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Palestinians castigate 'illogical' Amman meeting

erekatby Khaled Amayreh

Palestinian leaders from across the political spectrum have castigated the latest meeting in Amman between Israeli and Palestinian Authority (PA) officials.

Hamas, which last month charted a unity deal with Fatah, criticised the PA leadership for "repeating the same mistakes and reproducing the same failures".

Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman based in the Gaza Strip, said the meeting in Amman would only weaken the overall Palestinian position and further embolden Israel.

The leftist camp described the meeting as "illogical: in light of the unrelenting continuation of Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank as well as seizure of Palestinian land for settlement purposes.

The PA consistently said it wouldn't agree to resume stalled talks with Israel until and unless Tel Aviv agreed to freeze all settlement activities in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

However, the US has been warning the vulnerable Palestinian leadership that it wouldn't continue to bankroll the PA unless it agreed to resume talks without preconditions with Israel.

Some PA officials have pointed out that the "warnings" are becoming "threats" and that the Obama administration is treating PA President Mahmoud Abbas as if he were an autocrat who is not answerable to his people.

In other words, from the American perspective, the PA would have to drop the main condition for resuming stalled talks, namely the linkage between the resumption of talks and halting settlement expansion.

However, doing so would probably be certain political suicide for the PA leadership, especially the Fatah camp.

Last month, Fatah, which is preparing for Palestinian general elections, said it might withdraw its recognition of Israel if the latter kept up its rejection of Palestinian statehood.

The warning, which remains informal, is viewed as a defence reflex on Fatah's part to keep pace with the spirit of the Arab Spring and emulate growing Islamic triumphalism in the region.

It might indicate nonetheless that Fatah will get more radical if its leader, Abbas, fails to convince the international community to allow for the creation of a viable and sovereign state on all the territories Israel occupied in 1967.

Visibly embarrassed by PA participation in the Amman meeting, former chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Ereikat has sought to downplay the importance of the Amman encounter, saying it didn't constitute a resumption of talks.

"We are only responding to the kind invitation of his majesty King Abdullah. We will once again present our position, namely that in order for peace talks to be resumed Israel would have to freeze all settlement activities and agree to the establishment of a viable Palestinian state on the basis of 4 June 1967 [borders]." He added: "It is only an occasion for representing and clarifying our views, nothing more."

Some political observers in the West Bank expressed mixed feelings over the meeting. "It is true that the PA leadership wants to utilise this meeting to prove that the proverbial ball is in the Israeli court and that pressure ought to be exerted on Israel, not the Palestinians," said Hani Al-Masri, a noted political analyst based in Ramallah. "However, it is also true that the meeting will give Israel a certain feeling that the PA can eventually be pressured and bullied into making further concessions. I am also afraid that the Quartet may try to circumvent the Palestinian stand and cajole the PA leadership to resume talks without preconditions. And that would be a real disaster."

It is not clear what prompted Jordan's Abdullah to invite Israel and the PA for a meeting that most, if not all, observers agree would have a little chance of succeeding in reviving the peace process. It is no secret that the Jordanian ruler considers the failure of the peace process, especially on the Palestinian-Israeli track, a source of existential anxiety for the Jordanian state and regime. Jordan is worried that non-resolution of the Palestinian problem could revive dormant Zionist demands for making Jordan an alternative Palestinian homeland.

King Abdullah's father, the late King Hussein, who died in 1999, had suggested that foiling Israeli designs of resolving the Palestinian issue at Jordan's expense -- eg, by turning Jordan into a Palestinian state, probably through a combination of war, forced migration, mass deportation and possibly genocidal ethnic cleansing -- played a big part in the Jordanian decision to sign its unpopular peace treaty with Israel.

King Abdullah, whose country also depends to a large extent on Western economic and financial aid, is often perceived as prodding the PA into showing "flexibility".

Another likely and relevant factor in the Jordanian mediation efforts may lie in the Jordanian regime's desire to reach a peace deal between Israel and the PA before the deepening and consolidation of the Arab Spring whose ramifications and repercussions have already reached Jordan, threatening the erstwhile absolute powers of the king.

The International Quartet for Peace in the Middle East, which includes the US, EU, Russia and the UN, had given the parties -- Israel and the PA -- three months to resume stalled talks. The grace period will end on 26 January after which new horizons would have to be explored in order to keep the hope for salvaging a peace deal.

This happens as the Israeli government, arguably the most hawkish and extremist since the establishment of the Jewish entity, continues to narrow Palestinian horizons in a variety of ways, including granting paramilitary Jewish settlers a virtual carte blanch to attack Palestinians and vandalise mosques, torch cars and set fire to Arab fields and olive groves.

The latest Israeli provocation, as reported by the Israeli media, took the form of employing Jewish minors to assault Palestinian labourers seeking to find work across the Green Line, the former armistice line between the occupied territories and Israel proper.

This manifestly racist act is meant to inflict maximum harm on Palestinians, even including death, without risking prosecution or punishment. Crimes committed by Israeli soldiers against Palestinians, even innocent Palestinians, are usually extenuated by Israel's biased justice system manned by Talmudic rabbis who view non-Jews as lesser mortals.

With the peace process going nowhere, and the Obama administration facing an elections year, while the EU demonstrates shocking impotence vis-a-vis Israel, it is likely that 2012 will witness the burial of the two-state solution peace process. This is not a matter of gloomy prognostication; it is rather a realistic assessment of the reality on the ground, as ubiquitous Jewish settlements leave no room for a viable Palestinian state to emerge.

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