Last week, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad participated in the 10th annual Herzliya Conference on Israeli and regional security. Palestinians from all walks of life had their personal opinions about Fayyad's participation, many of them negative. "The movement is furious," Hatem Abdel Qader reportedly said about Fateh's reaction to Fayyad's participation. People on the street were also less than enthusiastic about their prime minister attending an Israeli conference on security. "I can't believe he would be part of such a conference at this time when the situation is so terrible," said one woman when asked. "I am really surprised."
There are certainly Israelis who must have felt the same, having a symbol of Palestinian governance in their midst. But a certain trend seems to be developing, a trend among more centrist-leftist Israelis who find comfort in Palestinian moderation. Danny Rothschild, chairman of the conference was quoted as saying he believes it would be beneficial if more Palestinians took their cue from Fayyad and participated in upcoming conferences. "Direct talks are what we [Israelis] miss."
Given the collision course the Palestinian-Israeli negotiating process has been on over the last 18 years, there doesn't seem much to miss about it. The only possible reason Israel would actually "miss" direct talks with Palestinians is because it makes them look better. It cannot be because Israel wants to seriously reach a comprehensive solution with the Palestinians. If that were the case, negotiations would have bore fruit years ago. There were plenty of chances for this to happen but each time, Israel made sure these "talks" were stopped dead in their tracks before reaching their goal.
This seems to be the trend today with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well. It finally looks like President Mahmoud Abbas has cracked under US and international pressure to agree to indirect talks with Israel, even as settlement construction continues to rage on. The Palestinians and Israelis may very well engage in what is called "proximity talks" with the US as the intermediary instead of sitting face to face.
Netanyahu, in customary Israeli fashion, has announced that he is more than willing to engage Palestinians in these talks and offer them a "ladder to enable them to climb down from the tree." In other words, we should thank Netanyahu - a man who does not hide his disdain for the Palestinians or his refusal to accept a sovereign and independent Palestinian state - for giving us this golden opportunity. Yes, we Palestinians should just jump at the chance to make Israel look good.
Sometimes, it seems as if this were the goal of every bilateral or multilateral exchange between Palestinians and Israelis these days. One rationale why the Palestinians may have kowtowed to the pressure of returning to negotiations is that if Abbas continued to reject this "offer", the Palestinians would be seen in a rejectionist light - how could they continue to refuse Israel's outstretched hand for peace? For the Palestinians, the last thing they need is for the world to view them as rejectionists or as Israel loves to dub them "a people who never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity."
There is one fundamental problem in all of this, however. It has never been our job or our responsibility to ease Israel's conscience. In what rule book does it say that the Palestinians - the people who are under occupation, who have endured oppressive measures for over half a century and who continue to fight against a powerful current of international bias - should compromise the most basic of their rights so that Israel can feel better about itself? Apparently, this is a special rulebook written exclusively for the Palestinians.
This fear of angering Israel has created a culture of "beating around the bush" and tiptoeing around what is rightfully ours, including legitimate claims. Palestinians are criticized in international forums if they mention the right of an occupied people to resist their occupier, an international right enshrined in the Fourth Geneva Convention. Any mention of resistance or Israeli terror is taken as "anti-peace", which could not be further from the mark.
The Palestinians want peace just as much as the next guy; maybe even more. But this does not mean that we have to candy-coat our words when it comes to demanding our rights from Israel. The negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians were a huge flop, there is no question about it. What makes anyone think that this time around - with a much more rightist Israeli government and far more polarized societies on each side - things will be any better? The only thing negotiations (direct or indirect) will do is ease everyone's mind. The Israelis can say to the world that they are willing to sit down with the Palestinians (despite all the grief we have obviously brought them), the Americans can say that their efforts have finally reaped results and the rest of the international community can push the real issues of the conflict straight back to the bottom of the agenda since the parties are now taking care of it themselves.
The only "party" that benefits virtually nothing from all of this is the Palestinians. It may have temporarily relieved some of the pressure on President Abbas for his lack of "flexibility" but no results will come of it if the rules of the game remain the same. As long as the United States is not willing to force Israel's hand in abiding by international law and the agreements it signed with the Palestinians, namely regarding West Bank settlements, any direct or indirect talks will be nothing more than meaningless chatter, basically designed to give Israel more time to impose further facts on the ground in Palestine. Meanwhile, it can honestly say it has maintained this status with the blessing of its neighbors, the Palestinians.
Joharah Baker is a writer for the Media and Information Programme at the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH)