‘Let us out of the box’

On Thursday, Palestinian chief negotiatior Saeb Erakat sat down for an hour and half “conversation” with former peace processor Aaron David Miller at the Woodrow Wilson Center in DC. They spoke in a cozy theater on the sixth floor, a setting perfect for peace process theater. Erakat is a decent and intelligent man, who said wryly that negotiating with Israel is the only thing on his CV, he’s been involved in such things for twenty years. The same could be said of Miller. 

The conversation was not clarifying. Erakat expressed frustration in various ways, and must have used some variant of the phrase “in a box” , or “let us out of the box” a dozen times.

What are the Palestinians supposed to do while engaging in endless negotiations, or talks about having negotiations, which Israel drags out while it continues to gobble up the West Bank? Erakat floated two possibilities. The Palestinians could declare a state conforming to the ’67 boundaries, and ask the United Nations to recognize it. Aaron David Miller said immediately that the US would veto any such demarche at the UN—because “we believe in negotiations.” It seemed to an absurdist answer, but no one laughed.

Secondly, Erakat floated the possibility of the PA dissolving itself, and forcing Israel to carry out its duties as an occupier. He recognizes that the PA has become a shell. “I’m supposed to be a servant for the occupation” he said mordantly. But I wonder if the threat of dissolution isn’t an empty one. I haven’t found firm and up to date statistics on what part of the Palestinian economy comes from foreign aid, channeled through the PA. But it must be huge. Here the CIA Factbook says $1 billion since 2007. Plus there are lot of internationally-funded projects that don’t go through the PA, but depend on it to some degree. The fact is that occupied West Bank has no real economy separate from international aid. Most of its middle class depends in some way, to foreign assistance. I’m being impressionistic, and welcome corrections. But that means a large number of West Bank Palestinians who have middle class jobs, opportunities to secure higher education for their children, etc. have considerable stake in the status quo not getting worse. They are sort of a nomenklatura—a phrase I use without condemnation.

There was a little time for questions, but not many were taken. I wanted to ask Erakat whether it would be helpful, even towards a two state solution, if the Palestinians began a civil agitation for the right to vote. I wanted to ask him about negotiations with Hamas (which unlike the PA is able to maintain itself without massive infusions of foreign aid). I wanted to ask him how he viewed Israel efforts to sever the West Bank from Gaza, thus making the Palestinians easier to manage. But no such luck. It was a kind of dispiriting forum, but the situation is dispiriting. The Woodrow Wilson Center plans to post it here.

Update: This post initially went up with Weiss’s byline. Apologies.

About Scott McConnell

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.
Posted in Israel/Palestine | Tagged , , , , ,

{ 11 comments... read them below or add one }

  1. Walid says:

    Erekat is a fumbling, stumbling and stuttering poor sample of a negotiator that hasn’t negotiated anything for the Palestinians for the past 20 years his video begging the Israelis with almost a tear in his eye that he wanted to be their friend and apologizing for having failed to come to an understanding with them was too much to take. He later tried patching it up by saying his words were taken out of context. His actual words in the video were,”“Shalom to you in Israel, I know we have disappointed you, I know we have been unable to deliver peace for the last 19 years.” I can’t understand why Diana Buttu doesn’t have that important post of chief negotiator. She looks better, talks better and appears much smarter.

    • Antidote says:

      I share your frustration and disbelief about Erekat’s Shalom/mea culpa message. But would Butto do better with rational arguments? Have they not been made in the past, over and over again? It seems to me that the main barrier to peace is not so much rational but emotional. There are, no doubt, people on the Israeli side (be they negotiators, politicians or regular citizens) who consciously and deliberately pursue their barely concealed maximalist agenda, without any regard for Palestinian rights or Zionsim’s historical and continuing responsibility for the conflict. There are surely just as many who actually believe their own BS, convinced that Jews are the ‘chosen people’ in one way or another, that Israel is the victim and the Palestinians are the true obstacle to peace by not being willing to compromise. I don’t think you can reach them with rational arguments or plain facts, maps, and numbers.

      Question: What exposes the Israelis more effectively as the true obstacles to peace than this particular performance (I chose the term deliberately) of Erekat? And there are other examples, of course.

      link to haaretz.com

      If nothing else, perception in Israel and around the world may change. And perception is a huge part, if not the core of the problem

      • Walid says:

        Antidote, you spoke of perception playing a huge part and maybe Butto wouldn’t have had any more sucess than Erekat since the game is sort of fixed by Uncle Sam’s shotgun but at least she wouldn’t play along in Israel’s circus like Erakat has been doing. Israelis are masters at projecting a negative image of supposed Palestinian intransigence and of themselves as the victims even when they are the ones committing the massacres. Spokespersons for the Palestinians after these Israeli horror shows are either the usual stuttering Erakat that everyone knows by heart what he’ll be saying or someone from the street with an unshaven face, messy hair, maybe with a tooth missing speaking very loudly in broken English with hands waving over his head. By contrast you get a clean-cut well-dressed official Israeli spokesperson speaking with a flawless American accent, or Australian one in the case of the cocker spaniel-eyed one with head tilted at 70 degrees and a soft voice lying through their teeth on how sorry Israel was at what had just happened because of the Palestinian provocation that made them do it and that an investigation would be opened. And everytime Israel gets away with having put the blame on the Palestinians. If Palestinians had eloquent people such as Butto, Abunimah or perhaps Ahmed Moor ( I haven’t heard him talk but he must be good)doing the talking and explaining on behalf of the Palestinians, the perception of the Palestinians would have been much more favourable and helpful to their cause. I think Erakat is doing more harm than good.

