Only free men can negotiate
The beginning of this month was marked by a seemingly hopeful declaration of the relaunch of direct negotiations, but eyes were firmly fixed on the deadline of 26th September when Settlement building would be allowed to continue unhindered.
Of course, both sides entered into negotiations under pressure from the Americans after a long process of foot dragging the Palestinians into negotiations through a 'settlement building freeze' which looked nothing like a freeze. For 10 months I traveled around the west bank and could easily see construction activity going as usual especially in the southern areas of the West Bank. Jerusalem of course was excluded from this freeze. Of course, even Israelis didn't consider this as a freeze as Dror Etkes, in his op-ed, likens settlements to water as 'the only substance that expands instead of contracting when it freezes.'
Israel is trying to sell the idea that Palestinians are placing pre-conditions on the negotiations. But this is far from true. The negotiations are on the area of the West Bank (including East Jerusalem) that will be under a proposed Palestinian state. Every new house and every new settler is actually an addition to the problem. Settlement building is in itself creating new facts that will mean less Palestinian land, more land to Jews. Each housing unit, is a further 4-5 settlers added to the problem, or maybe 10 in orthodox settlements. Each one of these settlers is an addition to the problem. each of them a new pre-condition on peace.
The situation in Jerusalem is even worse. An intifada is on the verge of breaking out. Settlers have the backing of the whole system to take land and houses, evict Palestinians residents and use them for Jews. A landmark court ruling, would entitle jews not only to houses they bought but also to houses they leased before 1948, putting dozens of families at risk of eviction from their houses. a further 80 houses are set for demolition in Silwan, just south of the old city, to make way for a park, courtesy of the settler organisation Elad. It is hard to envision such a grand plan to besiege the old city without the orchestrated efforts of all state organs working diligently to remove Palestinian presence in and around Jerusalem in favour of creating a Jewish majority in the area of the 'holy basin', the old city and its surroundings.
Abbas, entered into negotiations shouting and screaming that he will not tolerate the relaunch of settlement building, when settlement building was ongoing throughout. This illustrates the leadership crisis we are in. The Palestinian leadership is not capable of making a stand and standing by it. The are not masters of their free will. They declare that they will negotiate, and that negotiations are the only option they will explore. doesn't this mean that they are not free to walk out of negotiations? that they are not free to determine the course of negotiations?
This reminds me of Mandella's famous quote: Only free men can negotiate.