Analysis: What happens when the peace talks fail?

By ARIEH O’SULLIVAN / THE MEDIA LINE
September 1, 2010 21:27

Analysts discuss the potential after effects of the Israeli-Palestinian direct talks.

4 minute read.



Palestinians  chant slogans as they attend a rally

Palestinians protest talks 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

Before noon on Wednesday, hundreds of Palestinians crowded around a main square in the West Bank city of Ramallah to show their opposition to the direct Israeli Palestinian peace talks being launched this week at the White House.
   
“We want Kalashnikovs (assault rifles),” they shouted. “We want RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). We don’t want security cooperation nor the CIA.”

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Mustafa Barghouti, a chief opponent to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, rallied the crowd with warnings that the Palestinian leader was on his own and any deal he made with the Israelis would not be binding. The crowd cheered and the Palestinian police stayed back.

It was an event repeated across the major cities of the West Bank and, on the surface, resembled a healthy freedom of speech in a democratic nation in the making.
 
Yet as outlines of a Palestinian state emerge, there remains the fear that it is ephemeral and teetering on the verge of collapse. Ironically, the attempts to build a Palestinian state all hinge on the success of what many have already agreed are peace talks doomed to failure.

Analysts, however, see a difference between the potential ramifications of these talks failing and the last major failure in peace talks in 2000, which led to a bitter and bloody Palestinian uprising that saw Israel crushingly retake all areas of the Palestinian Authority.
   
Today, Palestinian security and police forces are well established and backed by five US-trained battalions loyal to President Abbas. There is growing prosperity and economic stability in the West Bank, the stronghold of Fatah rule, and coordination between Israeli and Palestinian security forces is quiet but strong.

This was already evident in the fact that Palestinian police in Hebron had rounded up over 250 alleged Hamas activists following the deadly ambush of four Israeli civilians there late Tuesday night. Hamas’s military wing Izzadin al-Qassam claimed responsibility for the attack.

“In 2000, Yassir Arafat was against any kind of nation building and the only infrastructure he built was a casino in Jericho,” Col. (res.) Moshe Elad, a former Israeli chief liaison officer with the Palestinians and today a researcher at the Samuel Neaman Institute, told The Media Line. “Now we see that in the last couple of years a decision by the Palestinian leadership to build a nation.”

“They are aware of the fact that they have to be sustainable and not for show,” Elad said. “I’m not sure they are going to gamble on all these projects. This is a good sign that they are serious.”

With much more to lose, the Palestinians would be less inclined to open harsh confrontation with Israel, even if the peace talks bog down or fail.

“If you have the impression that these talks will fail, then there is a need to prepare for this result,” Former PA minister and Fatah leader Qadura Fares told The Media Line, arguing that the most substantive result of talks is likely to be a legitimacy test for the Palestinian leadership. “It’s not as if we have only two options, either conflict or non-stop negotiations. There is another element. The PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) will face a real test of credibility and will have to convince the Palestinian people that it truly is a national movement.”

If the PLO can’t deliver, the Palestinians may increasingly opt to support Islamic fundamentalism, i.e. Hamas.
   
The London-based daily Al-Quds Al-Arabi reported that during the negotiations Fatah planned to escalate popular resistance against the Israeli separation barrier and Jewish communities in the territories captured by Israel in the 1967 War. The Fatah move could be seen as a way to draw support away from Hamas, which opposes peace talks with the Jewish state.

Fares was skeptical, saying Fatah has been calling for non-violent opposition to the Israeli occupation for years, but no one took the call seriously.
 
Elad, the former Israeli liason, said that the split between the West Bank and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip was fueling the opposition to the peace talks.

“In the past year, despite Gaza, the Palestinians have been moving ahead with nation building steps,” he said. “But don’t forget that Hamas is not so weak in the West Bank. And once Hamas-Gaza-Damascus will instruct its people to act (attack Israelis) I am not so sure all those training of troops will be enough to stop the Hamas in the West Bank.”

“The people in the West Bank see the blooming prosperity,” he continued. “But I would say in case Hamas-Gaza will start instructing their people to sabotage and to jeopardize so-called peace events it will be very close to a civil war.” 

“Even in the West Bank Hamas will have the advantage of fighting against regular troops like the Palestinian National Security Forces,” Elad concluded. “They will get the major support of the people. This is how things work in Palestinian society. The underdog always gets a lot of support. I am afraid that Israel will have to stay for a longer period of time.”


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