Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Palestinians: What Is the Difference Between Direct, Indirect and Parallel Talks?

by Khaled Abu Toameh

It seems that the US Administration does not believe that the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah is serious when it says that it cannot make any concessions to Israel, especially with regards to core issues such as settlements and the "right of return" for Palestinian refugees.

Americans need to listen to what the Palestinians are saying not only in English, but also in Arabic. And in Arabic, the message coming out of Ramallah remains no and no and no -- no to resumption of peace talks unconditionally, no to accepting Israel as a Jewish state, no to any solution that does not include all the territories captured by Israel in 1967. These no's are apparently being translated by the White House and State Department as one big yes.

When Mahmoud Abbas day and night reiterates that he will not make any concessions, and that he insists on a Palestinian state on the 1967 lines, including east Jerusalem, and that the refugees must return to their original homes inside Israel proper, the US obviously does not take him seriously.

Nor are the Americans ready to accept the fact that Abbas is a weak and discredited leader who will never be able to sell any peace agreement to a majority of Arabs and Palestinians.

The Palestinians are telling the US Administration that they do not trust Obama and Clinton anymore. However, this does not seem to ring a bell with anyone in the White House or the State Department.

Abbas and the Palestinian leadership are telling everyone, including the Americans, that they have no intention to change their position, no matter how long the Middle East conflict continues. The Palestinians have even won the backing of the Arab League for their policies, first and foremost for refusing to return to the negotiating table unless their pre-conditions are met.

For months now, the US Administration has been trying to push the Middle East "peace process" forward by offering Israelis and Palestinians different methods of negotiations.

First, the Americans tried indirect or proximity talks between the two parties. Then, Washington managed to persuade the two sides to move to direct talks that were launched under the auspices of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

Now, the Obama Administration is offering the two parties something new: "parallel talks" for a period of six weeks. What does this exactly mean? "Parallel talks," according to the Obama Administration, means that the US would hold bilateral talks with each side instead of direct negotiations.

But haven't the Israelis and Palestinians already seen this movie?

When will the US Administration realize that peace does not depend on the way you hold the talks, but on substance? Do the Americans really believe that the Palestinians will change their positions and demands if the talks were direct or indirect?

If the Palestinians have made it clear through the previous rounds of indirect and direct negotiations with Israel that they cannot make such concessions, what reason is there to believe that they will change their minds or soften their position during the proposed "parallel talks"?

Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian leaders say they have lost faith in the Obama Administration because of its failure to "force" Israel to extend a moratorium on settlement construction not only in the West Bank, but also in Jerusalem.

The Palestinians have even publicly expressed their deep disappointment with Obama and Clinton, accusing them of endorsing the policies of the Israeli government.

When the indirect talks began a few months ago, Abbas stated that he had no intention of giving up on any of the major core issues. Abbas once again reiterated his position when Washington pressured him to launch direct talks with Israel.

Yet this has not stopped the Americans from continuing to push harder and harder. Even if the Palestinians agreed to the latest US offer to conduct "parallel talks," who said that the Palestinians would come with different position?

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Khaled Abu Toameh

Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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