretary of State John Kerry’s desire for the talks, it was impossible for them to say no once the Americans gave them the preconditions they demanded. But that doesn’t mean Abbas wants a happy ending to this negotiation. Not only do the Palestinians want the Americans to do their negotiating for them, but their primary objective is to avoid being trapped in a room with someone like Livni who is obviously desperate to agree to any deal.
While there is no telling for certain what will happen in the upcoming months, this is yet one more indication that the main Palestinian objective in the negotiations is to never be maneuvered into a position where they would have to either say yes to peace or reject it and take the blame. Stay tuned for months of pre-emptive Palestinian efforts to deflect the blame for the futile nature of this fool’s errand that Kerry has embarked upon.