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28 June 2018

Secrecy a sign of seriousness in peacemaking

By: Daoud Kuttab
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I still remember the secrecy that surrounded the hard work of James Baker III as he tried to manoeuvre around mine fields to prepare for Middle East peace talks. A simple fact like the location of the peace conference, Madrid, or the composition of the Palestinian negotiating team was kept under wraps until the very last moment. This secrecy was not intended to hide information from the public for some sinister reason, but was aimed at ensuring the success of peacemaking.
 
In today’s Washington-sponsored attempts at peacemaking, we are seeing the total opposite, a sign that those behind peace efforts are more interested in pleasing their boss, President Donald Trump, or in some cases aimed at pleasing Trump’s major funder Sheldon Adelson. Ever since the high-profile rejection of US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley of the appointment of Salam Fayyad as the UN special representative to Libya because he is Palestinian, to the almost daily Tweets of US Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt and the latest interview of Trump’s senior adviser Jered Kushner with Al Quds newspaper, a pattern emerges that reflects lack of seriousness. The US president himself publicly shot down his own so-called efforts to peace when he contradicted his earlier efforts on Jerusalem by boasting publicly that he “took Jerusalem off the table”.
 
A study of Greenblatt’s twitter feed reflects a man who is sympathetic to Israel and Israelis and is not willing to express a single criticism of the Israeli occupiers. Ironically, the single time that Greenblatt showed sympathy to a Palestinian was when Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah was the target of an assassination attempt in Gaza, most likely by a fellow Palestinian. Hamas, which won a popular election in 2006 and is still popular among Palestinians, is almost daily trashed, while settler vigilante, anti-Palestinian actions and right-wing hate speech had never been even mentioned by the US top peace negotiator. Greenblatt even took out an entire opinion article in Haaretz simply to defame the top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat; hardly a good way to win over a reluctant crucial partner in the efforts for peace.
 
In the last round of this failed public policy by the Trump administration, we were introduced this week to yet another public attempt at criticising only one side of the conflict with public attempts this time at Palestinian regime change.
 
The hero of the latest effort, who is usually extremely discrete and quiet, was the son-in-law of the president and the supposed head of the team trying to make peace and promising us that America would propose the ultimate deal for peace in the Middle East.
 
Jered Kushner’s long interview in Al Quds last Sunday failed miserably in its intended purpose of encouraging Palestinians to pressure their leadership to engage in the one-sided US effort at peacemaking. The interview was important for what it did not say than what was actually said. No political carrot was dangled and no attempt was given to correct the extremely negative point of view that Washington’s ultimate deal will contain. Still, no reference to the two-state solution, no talk about any Palestinian sovereignty in East Jerusalem or a fair agreed to solution of the refugee issue and no talk of the need to at least suspend the illegal Israeli settlement activity. No expression of protest, or even sympathy, for the lives of unarmed Palestinian civilians shot down by Israeli snipers in Gaza.
 
Jered Kushner’s interview did include an admission that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas genuinely wants peace, and then almost in the same breath, Kushner calls on Palestinians to revolt against his policies. If Palestinians are to reject anything in Abbas’ policy, it would be his insistence on security coordination with the Israeli occupiers rather than his well-accepted position of refusing to engage in talks after the US disqualified itself from the role of a sole sponsor of peace talks.
 
Journalists are always pushing politicians to speak out. But this writer knows from experience that when it comes to the sensitive issue of peacemaking in the volatile, conspiracy-consumed Middle East public, the continuation and insistence on a public face is a clear sign of lack of seriousness. Naturally, any peace effort will necessarily need to be made public in order to gain the needed and make peace agreements last. But until there is something to talk about, the best and wisest effort that negotiators need to adopt is to keep their lips closed and their fingers away from their social media accounts.

* A Palestinian columnist based in Amman, Jordan. - dkuttab@ammannet.net



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