Uncertainty over W Asia peace talks

Uncertainty over W Asia peace talks

The June 1967 war demonstrated that Israel cannot be destroyed by military means. The war changed the regional balance of power in Israel's favour but did not lead to peace between Israelis and Palestinians or Israel and the Arab world. 

Although the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 242 in November 1967 calling for Israeli withdrawal from the territory conquered during that war, Israel had already begun to build settlements on the land.  Today, there are 130 authorised settlements and 100 unauthorised “outposts in East Jerusalem and the West Bank inhabited by 6,00,000 Israelis.

Half a century after the June war, prospects for negotiations remain poor. The most recent direct talks between the sides, brokered by former US secretary of state John Kerry, collapsed in April 2014. The then Obama administration blamed Israel’s stepped up expansion of settlements.

Since then, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has conditioned the resumption of talks on a halt to settlement construction as this enterprise is appropriating land Palestinians claim for their state. Considered weak and compromised by the majority of Palestinians, Abbas has no choice but to insist on this condition.

The West Bankers and East Jerusalemites see new construction on settlement buildings on a daily basis while Israel refuses permits allowing Palestinians to build and demolishes or force Palestinians to destroy homes without permits.

Abbas’ stand has been reinforced by the adoption in Dece­mber 2016 by the Security Council of Resolution 2334 stating, once again, that settlement acti­vity has “no legal validity and co­nstitutes a flagrant violation under international law” and called on Israel to halt colony building.

The Obama administration did not veto the resolution, the case when submitted previously, and the measure was adopted, prompting condemnation by Israel. Even the pro-Israel Trump administration has urged Israeli restraint on this issue.

Israel has put forward a very different sort of condition for resuming talks. Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon told DH: “We want to see a return to two-state negotiations with the Palestinians, while the US is deeply engaged in trying to restart negotiations. The problem, from the Israeli prospective, is the Palestinian refusal to recognise the legitimacy of Israel as a sovereign Jewish state.  Israel  would not exist if it had not been created by the Jewish people... We can show flexibility on Jerusa­lem, Gaza, and settlements but not on legitimacy. If the Palestinians do not recognise our legitimacy (as a Jewish state), the conflict will go on forever.”

When the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO), regarded internationally as the legal representative of the Palestinian people, formally recognised Israel as a state in 1993, Israel engaged in negotiations without putting forward this condition. When DH mentioned this, Nahshon reiterated his country's position: “We will not negotiate over our legitimacy. This is a fundamental precondition for talks.”

Making it a "precondition for talks" amounts to a toughening in the Israeli stance. Israel had not previously put forward this demand as a condition for reaching a peace deal. 

The Palestinians flatly reject the demand, put forward by Israel initially in 2007, having never been mentioned before during Israeli-Palestinian talks. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adopted the demand in 2009 and has made it a key element in discourse with the US and, indirectly, with the Palestinians, although the demand essentially negates the PLO’s recognition of Israel as a state.

Second class citizens
The Arab League supports the Palestinian position while Kerry was critical of Israel for repeatedly raising the issue.  Kerry pointed that Israel's identity as a “Jewish state” was recognised by the UN General Assembly in November 1947 in resolution 181 calling for the partition of Palestine into “independent Arab and Jewish states” and repeatedly referred to “the Jewish State” when discussing the identity of this entity.

Former Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath rejected this condition, stating, "we want two democratic secular states side by side," with no mention of religion. He said more than 20% of the citizens of Israel are Muslims and Christians and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state would make them "second class citizens.” 

He added: “We do not want to be recognised as an Islamic State or an Arab state, although the majority of Palestinians are Muslim Arabs. In 1993, Israel did not recognise Palestine as a country but the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people. We have called for a state in only 22% of historic Palestine, accepting Israel’s existence in 78% of the country.”

Shaath said neither Egypt nor Jordan which made peace with Israel in 1979 and 1994, recognised Israel as a Jewish state. Palestine is recognised by 137 of the UN’s 193 member states, the latest being Sweden.

India recognised Palestine following the PLO’s declaration of independence in November 1988. At that time, much of the Third World recognised Palestine. However, Palestine remains a virtual state, its land and its 6.4 million inhabitants still occupied by Israel, while the other half of the Palestinian people are scattered across the globe.