Analysis: The PA's mixed messages about peace talks

A state on confusion: Different officials, sometimes the same officials, are issuing contradictory messages.

311_Netanyahu, Abbas staring contest (photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO )
311_Netanyahu, Abbas staring contest
(photo credit: Moshe Milner / GPO )
It’s hard these days to tell exactly what the Palestinian Authority wants or thinks. For the past few days and weeks, it has been speaking with more than one voice, sometimes sending contradictory messages.
The state of confusion, some Palestinians in Ramallah explained, is directly linked to the direct negotiations that were launched last week in Washington between the PA leadership and the Israeli government.
But the confusion began even before the launch of the direct talks. Following a recent visit to Ramallah by US special Middle East envoy George Mitchell, one Palestinian official told reporters in Arabic that the prospects of reaching an agreement on the proposed direct talks were slim. The official claimed that Mitchell’s mission had ended in failure and that the talks would not be launched in the near future.
One hour later, another senior official in Ramallah gave a briefing to journalists, but this time in English and with a message that completely contradicted his colleague’s earlier statement. This time the message was that a breakthrough had been achieved and that the direct talks would be launched very soon.
Since then, Palestinians have become used to hearing such contradictory messages on an almost daily basis, sometimes from the same official.
Following last week’s ceremony in Washington, the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, gave a series of interviews to various media outlets.
In one interview, he was quoted as saying that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was not serious about reaching peace with the Palestinians and that his only goal was to waste time. Erekat later issued a denial, saying his words had been taken out of context.
In another interview, Erekat was quoted as saying that Israel and the Palestinians had agreed in Washington on the core issues that would be discussed during the direct talks. Later that day he was quoted by a different newspaper as saying that the two sides had yet to agree on the agenda of the negotiations.
Another Palestinian official who attended the talks was quoted by a number of Arab media outlets as voicing pessimism regarding the prospects of reaching a deal with the Netanyahu government. However, another official appeared on Arab TV networks with an “optimistic tone.”
The Palestinians have also been issuing contradictory assessments regarding the position of the US administration. While some officials talked about a “positive” change in the position of Washington in favor of the Palestinians, others expressed skepticism about the US administration’s mediation efforts. Some even went as far as accusing the administration of President Barack Obama of endorsing the stance of the Israeli government on the peace process.
These conflicting messages, which are being relayed by both Palestinian officials and media organizations in the West Bank, have left the Palestinians in a state of confusion.
Palestinians are no longer sure whether Israel wants peace or not. One PA official is telling them that there’s a chance for peace, while another is trying to convince the Palestinian public that there is no partner for peace on the Israeli side.
Palestinians who watch some of their representatives on Arab TV networks such as Al-Jazeera are left with the impression that the Israeli government does not want peace and that its only goal is to confiscate land and kill Palestinians. However, Palestinians who watch their representatives on Western TV stations get a slightly more moderate message.
Some PA officials sound more like their Hamas counterparts when they are interviewed in the Arab media.
Making statements and denying them, often within hours, has become almost a daily event in the politics of the PA. The latest example was that of Fatah’s Muhammad Dahlan, who, in an interview with an Arab newspaper on Sunday, denounced Netanyahu as a “swindler.”
After his remarks were published in Israel, the former security commander rushed to issue a denial, claiming that his words had been taken out of context.
Last week, a senior aide to Abbas said that the PA would soon launch a campaign to “persuade” Palestinians to support the renewed peace talks with Israel. The official said that the US-funded campaign would be similar to the one that has been launched to persuade the Israeli public that the Jibril Rajoub, Saeb Erekat and Yasser Abed Rabbo are partners for peace.
But instead of addressing the Palestinian public with a message of peace, the PA leadership is adding to the confusion that is already prevalent in the West Bank.
Palestinian analysts said that the PA’s conflicting messages are a sign of the state uncertainty among the top leaders in Ramallah. These leaders are facing difficulties in explaining to their people why they agreed to drop all their previous preconditions and launch direct talks with Israel.
For months, Abbas and his senior aides had been telling the Palestinians that they would never negotiate directly with Israel unless it halted all settlement construction and accepted the concept of a twostate solution on the basis of the June 4, 1967 lines.
Then one morning Palestinians woke up to hear that their leaders had abandoned all their conditions.