Why Middle East Negotiations Fail (AMERICAN THINKER) By Efraim A. Cohen 06/17/12)
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The approach to Middle East negotiations generally adopted by the
international community bears its own seeds of failure. As a general
principle, the party less interested in reaching a negotiated
solution is given almost unfettered rein to impose stringent -- often
unreasonable -- conditions before it will even begin to consider
dialogue. Conversely, the party more willing to compromise in order
to reach an agreement is expected to comply with the preconditions
simply to get talks started. This stacks the deck in favor of the
more intransigent party.
As an example of this development, the Palestinian Authority has set
explicit preconditions on its willingness to enter into discussions
with Israel. Among others, these conditions include cessation of all
Israeli construction in the disputed territories and recognition of
the 1948 armistice lines as the basis for the borders of an eventual
Palestinian state. The U.S. and the EU accept the PA´s refusal to
come to the bargaining table until these preconditions are met, and
they pressure Israel to accede to the PA´s demands.
But the same countries that expect Israel to make these painful
concessions to the PA have acted very differently regarding
negotiations with Iran. There was talk initially of requiring Iran
to cease entirely its nuclear enrichment program before talks could
begin. The five permanent members of the Security Council plus
Germany (the P5+1) quickly scrapped their own precondition. U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton now says that Iran must agree only
to limit its uranium enrichment to the 3.5% level. Israeli Prime
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his government´s deep concern
about this retrenchment, stating: "That doesn´t stop the Iranian
nuclear program in any way. It actually allows them to continue
their nuclear program." As the Iranians continue to resist
negotiations, they are comforted by the ongoing whir of their
We can learn a very important lesson by comparing these two cases:
the strength of a party´s demand for preconditions is inversely
proportional to that country´s desire to reach an agreement. The PA
and Iran feel that time is on their side. The PA has no great desire
to compromise with Israel in order to create a Palestinian state, so
the Palestinians have no need to enter into talks until Israel gives
them everything they want from the outset. Iran has taken a parallel
position, asserting that the "only path" for negotiations to progress
is for the P5+1 to accept Iranian demands.
Conversely, Israel and the U.S., wanting very much to reach
agreements and avoid violent conflict, are most likely to be held to
the other sides´ preconditions. The U.S. and its allies are willing
to talk even if Iran does not accede to their initial demand.
Of course, the Palestinians have a history of moving the goalposts
once initial demands are met. When Israel complied with President
Obama´s request for a construction freeze by declaring a 10-month
moratorium in late 2009, it took the PA more than nine months to come
to the bargaining table. They then happily ended their participation
when Israel refused to extend the freeze beyond the original period.
There is a further inconsistency in the U.S./EU approach to Mideast
negotiations that reduces any chance of a breakthrough in the
Israeli/Palestinian peace process: the U.S. and the EU have imposed
sanctions on Iran, hoping to convince the Iranians that it is in
their interest to negotiate and compromise. Although sanctions have
not been -- and are unlikely to be -- entirely effective, the West
can at least assert that they have created a system of leverage to
force the Iranians in the right direction.
But no such leverage is even suggested with respect to the PA.
Billions of dollars in aid have poured into Palestinian coffers over
the past decade, much of it disappearing with no positive impact on
the people the aid was meant to benefit. Financial support continues
unabated, even as the PA thumbs its nose at its key benefactors --
stealing money while refusing to engage in negotiations with Israel.
International largess should not be an absolute entitlement. Donors
have a right to set conditions on their contributions, and to receive
a full accounting of how their funds are deployed. Much of the
responsibility for the failed peace process lies with Palestinian
leaders who attain personal wealth at the expense of their less
Interestingly, hesitation by donors to hold the PA accountable for
its failures mirrors the U.S.´s reluctance to reduce aid to Pakistan
even as that country fails to control terrorists within its borders
and imprisons a doctor whose only crime was helping to locate the
world´s most wanted murderer, Osama bin Laden. In both cases, the
U.S. seems constrained by an amorphous fear that requiring
accountability could result in the current undesirable leadership
being replaced by even more anti-Western regimes.
Rather than a carrot-and-stick approach, the West has created a
system of carrot and carrot for Iran and the PA, and yet we wonder
why our approach has not had the desired outcome. Just like with
Iran, the Palestinian leadership has no incentive to negotiate when
it benefits even more by delaying. Iran and the PA will begin
negotiating in earnest only when they conclude that further delay
will be more harmful than any concessions made as a result of
dialogue. Until then, Israel, the U.S., and the EU would be foolish
to give in to any preconditions for negotiation that only reinforce
the Palestinian penchant for making maximalist demands, and further
contribute to Iranian intransigence and tongue-wagging.
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