11 March 2009

No way to approach Middle East peace

At the Donor’s Conference on the Reconstruction of Gaza at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton managed to get from the beginning to the end of her much publicised intervention without once mentioning Hamas.

She brought to the Conference a two-part message from President Obama: the United States is committed to a comprehensive peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours, and it will vigorously pursue a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

She went on to say, “We will work with our Palestinian partners, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad, to address critical humanitarian, budgetary, security and infrastructure needs. We have worked with the Palestinian Authority to install safeguards that will ensure that our funding is only used where, and for whom, it is intended, and does not end up in the wrong hands.”

At her next stop, in Jerusalem, Mrs Clinton stood alongside Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and proclaimed, “President Obama and I believe that the bond between the United States and Israel, and our commitment to Israel’s security and its democracy as a Jewish state, remains fundamental, unshakeable, and eternally durable”.

In case anyone failed to get the point about the invisibility of Hamas at Sharm el-Sheikh, Secretary Clinton made clear, in her remarks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, that the United States supports the Palestinian Authority as the only legitimate government of the Palestinian people. Clearly the untidy outcome of the 2006 Palestinian election which brought victory to Hamas is not going to be permitted to get in the way of a Middle East settlement.

And just in case Hamas does get a look-in somehow, Mrs Clinton has reiterated the three pre-conditions: the Palestinians must recognise Israel’s right to exist, must renounce violence, and must abide by all previous PLO commitments.

So Mrs Clinton has embarked on her career as a broker of Middle East peace by making abundantly clear her partisan position not only in relation to the Israelis vis-a-vis the Palestinians, but also her partisan position in relation to the key players within the Palestinian movement.

Mrs Clinton is not, of course, the only one meddling in the question of who will be permitted to represent the Palestinian people, or telling them the positions they must adopt – this malaise is endemic throughout the West. It seems a pity to have to say so, but world’s best practice in relation to the conduct of peace negotiations embodies three fairly straightforward propositions:

(1) Peace negotiations are normally conducted with enemies – hopefully one is already at peace with one’s friends.

(2) Concentrate on selecting the representatives of your own side – the other side will be very happy to select theirs.

(3) You cannot expect the other side to abandon its core positions ahead of the negotiations and then proceed to negotiate a 50-50 deal on what is left.

In relation to (3) the Palestinians would be well advised to model their approach on the standard approach that is used in international trade negotiations; we can pencil in draft outcomes on individual issues, but nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

Aside from all that, Secretary Clinton’s praise for Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Fayyad does not seem to have helped him much – he resigned a few days later and Time in this article of 10 March quoted sources inside the Palestinian Authority as saying that the Prime Minister’s pat on the head from Clinton was the snapping point for many senior Fatah officials; also that most Palestinians resent what they see as US meddling in their internal politics.

As for Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) – he might be a nice man but he alone does not hold the key to Middle East peace.

No comments: