OPINION: Talks and life have finally returned to the Palestinian issue — a good sign after a long slumber. However, reactions to the so-called “deal of the century” express the familiar. The Israelis say: The plan is a great step, although we have not got the details. The Palestinians repeat their old stance: We reject the plan even though we do not know what it is, and it may only be an attempt to save Benjamin Netanyahu from the prison threat he is facing.
A long time has passed since the last peace projects. Indeed, the world does not stop rotating; regimes have collapsed, rulers have left, such as Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein, and generations, ideas and borders have changed. Moreover, Sudan has been split in half and Syria has been destroyed. The strategic value of the region’s petroleum is declining as it has lost half of its value and strength. I fear that the old generation of leaders is not aware of the danger of the massive changes at all levels. One proof is that dealing with the Palestine conflict has not changed. The Israelis prefer to close the case; and, if they are forced to negotiate, they bet on the “rejectionist” position of the Palestinian side, and on the fact that the decisions of some factions are dependent on regimes that have different interests, such as Iran and Syria.
The only losers from sabotaging the peace projects are always the Palestinians, not the Iranians or the Israelis.
No matter how much criticism is leveled — some of which is actually right — the previous limited peace agreements partially served the Palestinian interest. Oslo has given the Palestinians an international legitimacy, and an administrative entity on the ground, after being an exiled organization in Tunisia. The agreement has enabled the return of more than 150,000 Palestinians to their country. On the other hand, Iran has proven to be Israel’s best ally. Through some loyal Palestinian factions, Iran has managed to foil all past negotiation attempts through bombings, suspicions, spreading of chaos, and challenging the legitimacy of the late President Yasser Arafat. With his death, all serious negotiation attempts stopped.
The only losers from sabotaging the peace projects are always the Palestinians, not the Iranians or the Israelis. As sure as every morning the sun rises, Israel expands and the Palestinian territories shrink.
The pretext for refusing to negotiate is that US President Donald Trump has sided with Israel; but the fact is that all of his predecessors were also on the side of Israel, but still the Palestinian Authority (PA) dealt with them at the time. If we review Trump’s past decisions on Israel, we realize that they recognized the status quo with a view to winning votes in his country, but they remain without legitimacy. Moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem does not mean that, in international law, Jerusalem belongs to Israel, except for the western side of it. Furthermore, despite the announcement that the occupied Golan Heights is part of Israel, it remains on the UN’s maps as occupied Syrian territory.
What is more dangerous than Trump’s actions is the Palestinian retreat, if their leaders sit waiting for a miracle to happen. The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is perhaps the only one who can fight the battle over the new negotiations. He is the oldest and most rational leader and, without him, there may have been chaos in power since the departure of “Abu Ammar” 16 years ago.
Does accepting Trump’s invitation mean that the PA amounted to full submission? Of course not. What is expected is just to sit down, talk and show goodwill; as no one will impose a solution that the Palestinians do not want. This is what the Israelis do, even though they are less willing to negotiate over the status quo because it gives them land and rule. They deal positively with Trump, who may be re-elected president in November, and have enormous power that they may harness to their advantage, or at least use to minimize any harm they could suffer.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat. Twitter: @aalrashed