Al-Ahram Weekly Online   6 - 12 December 2007
Issue No. 874
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Empty heads and full pockets

The PA has come under increasing scrutiny in the aftermath of Annapolis, notes Khaled Amayreh

Click to view caption
Released Palestinian prisoners wave from atop a bus as they arrive at Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas's headquarters in the West Bank after their release from an Israeli jail

Just back from Annapolis, and with no tangible achievements to present to, let alone impress, a people long disillusioned with American-sponsored "peace conferences", Palestinian Authority (PA) officials have been trying desperately to convince the Palestinians that "this time it is going to be serious."

Former but still influential negotiator Saeb Ereikat has described upcoming negotiations with Israel as "a real battle" with the same ferocity of a military confrontation and with similar tactics, except that it is fought at the negotiating table, not on the battlefield.

But if battle it is, it is nearly certain that Palestinian negotiators are marching to it unprepared, and with a vague strategy and inadequate tactics. Some Palestinian legal experts are visibly dismayed by the way the PA is preparing itself for the fateful negotiations with Israel, with all its notorious deceitfulness and prevarication.

According to former PA Labour Minister Ghassan Al-Khatib, the main problem besetting the Palestinian negotiating position lies in the perceptions of the leadership. "Our negotiators, like our leadership, give priority to political realities often at the expense of legal principles. This is why the negotiations are not be going to be conducted according to the rule of international law."

In an interview with Al-Ahram Weekly, Khatib pointed out that the PA believed it was unrealistic, though perfectly legal from the perspective of international law, to have as a starting position the Partition Resolution of 1947 instead of United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. "They think it is difficult to revert to the past and that the international community would reject such a step on our part."

Professor Ali Jerbawi of Beir Zeit University disagrees. He told the Weekly that the PA should have made the 1947 partition plan, not UN resolutions 242 and 338, their opening negotiating position. "They are naïve and ignorant. Even my grandmother understood that in order to have a reasonable price for one's commodity, one had to demand first the highest possible price in order to be able to get the wanted price."

Jerbawi went on arguing that if negotiations were to be conducted pursuant of international law, Palestinian negotiators would be perfectly justified in reminding Israel and the world that Israel's pre-1967 borders were merely military borders or armistice lines, not de jure boundaries and that the Palestinians were not legally or morally bound to recognise the current borders of what is widely known as Israel proper.

Jerbawi is right and to the point. The armistice agreements of 1949 allowed Israel to gain 77 per cent of the total land of mandatory Palestine. This means that Israel arrogated 22 per cent more of Palestine than the area allotted to it by the 1947 Partition Resolution 181.

More to the point, it was amply clear that the armistice agreements were dictated exclusively by military, not political, considerations. This implies that Israel had no legal right to possess the territories occupied during the 1948 hostilities beyond the lines specified in the partition resolutions.

In other words, the only de jure legal borders Israel has ever had are those which were specified in the partition resolution and Israel's pre-1967 borders are actually no more than de facto boundaries.

Interestingly, this view was unambiguously stipulated in the Armistice Agreement itself in Article II, Paragraph 2, which states the following: "It is also recognised that no provision of this agreement shall in any way prejudice the rights, claims and positions of either party hereto." Similarly, Article VI, Paragraph 9 states the following: "The Armistice Demarcation Lines defined in articles V and VI of this agreement are agreed upon by the Parties without prejudice to future territorial settlements or boundary lines or to claims of either party relating thereto."

Raja Shehada is a prominent British-educated lawyer based in Ramallah and a former advisor to the Palestinian negotiating team during the Oslo-era talks between the PA and Israel.

When asked if he thought Palestinian negotiators were naïve in demanding Israeli withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967 as their starting negotiation position, he said he more or less agreed with this prognosis. "I can't really answer this question. With regard to the negotiating process, I believe things from outside don't appear exactly as they are in reality. Besides, it is very likely that our negotiators and the PA itself are under intense pressure."

Shehada, nonetheless, opined that failure to adopt the 1947 Partition Resolution as a starting negotiating position was inexcusable from the legalistic view point. "If they couldn't adopt this stand inside the negotiating room, they could do it outside the negotiating room, and they would have nothing to lose."

Shehada illustrated the risks and dangers inherent in "our negotiators' non- appreciation of legality and rule of international law." "You see, these are our main assets, namely international law, UN resolutions, the ruling of the International Court of Justice, and if we don't watch out, we will be overwhelmed by Israeli hegemony, even at the negotiating table."

Palestinian mediocrity, or even incompetence, in negotiations with Israel, is not imputed to lack of financial and human resources. The main reason may well lie in corruption at the highest levels and virtual absence of accountability.

The PLO Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD) has at its disposal the services of the Negotiations Support Unit (NSU), which has received tens of million of dollars of funds, but has done very little to make Palestinian negotiators better equipped to face their Israeli counterparts.

Just take a look at the document formulated jointly between Israel and the PA at the last minute at the Annapolis conference. This document, which the NSU helped formulate, was completely void of any call for ending the manifestly criminal blockade of Gaza, the removal of Israeli checkpoints and roadblocks in the West Bank or release of Palestinian prisoners from Israeli dungeons and detention camps. Moreover, not a word was mentioned about freezing Israeli settlement expansions.

The NSU is funded and effectively controlled by the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), a think-tank based in London which is vulnerable to pressure from pro- Israeli circles. For example, two years ago, the ASI forced the NSU to fire two highly-qualified Palestinian-American lawyers, Michael Tarazi and Diana Butto, for going too far in defending Palestinian rights, especially during TV debates with Israeli spokesmen.

According to inside sources, one of the persons who pushed for firing the two Palestinian-American lawyers is Glenn Robinson, the author or co-author of the controversial RAND project "The Arc: A Formal Structure for a Palestinian State".

Eventually, Tarazi and Butto were accused by pro-Israeli lobbyists, including some British MPs, of hindering the development of the Palestinian Ministry of Information and of not ensuring sufficient coordination with the PLO. Of course, these accusations were merely red herrings.

ASI defines itself as the UK's leading innovator of practical market economic policies. The institute's main focus is on reforming governments and state enterprises in order to promote choice, competition, and user-focus. It works through research, reports, conferences, advice and media debate.

Since 1999, ASI relegated nearly $50 million to the Ramallah-based NSU despite the fact that NSU staff and employees were sitting in their homes, doing nothing, since the peace process was paralysed.

A British diplomat based in Israel explained why the British government, which pays the lion's share of the NSU budget, and other donors, continued to pay all these millions to the ASI and NSU, despite the international boycott of the Palestinians from March 2006 to June 2007. "We were hoping that negotiations would be resumed anytime."

But, the main problem lies with the Palestinian Authority itself and its relations with the NSU, mostly based on cronyism and nepotism. The author sought to contact the NSU in Ramallah, but received a hostile response. One lady told me "why don't you go and negotiate with Israel. Maybe you could do a better job."

© Copyright Al-Ahram Weekly. All rights reserved

Issue 874 Front Page
Front Page | Egypt | Region | Economy | International | Opinion | Press review | Reader's corner | Culture | Features | Living | Sports | Cartoons | People | Listings | BOOKS | TRAVEL
Current issue | Previous issue | Site map