The most important event in the new “peace process” took place last week, not in Washington but in Lebanon.
In Washington, it was clear from the Clinton-Mitchell media briefing Friday that while the administration has successfully pressured Mahmoud Abbas to talk to Israel, there is no agreement on anything else — not on the sequencing of issues, the terms of reference, the beginning point for the talks, or the role of Quartet statements:
QUESTION: Could you talk about the sequencing of the talks? Will they discuss territory, refugees, or Jerusalem first, or will this all be in parallel?
MR. MITCHELL: … It will be for the parties themselves to decide the manner by which [these issues] should be addressed.
QUESTION: Senator, is re-launching the direct negotiations without preconditions means that we are re-launching the direct negotiations without terms and references?
MR. MITCHELL: Only the parties can determine terms of reference and basis for negotiations, and they will do so when they meet and discuss these matters. …
QUESTION: … Can you tell us whether they’re going to start from scratch, or will they build on what talks that – during the Olmert period? …
MR. MITCHELL: The parties themselves will determine the basis on which they will proceed in the discussions…
QUESTION: So the talks won’t be based on the Quartet statement of March 19?
MR. MITCHELL: The parties are the only ones who can determine what the basis of their discussions are, and that is the case.
As one of Israel’s prominent bloggers is fond of asking, what could go wrong?
In Lebanon last week, the parliament lifted some employment restrictions on Palestinians who have lived for decades in squalid camps run by UNWRA. Previously, they lacked the right to seek citizenship, own property, attend public schools, receive public health care, or work in anything but menial or administrative jobs. Under the new law, they can work in more jobs (although not in professions such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, etc.), but they still lack all other rights. They are, in other words, the victims of legalized discrimination not by Israel but by their Arab brothers.
The new law was limited, according to the Lebanese Daily Star, because Lebanese “fear that granting the refugees the right to own property, among others, would be a slippery slope to permanent settlement.” The law passed only after a late June meeting with a delegation sent by Abbas, which promised that “Palestinian refugees would remain guests in Lebanon … and would not abandon their right of return.” Abbas thereby committed himself, once again, to a specious “right of return” that dooms any serious peace process with Israel.
Thomas Friedman yesterday called for a new Cairo speech by President Obama — to encourage not an interfaith dialogue but an intrafaith one within the Muslim world to heal “intracommunal divides.” Perhaps the president might use such a speech to term the treatment of Arab refugees by Arab countries an affront to human rights — and an obstacle to peace — and challenge them to “tear down those camps.” It would be a greater contribution to peace than the process he is initiating next week.