Time and negotiations

The lack of resolution has nothing to do with time and everything to do with absence of political will.

By DAOUD KUTTAB
September 24, 2008 21:57
3 minute read.
Time and negotiations

Abbas olmert walk 224.88. (photo credit: GPO)

 
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The issue of time has always played a major role in most negotiations. Whether they be labor negotiations or political ones, each side of any conflict waits literally till the very last minute before revealing its true position. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas have been quoted as saying that they wish they had just a little more time to reach a solution. Time and again we have seen the Palestinian-Israeli conflict reach a potential breakthrough point only for the hopes of both peoples to be dashed because of the failure to reach a resolution. After six years of the Palestinian nakba and the creation of the State of Israel and following more than 40 years of the military occupation of the rest of Palestine, it is a joke for negotiators to wish they had just a little more time. At the Wye River negotiations with Binyamin Netanyahu, the 2000 talks with Ehud Barak at Camp David and the Taba talks lead by Yossi Beilin and Yasser Abed Rabbo, negotiators used time both positively and negatively to proceed or to scuttle the talks. The tyranny of time led the negotiators in Taba to agree that "we have never been closer to an agreement." Of course such optimistic statements seem comic today, after thousands of Palestinians and hundreds of Israelis have been killed, after Ariel Sharon made his provocative visit to Al-Aksa Mosque and Israeli soldiers brutally put down anti-Sharon demonstrations thereafter, all resulting in what is commonly called the Aksa intifada or the second intifada. IF THERE is one thing clear in this conflict, it is that the absence of a resolution has nothing to do with time but has everything to do with the absence of a political will. Before the latest Abbas, Olmert time-related quote, two negotiators went about to prove that the issue is not time related. Both Beilin and Abed Rabbo decided to make an intellectual exercise. They gathered experts from both sides and reached consensus on a detailed agreement which is called the Geneva Agreement. Hundreds of respected Israeli and Palestinian intellectuals have since signed this document. Another two leaders, Sari Nusseibeh and Ami Ayalon, also sat down and came up with a signed documents. Again thousands of Palestinians and Israelis signed what became known as the People's Voice. Olmert has indeed shown signs of a political conversion. Not only was he instrumental in the withdrawal from Gaza and the removal of Jewish settlements there, but he has also publicly made breakthrough statements for a sitting Israeli premier. His verbal burial of the idea of Greater Israel and his empathy for Palestinian refugees has never been made so clearly by an Israeli official. Speaking at the beginning of a cabinet meeting does give the sense of a change of heart for a Likudnik who has been publicly proud of being a follower of Ze'ev Jabotinsky, Menachem Begin and Sharon. ABBAS HAS also shown courage not seen beforehand by a Palestinian leader. Not only has he been a consistent opponent of the militarization of the intifada and a strong opponent of the rockets from Gaza, but he has publicly lowered Palestinian expectations for any large-scale return of refugees. He has been weakened by losing Gaza to Hamas. His days might be counted as his present term comes close to an end. On the other side, Olmert will soon be running a caretaker government and thus unable to make strategic decisions. Time might be a factor, but after decades of delays and procrastination it certainly is not the only factor. Unfortunately, however, delays affect mostly Palestinians under occupation while allowing the occupiers to continue their illegal settlement expansion, thus negatively affecting a future solution. The writer is general manager of Community Media Network, a nonprofit organization registered in Jordan and Palestine, dedicated to support and develop media in the Arab world.

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