By Mkhaimar Abusada
The stalemate in the Palestinian-Israeli peace process has prompted the Quartet (made up of the United States, European Union, United Nations, and Russia) to ask both sides to present their positions on borders and security. There have been no direct peace negotiations between the Palestinian and Israelis since the Israeli war on Gaza in December 2008 and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s entry into office in March 2009, except for three weeks in September 2010 when direct negotiations collapsed at the end of a ten-month settlement freeze announced by Netanyahu a year earlier.
The Quartet has invested a lot of effort in bringing both sides to the negotiating table, but the Palestinian leadership has refused to negotiate directly without a settlement freeze and Israeli acceptance of the terms of reference for the negotiations as outlined by the Quartet roadmap. This has been rejected by Israel and threatens the stability of its current government coalition.
The refusal of Netanyahu’s government to respect its obligations specified in the roadmap has left the Palestinian leadership with no other option but to wage a diplomatic and legal battle at the United Nations. Eighteen years have passed since the signing of the Oslo agreement in September 1993, with no hope to an end to the Israeli occupation and, instead, acceleration in the Israeli settlement enterprise on the land Palestinians hope to have as their own independent and sovereign state alongside the state of Israel.
The Quartet — mainly the United States — was unmoved by the Palestinian diplomatic bid for statehood submitted by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon in September 2011 as Abbas sought creative ways to bridge the gaps between the two sides. Both the Palestinians and Israelis were asked to submit their proposals on borders and security within three months. The Quartet move was designed to break the stalemate in the peace process and gradually move the parties to direct negotiations.
Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat has acknowledged that Palestinians have submitted their proposals on borders and security. He told Agence France Presse that Palestinians presented a document on November 14 proposing the lines that existed before the 1967 War as the basis for a deal, with land swaps of around 1.9 percent of the total land. This Palestinian position on borders reiterates their position during the Annapolis peace negotiations between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas in 2007 and 2008.
During the Annapolis peace talks, both Olmert and Abbas exchanged ideas on final borders and the gap then was not huge. Olmert submitted a proposal to Abbas for land swaps of approximately seven percent, and Palestinians were ready to accept swaps of only three percent of the total land, which essentially constitutes the large settlement blocs close to the green line separating the West Bank from Israel. But the war on Gaza and the arrival of Netanyahu disrupted those negotiations. Netanyahu refused to restart the peace negotiations on the basis of these understandings and, to complicate matters, he set a new condition that Palestinians must recognize Israel as a Jewish state before the resumption of peace talks.
On security, Erekat stated that Palestinians would accept the presence of a third party on the borders with Israel in exchange for a total Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. This position was outlined earlier in an interview with Palestinian leader Abbas who said that Palestinians would accept the presence of NATO forces on the borders with Israel. The bottom line for Palestinians is that no Israeli presence be allowed in the future Palestinian state. Israel, for its part, rejects any Palestinian presence in the Jordan Valley.
On the other hand, Israel is entirely refusing to submit its proposals on borders and security. Israeli sources have dismissed the Palestinian proposals, saying they include nothing new, and reiterated the Israeli position that direct talks and not negotiations mediated by the Quartet are the only way to achieve peace. This demand has been rejected by the Palestinians.
It is no secret that the peace process has reached a dead end, and with these current positions, there is no prospect of positive peace talks in the near future. The United States will be busy with its presidential elections, the European Union is preoccupied with its financial and economic crises, and the Arab regimes are anxious over the future of their countries and thrones.
The current situation is unsustainable and a third party must intervene to restart Palestinian-Israeli peace talks on the basis of the two-state solution envisioned by the Quartet roadmap. But this requires a more active role by the Quartet to seek implementation of the two sides’ commitments to the roadmap.
Mkhaimar Abusada is professor of political science at Al-Azhar University, Gaza. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with bitterlemons.org..