Palestine talks begin in Washington

by our Arab Affairs correspondent

WASHINGTON’S spin merchants are going into top gear to puff up the latest imperialist effort to resolve the Palestinian problem. Barack Obama has met the Israeli and Palestinian representatives in Washington and US Secretary of State John Kerry says that the negotiators will aim to reach a “final status” agreement over the next nine months to end their long conflict and that “all issues” will be on the table.

Though the Israelis are going to free 104 long-term Palestinian prisoners to get the ball rolling this wasn’t an entirely unilateral gesture of goodwill on behalf of the Netanyahu government, because it was clearly in return for a Palestinian pledge to suspend its campaign for statehood at the United Nations and end any move to indict Israelis for war-crimes at the International Criminal Court at the Hague.

Given goodwill, nine months is long enough to resolve all the outstanding issues but unfortunately there is little of that about on the Israeli side. Netanyahu’s reactionary governing coalition relies on the support of die-hard Zionist parties like his own Likud bloc along with rabid Zionist settler movements that don’t want to give an inch of stolen Arab land back to the Palestinians if they can help it.

weak leader

On the other hand the Palestinian side is represented by Mahmoud Abbas, the weak leader of the Palestinian National Authority that administers the “autonomous” areas of the West Bank under Israeli occupation.

They can put whatever they like on the table but few doubt that the most that they can expect from the Israelis and the Americans is what’s already there — an Israeli withdrawal from the rest of the West Bank apart from the key areas around what the Zionists call “Greater Jerusalem,” with some underdeveloped Israeli land and desert thrown in as compensation to enable the Israelis to claim that the Palestinians are not losing out.

Some refugees could be allowed to return to Israel under an offer made back in the 1950s but most can expect nothing apart from citizenship in an “independent” Palestinian state that would essentially remain an Israeli protectorate.

The Americans could help Abbas regain control of the Gaza Strip which has been run by Hamas, the Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood, since 2007. This would need a lot of arms and money as Abbas’ Fatah militia doesn’t have the muscle to make a come-back in Gaza on its own.

It would have the blessing of the new military government in Cairo which is determined to crush the Muslim Brothers in Egypt and wherever it can find them. But it would end American attempts to forge an alliance with the Muslim Brothers across the Arab world and Turkey that was once the pivot of the Obama administration’s Middle East strategy.

It’s already unravelling. The Brothers are out for the count in Egypt. The Turkish AKP government is struggling to remain in power in the face of mass demands for fresh elections and an end to Islamisation and the Syrian army is well on its way to defeating the rebel Brotherhood and Al Qaida gangs that have plunged the country into sectarian violence.

Obviously everyone will get something from the talks. The Obama administration wants a foreign affairs triumph to gift to whoever will lead the Democratic Party in the 2016 race for the US presidency.

Netanyahu will get more US support to consolidate Israel’s hold on the parts of the West Bank Israel is determined to hold and the Palestinian administration may get more “authority” over the bits Israel doesn’t want. But the quest for a comprehensive and lasting peace remains as elusive as ever.