The Washington process was predicted to fail by most analysts. There were many reasons for that, not least of which that it was largely a repetition of the Annapolis process that failed before it. Otherwise, the settlement issue was clearly a make it or break it element in this process…
by Ghassan Khatib
The settlement issue is crucial both because it can preempt the possible outcome of talks, and because it encompasses most of the elements of the conflict. First, settlements are a factor in determining borders, which is probably the most significant final status issue. They are also about Jerusalem because most of these settlements and the settlers who live there are in occupied East Jerusalem. Settlements also encompass the water issue, since many of these settlements were established strategically in order to control aquifers. Finally, they are about security because security parameters would change depending on the presence of Israelis and settlers.
But the issue of settlements was not the only obstacle to the Washington talks. It is obvious that since Benyamin Netanyahu became prime minister, he has successfully evaded any negotiating engagements. The proximity talks preceded the Washington negotiations and were meant to prepare for direct talks through the exchange of negotiating positions via the US negotiator Senator George Mitchell. But in these indirect negotiations, Israel refrained from presenting any negotiating position at all, despite the fact that the Palestinian side presented its full-fledged written and detailed positions on the two issues suggested by Mitchell–borders and security.
Israel was a good listener when direct negotiations started in Washington, but it never engaged in presenting its views or making proposals. This indicates one of the other reasons for the failure of the Washington process: the political position of the Israeli coalition. Bluntly, this government is completely incompatible with the basic requirements of the peace process terms of reference, including the roadmap, which was initiated by the Quartet, adopted by the Security Council and accepted by the two parties.
To truly engage in negotiations would either expose the position of the Israeli government as being too distant from the requirements of the international community, or endanger the coalition itself. This Israeli government cannot agree to any of the fundamental steps required to move the peace process forward. It is not mature enough to end the occupation in return for peace–the very heart of what this peace process is about.
The third and final main reason for the failure of the Washington talks was the role of the sponsor. The United States must have clearer positions on the process and its substance, injecting into the process both incentives and accountability. The Americans allowed this process to be launched without any terms of reference, which is exactly why the Annapolis process failed. A more involved role would encourage and pressure both Palestinians and Israelis to be consistent with the peace process terms of reference, especially signed agreements, the roadmap and the relevant resolutions of the United Nations Security Council.
So now the question is: what if the United States and the Quartet fail in convening serious and meaningful negotiations? Two scenarios are possible in this case. If Israel is allowed to continue stalling, it will obviously further undermine and weaken the moderate camp in Palestine. Second, it is possible that Israel’s continued reticence would bring the international community, led by the United States, to realize its vision of peace and two states by helping to create a Palestinian state not necessarily as a result of a bilateral agreement.
At the end of the day, the international community, as represented in the World Bank, has testified that Palestinians are ready for statehood and it is time for us to realize our dream. – Published 18/10/2010 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.