Abbas faced potential political and financial isolation if he did not
agree to participate in direct talks [GETTY]
The resumption of direct talks between Israel and the
Palestinian Authority (PA) will allow Barack Obama to have his day presiding
over the launch of another series of futile negotiations and, in providing an
opportunity for Binyamin Netanyahu to assert his unwavering commitment to
Israel's colonial policies, will earn the Israeli prime minister further
But while the talks may serve immediate American and Israeli
interests they will do nothing for the cause of peace.
In fact, the mere announcement that talks will resume has
emboldened the Israeli prime minister to declare that settlement-building
will continue and to demand Palestinian recognition of the Jewish character
of the Israeli state as a precondition for any future agreement. So, at the
same time that it has pressured the PA into dropping its preconditions for
participating, the US has allowed Netanyahu to impose his on the whole
process with impunity.
The Palestinians have already made clear that they will withdraw
from talks should Israel not extend its freeze on settlement construction
when it expires on September 26. But regardless of how long they last, the
talks will have already started a process that will only perpetuate the
Israeli occupation. This is simply the old new story of the 'peace process' -
which, since it started in 1993, has consolidated Israeli control over the
Palestinians while brutally crushing their resistance.
has already asserted preconditions for any possible agreement [GETTY]
Responsibility for the decision to participate - despite
overwhelming Palestinian opposition - must rest with the PA. But, it is
important to recognise the growing American and Arab complicity in pushing
the PA to surrender.
Arab countries have collectively and individually exerted
tremendous political and financial pressure on the PA to enter into direct
talks. Qatar, the country that presided over the special Arab League
committee that gave the green light for the talks, has played a pivotal role
in negotiating their 'terms'.
For their part, Jordan and Egypt, driven largely by their own
self-interests, have long argued for an immediate resumption of direct talks
under the guise that they would give the US an opportunity to support the
In reality, Arab support for the PA has always been conditional
on the Palestinian leadership's willingness to appease the West and the
divisions between Fatah and Hamas have made the threat of Arab states
withholding political support all the more real for the PA. But, the main
pressure has been financial. Arab states have paid only $115mn of the $550mn
pledged to PA institutions, leaving it with very real fears of financial
collapse. Western donors have also failed to deliver on aid promises, much of
which is linked to 'progress' in the 'peace process'.
And when Obama sent a letter to the Palestinian leadership last month
threatening to withdraw US recognition of the PA, the authority found itself
facing the prospect of political and financial isolation - much like that
experienced by the late Yasser Arafat when Arab and Western countries left
him and the Palestinians at the mercy of an Israeli invasion and siege.
No mandate, no surrender
Despite this, many within the Palestine Liberation Organisation
(PLO) and the Fatah movement advised the PA not to succumb to American
threats and Mahmoud Abbas would have gained much popular support had he resisted.
But the PA leader and some of his aides feared that the international
backlash from not participating would cost them and the Palestinians dearly.
However, few Palestinians outside the narrow decision-making
circle agree with them and the only reason why the decision has not yet been
met with an outpouring of anger is because Palestinians are convinced the
talks will not result in an offer that could lead to a Palestinian
As one PLO official who asked not to be named told me: "We
are not afraid of the outcome of the talks. There is nothing Abu Mazan
(Abbas) would or could accept. But going to the talks has undermined our
battle to isolate Israel."
More than 700 prominent Palestinians in the West Bank, including
leaders of all the PLO factions, signed a statement opposing the resumption
of talks and called for a protest rally to be held on September 1 - the
day negotiations are due to resume in Washington. But a press conference held
by opponents of the talks was interrupted by security forces, in a crackdown
that has been widely criticised and interpreted as revealing the depth of the
divisions generated by the decision to participate.
Abbas later expressed his respect for the opposition and ordered
an investigation into the incident, but this 'rebellion' by leading
Palestinian figures will not go away quietly. The PA leader will be entering
negotiations without any organisational or popular backing, let alone a
mandate. In fact, the only mandate Abbas will have should Netanyahu try to
impose his vision of a fragmented Palestinian state deprived of any real
sovereignty over land or resources is to say no.
With unconditional US support for Netanyahu's position,
Palestinian hopes must lie in the failure of the talks, as 'success' would be
equivalent to Palestinian surrender.
So while American bullying has succeeded in bringing a weakened Palestinian
leadership to the negotiating table, it will not succeed in subduing the
Palestinians who have shown in the past that they can lead their leadership into
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do
not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.