On the Palestinian side, reality is a mix between frustration, despair, disunity and betrayal. The Palestinian negotiating team claims to be a legitimate leadership but there is not one functioning institutional body that can claim to be the source of their self-defined legitimacy. This quasi-leadership understands its legitimacy crisis so well that only a few months ago they were forced to cancel legally-required municipal elections out of concern of losing, even though Hamas was boycotting the elections-- so much for Palestinian democracy.
The fear is that the Palestinian negotiating team is in their final round in the game of political survival. If these current talks do not reach an agreement--any agreement-- the only way for Mahmoud Abbas and his cohorts to remain in office will be by way of the barrel of a gun, similar to how most other Arab states exist today.
The military occupation part of Israel's crimes against humanity began in 1967 and is becoming less and less recognizable with every new Israeli settlement and violation of the Fourth Geneva Conventions. International law defines military occupation as a state of affairs which is temporary by nature. After forty-three years it is becoming much harder to classify Israel's occupation as temporary. As a matter of fact, the occupier, Israel, has dumped volumes of professional media spin over the past four decades to convince the world that the lands in question are in fact "disputed" and not militarily occupied. If the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip are not occupied, then what are they? Are the negotiations launched in Washington D.C. aimed at ending an internationally-recognized (and U.S. recognized) military occupation or are they rearranging some other reality which is yet unnamed?
If we view the facts on the ground in Israel-Palestine for what they are today, then only one word applies: apartheid. Realizing this reality as apartheid is not new. President Jimmy Carter referred to it in his recent book title; past Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak both spoke the "A" word as being the direction in which Israel is heading.
True, apartheid is best known for its application in South Africa and for its ultimate collapse there. However, the system of apartheid did not stop with its failure, it moved on to be defined in international law for what it was: a crime. The 2002 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defined the crime of apartheid as inhumane acts of a character similar to other crimes against humanity "committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group or groups and committed with the intention of maintaining that regime." If this definition does not reflect what Israel is doing to Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Israel proper, then blindness reigns supreme.
Thus, if these current direct talks are aiming to produce an agreement that ignores or attempts to coexist with the unrelenting, slow-motion, ethnic cleansing of Palestinians that Israel continues to this day, then it will be worthy of merely a few photo-ops that will be forgotten before the negotiating teams return to their respective homes. Even the creative idea floating around of using a failure in the talks to get the UN to admit Palestine as a state--if it does not remove the underlying system of apartheid--would merely be rearranging the legal status to serve the continuation of Israel's crimes against humanity.
The most dignified failure these talks can hope for is that the international community finally come to its senses, preferably with the U.S., and passes a UN resolution with specific punitive actions that identifies the status in Israel-Palestine, all of historic Palestine, for what it is: the crime of apartheid.
If the current peace talks surprise the world and result in a true sovereign Palestine, free of Israeli control and domination, then I'd be happy to be mistaken; if not however, it's time for the world to at least call reality for what it is. Anything less is an insult to our collective intelligence.
Sam Bahour is a Palestinian-American business consultant living in the Palestinian city of Al-Bireh in the West Bank. He is co-author of HOMELAND: Oral Histories of Palestine and Palestinians (1994).