A new tactic by US Secretary of State John Kerry is causing a
split within the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) ranks regarding
further talks with Israel.
Kerry is apparently using the Arab League's Follow-Up Committee on the Arab
Peace Initiative (FCAPI) to bully the Palestinians into accepting new ground
rules for the talks to which they had objected in the past.
In his sixth tour of the region as secretary of state, Kerry did
something unusual. Instead of visiting Israel,
as he always does, he left it out of his itinerary, deciding instead to hold
most of the talks in the Jordanian capital Amman. While there, he conferred with
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well as members of the FCAPI. As the
talks progressed, it became clear that Kerry was no longer focussing on Israel, the
country that has torpedoed all previous attempts at peace, but on the PLO. His
aim is to get the latter to offer more concessions than any they have accepted
in the past.
Kerry & Abbas by PNN
In order to do this, Kerry wanted to get the FCAPI to accept these
concessions on behalf of the Palestinians, a new tactic that may or may not be
working but that so far has succeeded in causing divisions and widespread
consternation in Palestinian circles. The tactic is not totally new, for it
resonates with the manner in which US
diplomats have used the Arab League to justify foreign intervention for the
sake of regime change in countries such as Iraq
in the past.
Speaking after a meeting with Kerry in Amman, FCAPI diplomats voiced their "great
support" for Kerry's efforts to revive the talks. Their remarks were seen as a
"victory" for Kerry, said the Associated Press. It was a "success" for his
diplomacy, added The New York Times. Kerry, for his part, announced that the
gap was "narrowing" between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and that all
that was needed now was to "iron out" a few kinks.
For the Palestinians, ironing out these kinks is going to be a
quite a job, however. PLO chief negotiator Saeb Ereikat is said to have had a
"stormy" meeting with the PLO leadership concerning Kerry's proposals. The PLO,
its back to the wall, is now forming a working committee to decide what to do
about the talks.
All of this is unprecedented. In the past, the FCAPI used to take
its cue from the Palestinians. When the Palestinians were faced with demands
for concessions they were reluctant to give, they politely said they needed to
consult with the FCAPI, which was a courteous way of turning down unacceptable
proposals. Now the FCAPI is getting them into trouble by agreeing to
concessions before the Palestinians even have time to discuss them at length.
In the absence of FCAPI support for the PLO negotiators, the
latter had no option but to play along with Kerry's proposals. On Friday, the US secretary of
state declared his satisfaction with the current plans to get the Palestinians
and the Israelis talking again about a "final status" deal. He has invited the
PLO and Israel to send
negotiators to Washington
soon to work out details of the agreement. PLO senior officials told the French
news agency AFP that Kerry was determined to declare the resumption of the
talks before leaving the region.
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*Nicola Nasser is a veteran Arab journalist in Kuwait, Jordan, UAE and Palestine. He is based in Ramallah, West Bank of the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories.