Rethinking negotiations

I fault Israel for insisting that there be complete ceasefire and “peace” before it accepts to talk business with the Palestinians. It can easily be contended that these conditions are fair, but having tried so many times to have them in place, it is time to think of other, more viable and operational, ideas to start peace talks. After all, the ultimate objective is to put the peace process, or what is left of it, on track again. There are many precedents in the international arena for talking peace while an armed conflict continues on the ground. Admittedly, it would be much better if real ceasefire between the two warring parties were well established before peace talks are conducted, but the real world suggests that this ideal condition cannot be met all the time. Since Israel tried so many times to have the Palestinians observe a complete ceasefire, for at least 48 hours before it would talk peace with them, why not explore other avenues?

The trouble with the Israeli condition stems from the fact that the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) does not seem to have complete control over the various factions operating in the field. Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said in so many words, on more than one occasion, that under prevailing conditions, when his grip on the Palestinian territories has loosened and his security apparata are in ruin, he simply cannot control every act emanating from the Palestinian side. Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat also recently admitted that his government does not have a magic wand to stop every form of violence on the Palestinian side. He pleaded for help so that the PNA may re-establish full and effective control over the Palestinian territories.

Having said that, the PNA is not absolved of all responsibility to rein in the various Palestinian factions which openly challenge Arafat’s declared terms for peace with Israel. It is one thing for the PNA to suggest that it cannot control the act of every Palestinian, and quite another not to be able to make the Palestinian opposition agree to his own terms for a negotiated peace. The PNA must try to put its house in order even under the current difficult conditions. It must be left to the PNA, and the PNA alone, when to declare war and resume an armed struggle and when to stop all forms of violence. Demonstrating inability to call all the shots on behalf of the Palestinian people weakens the PNA and its credibility as a partner for peace.

To sum up, both sides are invited to rethink their ways and conditions for starting peace talks. Only when peace negotiations start, would both parties be able to recreate more favourable conditions for peace and security for all.