The balance of power doesn't favour Palestinians

The balance of power doesn't favour Palestinians
Comment: Going into negotiations without a framework for talks will only benefit Israel, the side with all the power, writes Daoud Kuttab.
5 min read
29 May, 2017
Donald Trump wants Palestinians to restart talks without conditions, giving Israel the upper hand [Getty]

One of the basic principles in any political negotiation is the framework on which the talks take place. A reference point is needed, so as to avoid having talks for the sake of talks with no hope of reaching resolution.

This is the dilemma that Palestinians and Israelis are facing as they feel the pressure of the Trump administration to return to talks without any conditions. Talking without pre-conditions is, however, a formula that clearly plays into the hands of the more powerful party.

Whenever talks reach a snag, negotiators go back to the foundation of the talks - their reference point - in order to break the logjam.

More than 20 years of failed talks have taught Palestinians enough lessons as to the pitfalls of negotiations without a reference point or framework for discussions being first put in place. The problem is now much more worrisome, with a US president refusing to say the words "two-state solution" or "Palestine" or speaking, even, of the need for Palestinians to live in a state of their own.

Without a reference point for talks and with Trump's reluctance to support the two-state solution, any talks would certainly favour the Israelis.

Israel, with a powerful army, a strong economy and the support of most western countries, has a huge advantage over the Palestinians - even if Palestinians do have international law on their side.

Possession is two-thirds of the law, the saying goes, and Israel has little incentive to give up its possession of Palestinian land.

Palestinians want the Americans in the room to bear witness, and to prevent Israel from making unfair demands and then claiming otherwise afterwards

The problem with the current situation is that both parties know the temperament of US President Donald Trump is volatile. As a result, no one wants to anger The Donald by saying no to him. But it is clear that, if talks do begin without a basic reference or framework, the Israelis can continue to play games with Palestinians.

In the past, the Israelis have refused to allow the UN or members of the quartet into the negotiating room. During the short-lived Obama/Kerry talks, the Americans were asked by the Israelis not to attend the direct talks that were held late in 2013 and in 2014.

Palestinians want the Americans in the room to bear witness, and to prevent Israel from making unfair demands and then claiming otherwise afterwards.

In his summit speech in Saudi Arabia, US President Donald Trump made an important undertaking to revisit the design of US foreign policy, and indicated a willingness "to adjust our strategies" if need be.

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"We will discard those strategies that have not worked," he told King Salman of Saudi Arabia and the other heads of state who came to meet him.

The strategy of the past twenty years has failed. Putting Palestinians and Israelis in a negotiating room and expecting them to agree will not succeed. We need proactive honest brokers that can design a fair plan that can gain international support.

Once approved by the UN Security Council, the parties should be asked to implement this plan and not further negotiate its details.

Both negotiating parties must commit to carry out no act that would prejudge any agreement mandated by the UNSC. Israel can't allow any settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territories and must allow Palestinians to develop their potential in these areas.

everyone should expect that radicals on both sides will do everything in their power to scuttle any such deal. They must not be allowed to succeed

This includes opening development in Area C, and guaranteeing safe passage of people and goods between Gaza and the West Bank - as already agreed by both parties in the Oslo Accords.

This also obliges the Palestinian government to act in good faith, not to "delegitimise" the state of Israel in any public pronouncements, and to control radicals in the oPt.

However, everyone should expect that radicals on both sides will do everything in their power to scuttle any such deal. They must not be allowed to succeed.

Having a clear idea what a deal will look like - rather than endlessly returning to talks to change and re-change any agreement - might require some time for the consequences of any deal to be absorbed by all parties. This might require a transitional period of sorts. The UN, the US, NATO and maybe other international forces could be made available to safeguard the occupied territories during this transitional period.

What we need is to spend as little as possible time to remove the dust from previous nearly-agreed deals, synthesise them into a workable reference framework, and get the Security Council to legitimise it. By this reversal of the order of things, the end game would no longer be in doubt.

But, as ever, the hard work would be in the implementation, rather than the content of the ultimate deal.

In 1947, the UN set out a partition plan and Jewish Zionists in Tel Aviv celebrated the birth of their state.

It is time for a plan to give Palestinian Arabs hope for a state of their own.   

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. 

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.