By Dr. Abul Sattar Qassem
The news that Israeli-Palestinian negotiations are to be resumed after a publicly announced three year break hasn't been confirmed by the release of any formal agreement between US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Palestinian Authority. This, of course, may never materialise, but we can consider the fact that negotiations have never actually stopped.
The Palestinian Authority did say that talks were being stopped until Israel put a freeze on its illegal settlement programme but there have been secret discussions in Jerusalem and Amman. However, the PA was not being entirely honest when it described the Amman talks as just "exploratory".
What's more important is that the Palestinian Authority announced the stopping of negotiations on one hand while continuing its security and administration coordination with the Israelis on the other. The Israelis care little for talks but care dearly about security, which has been at the core of agreements signed with the Palestinians, whose security agencies act as Israeli proxies in the occupied territories. If a Palestinian throws a stone at illegal Jewish settlers, Palestinian security forces will pursue him; when a Palestinian baby is born, the details and ID number are sent to the Israeli Civil Administration in the West Bank.
If the Palestinian Authority had been serious about putting pressure on Israel, it would have stopped all security coordination, at which point we would have seen a harsh response from the Israelis. Stopping negotiations doesn't have any such effect; in fact, the Israelis have continued to build illegal settlements, which the PA condemns but does nothing to try to stop.
Israel and America use negotiations to buy more time for Israel to build more facts on the ground. For more than 20 years the Palestinians have not been given any of their national rights; all they have received is money in exchange for their cooperation. The intention is to turn Palestinians into a group of individuals with their own self-interests rather than a nation in waiting. Within the PA itself, concern for personal advancement and salaries appear to be the main preoccupation.
Negotiations are used as a sedative to appease the Palestinians. If "honest broker" America had been serious about stopping settlements, for example, it would have taken serious measures against Israel, but it doesn't. It may criticise Israel in public but it continues to supply all kinds of military, security, political, economical and financial support. Palestinians, for whatever reason, like to believe what America says and not what it does.
Why is the pressure on to return to negotiations now? It could have something to do with increasing number of Arab youth starting to question relations with Israel and pushing the importance of severing all links with the "enemy". Thinking long-term, this could affect America's own relations with countries in the Middle East. As such, the US uses the Palestinian issue as a means to address and silence young Arabs. By having Palestinians and Israelis around the table, it sends a strong message to the Arab world: if the Palestinians, who have the direct problem, are sipping honey from the Israelis, then why are the Arab youths depriving themselves of such opportunities? America wants to reduce the hostility that Arab youths have towards Israel and affect them psychologically; to have them believe that Arabs have always been associated with defeat, and that victory is for Israel.
America and Israel have usually resorted to little more than bribery in order to keep Palestinian citizens sweet. With each disappointment they try to give something that looks huge in the media to cover up the main issue. Remember when the PLO recognised Israel and covered that agreement by announcing statehood? The people went onto the streets in celebration but woke up to find that they had no state.
Now we see the US promising massive financial and economic aid to make people focus more on consumerism rather than real freedom. The soft spot is that some Palestinians are prepared to trade national interests for money. More work permits will be issued for Palestinians to work on settlements and in Israel. Kerry's vision for Palestinian economic development ties the Palestinian workforce into the Israeli economy instead of Palestine's. And some long-term prisoners will be released to, no doubt, a media fanfare. It is ironic that such men who have sacrificed so much for the Palestinian cause will be released as part of a deal which sees the Palestinian cause sacrificed for short-term political gain.
Such steps will be talked about in the media repeatedly in order to cover up the concessions given by the PA. And there will be concessions, of that there is no doubt.
Anyone who thinks that the Palestinian Authority makes its own decisions is mistaken. The PA can take marginal decisions which have no impact on Israeli interests, but if it goes anywhere near anything that the Israelis regard as important it is brought to heel sharply. The principle, if that's the right word because it is all so unprincipled, is that the Palestinian Authority must not bite the hand that feeds it. The PA is thus rendered completely compliant and subservient to Israel and its interests.