Is the peace process irreversible?

Everyone is striving to ensure the next Israeli gov't won't reverse prior accomplishments.

livni abbas 298.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
livni abbas 298.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
Lame duck Israeli and US leaders are making a serious effort these days to ensure that the Israeli-Palestinian peace process enters an irreversible track before they leave office. Palestinian negotiators are also trying to put on the record the latest that the talks have accomplished. This irreversible train left office in September shortly after Prime Minister Ehud Olmert resigned due to the police investigation. Olmert, who has continued as caretaker prime minister surprised the Israeli public by stating publicly that the ultimate solution of this conflict will require a return to the 1967 borders and will have to include giving up parts of Jerusalem. The US President George W. Bush, who has failed to accomplish his declared goal of reaching an agreement on an independent state before the end of his term, has decided instead to institutionalize his position in the UN. After five years of the US refusing to allow the Security Council in the conflict, it has cosponsored with Russia a resolution documenting the position of the international community. A resolution supporting the Annapolis process was approved with 14 votes and the abstention of Libya, even though it failed to speak about illegal Jewish settlements. PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas, whose regular term runs out on January 9, also wanted to be sure that the public record include points already agreed upon in the negotiations. Ahmed Qurei, the lead PA negotiator, held a press conference last week to indicate where the talks had reached. He told the press that his Israeli interlocutors insist on annexing 6.8 percent of the land of the West Bank and that they have offered a land swap for some of it. While he was saying that the PA has rejected this offer, he was indirectly telling any future Israeli government that Israel had in fact agreed to quit at least 93.2% of the West Bank. Qurei also indicated an Israeli willingness to allow 5,000 Palestinians the right of return. While again the numbers fall way short of Palestinian aspirations, by publicly making that declaration the Israelis are on the record as having approved the concept of the right of the return. Ironically, following this press conference an Israeli official made a short statement that Qurei's public declarations are not "accurate." By not totally denying the statement, he confirmed its content. However, stating that it is not totally accurate is political code for saying that Israel wants to leave future negotiators a way out of these commitments. The efforts of the Americans, Israelis and Palestinians come as a way of ensuring that whatever government is elected by Israelis in February will not attempt to reverse the accomplishments already made. The speakers at the Security Council repeatedly used the word irreversible as a way of insisting that the process has international seal of approval and that future governments (whether in the US, Israel or Palestine) will not be able to absolve themselves from these commitments or from the overall process. For Palestinians and to a lesser degree Israelis, the Security Council resolution was not very reassuring. While important, statements by Qurei and even by Olmert did little to provide hope and optimism for people who are fed up with words and public declarations. The status of Palestinians, especially in regards to Gaza, is a much higher source of concern than any public statements. The absence of commitment by the international community for an enforceable mechanism to stop Jewish settlement activity was yet another source of pessimism. Whether or not the activities of regional and international leaders will ensure that the peace process is irreversible is hard to tell. As polls indicate that the hard-line Likud party leader Binyamin Netanyahu might win the upcoming elections in Israel, most Palestinians are clutching at the straws of America's president-elect. To most Palestinians, the irreversibility of the peace process is now left to whether Barack Obama will be able to provide them with the hope and change that brought him the recent victory. Until proven otherwise, these are very fragile straws. The writer is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris professor of journalism at Princeton University.