Defend the Palestinian right to negotiate

Submitted by Matthew on 26 January, 2011 - 10:35

The al-Jazeera/Guardian reports (24-25 January) of leaked documents showing Palestinian peace negotiators offering large concessions to Israel — on Jerusalem and the long-term citizenship of refugees — are not “revelations”.

The Israelis have often accused Palestinian representatives of not being credible partners in negotiation. But they said that to construct a narrative conducive to their own political priorities.

The Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas says the selection of documents is political, and gives a distorted picture of Fatah’s stance, which continues to be solidly for a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital. Whether Abbas is right about the politics of the report or not, anyone who has followed the depressingly unproductive course of the Israeli-Palestinian “peace talks” will know the Palestinian side — under pressure and as a measure of weakness — has conceded a lot.

There will be political fall out from these reports.

It will be said that Fatah representatives should not have made any concessions. That will be the line of Hamas, anti-Israel Arab nationalists and many on the left. It is even the line of the Guardian.

We give no political endorsement to Fatah, but consistent democrats should not give blanket condemnation either. The Palestinians have the right to manoeuvre and compromise in order to win a political settlement for themselves.

If these reports strengthen the hand of Hamas that is not good. They do not accept any negotiations by the PA, never mind “compromises”, because of their consistently hostile attitude to the existence of Israel.

The reports confirm a view of Israel as consistently obstructive and hardline in talks. Nonetheless it is not true that Israeli governments cannot be forced to change tack. The fact is that internal (left) opposition and external (from the US and Europe) political pressure on Israel has, especially over the last 10 years, been very weak.

A poll last year showed that only 32% of Palestinians are for direct negotiations now. They cannot be blamed for having no faith in the 20 year long “process”. Any expectation that Obama was able to push for a settlement has also been pushed back. These “revelations” will not help matters.

Accepting a drift towards further Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other potential conflicts in the Middle East is not something any socialist should want to see. Yet that is the logic of condemning outright any Palestinian attempt to manoeuvre and negotiate.

“Two states” remains the only democratic formula which can accommodate the rights to self-determination of both nations, Israeli Jews and Palestinian Arabs. It is a way to arm workers, Arab and Jewish, to unite across the borders and fight the many political and social injustices they both face.

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