Thursday, November 29, 2012

Hanan Ashrawi's op-ed in the Guardian on eve of UN observer vote

Hanan Ashrawi, the first woman elected to the Palestinian Legislative Council, has an opinion piece today in the Guardian today. She urges the nations of the UN to approve Palestine's request for an upgrade in their standing to non-voting observer status, arguing that countries that oppose the move will quickly be on the wrong side of history.

Ashrawi also laments the painfully ineffective peace process of the last several years, (has there really even been much of a process since Clinton's failed Camp David attempt?) and she accuses the Israeli government of favoring "permanent negotiations" over a "permanent resolution" to the conflict. She provides scathing criticism of Netanyahu's approach to negotiations:

We are as far from having a serious peace partner than at any time since we began this "process". The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, at best views negotiations in the context of photo opportunities and handshakes to improve his international image and keep public opinion quiet. At worst he exploits the "process" to continue settlement expansion, the annexation of Jerusalem, and the "enjoyment" of an American-led legal cover to enable him to act with impunity. This, in fact, represents a severe provocation to our people who have been on the receiving end of such an enormous injustice without responding violently or illegally. While we have met our commitments, Israel continues to renege on its obligations and to build on the 22% of the remaining Palestinian land designated for the free sovereign state of Palestine.

Whether you agree with her assessment or not, Ashrawi's comments provide a very important insight into why the PLO under Mahmoud Abbas has been so hesitant to enter into negotiations without preconditions (especially a settlement freeze). The Palestinians, by and large, have lost confidence in the tired peace process paradigm of the past decade, where American mediators act as Israel's lawyer, the Israeli government continues to expand settlements, and Fatah loses more popularity from the Palestinian people due to another total failure in talks. While everyone goes through the peace process motions, Hamas continues to gain the confidence and respect of Palestinians by gaining concrete benefits to Palestinians in Gaza (and in the West Bank with the prisoner swap for Gilad Shalit).

Hanan Ashrawi doesn't outright say it, but another failed round of unstructured, unsuccessful talks where American mediators only bring pressure on the Palestinians, but not the Israelis when they act intransigent, will bolster Hamas and continue to weaken the far more moderate and decidedly non-violent Fatah.

Instead of marginalizing this multilateral, diplomatic approach to the peace process, the Israelis and Americans should work to help this bring about decisive peace talks that Palestinians can believe in.

Can you really blame the Palestinians for their lack of confidence in negotiations under the paradigm of the last decade?

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