        • Antidote says:

          Walid – my perception is quite different, actually. I can appreciate your preference for Butto, but can’t quite relate to your description of Erakat as a stuttering fool who’d put off people, especially a Western audience. At least the man has an accent that identifies him as belonging in the ME. In contrast, Oren and Netanyahu neither sound nor look like the Jewish state is their actual homeland, even though N was actually born there. So who makes the better subliminal case, regardless of what it is say actually say?

          As for the “clean-cut well-dressed official Israeli spokesperson speaking with a flawless American accent” – not necessarily an advantage at all in Europe, and NA, where many have seen enough of slick warmongers who sell their chauvinism and exceptionalism under the label of freedom and democracy. As long as they venture beyond simply talking to each other, this particular type would more likely have to overcome a credibility barrier that “someone from the street with an unshaven face, messy hair, maybe with a tooth missing speaking very loudly in broken English with hands waving over his head” doesn’t have. How do you explain the growth and spread of grass roots movements for Palestinian rights around the world? I’d say people have tuned out the former and increasingly listened to the latter spokesmen on the I/P conflict as the more authentic and credible voice, missing teeth and all.

        • Walid says:

          Antidote, yes, the tide is at lastturning in favour of the Palestinians but this because Palestinian terrorist bombings stopped while Israeli state terrorism increased and this has made people realize that they had been conned by Israel all these years. While the guy in the street with the broken English may appear more sincere to us, I’m thinking about the incessant Israeli campaigning to demonize Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims with an American-Israeli “us” thing against the “them” bad guys Arabs and Iranians. To counter these campaigns, I’d be more comfortable having a Butto speaking in impeccable English to defend the good guys because it’s not an easy battle and the guy in the street with the beard and the messed up hair is the type that the Israelis are using to make their point.

        • potsherd says:

          But all that anyone still hears is “Palestinian terrorism” and “Israel has the right to defend itself.”

          I don’t see that the curtailing of Palestinian terror activities has done the cause a damn bit of good.

        • Antidote says:

          “The guy in the street with the beard and the messed up hair is the type that the Israelis are using to make their point.”

          You’re quite correct. Islamophobia is getting completely out of hand. In Europe, too. IF it’s not messy hair, it’s burkas or the fact that the mosques are full of men, not women, like the Christian churches. It’s a big debate in Germany – the possibilities and limits of Muslim integration – which flared up recently but has been going on for years. Produces some strange alliances and accusations. Example:

          link to timesonline.co.uk

  2. Diane Mason says:

    I don’t think there was anything said in the substance of the talk that hasn’t been heard before ad nauseaum. But a couple of impressions:

    1. You could hear Erekat pulling his punches when he was constrained by the need not be too critical of the Americans, because the Americans are currently the only game in town. Brought home how much better off the Palestinians would be if the mediator were the UN and the parameters were international law.

    2. Sometimes Aaron David Miller used “we” to refer to Americans, but occasionally to Israelis (maybe Jews at one point?). Weird to imagine how that worked when he was supposed to be mediating I/P talks. Maybe he was just mis-speaking; it was all rather conversational. In fact the whole thing was very chummy.

    3. Erekat was absolutely convinced that Netanyahu has no solution, except to have no solution and keep the status quo. Erekat didn’t explicitly say the PA should disband, but hinted strongly that the choices were to end the occupation or dump responsibility for it back on Israel, which kind of implies it.

    4. Miller thought a U.S. President determined on a peace deal could impose his will despite the Lobby, Erekat seemed dubious/incredulous.

    5. Recognizing Israel as a “Jewish state” was a non-starter: “No, that would be Zionism, and I’m not a Zionist” (paraphrasing Erekat). The point seemed well-understood in the audience; in fact, answered that way, the demand sounded stupid.

    6. Would the swing to the GOP in the mid-terms negatively affect the peace talks? “Yes of course, because the Democrats are just so pro-Palestine….. Hahahahahaha!” (paraphrasing Erekat again).

  3. Sumud says:

    I’ll be interested to listen to the talk in full when its posted at the link at the end of the story.

    On the US veto of any recognition of a Palestinian state I’ve heard talk recently from 2 Palestinian sources on the potential use of UN GA Resolution 377, (AKA “Uniting for Peace”) as a method of circumventing the US veto. First by Erekat himself, as covered by Ma’an:

    He added that another option would be for the PLO to ask the Security Council to recognize a Palestinian state on the June 4, 1967 borders.

    The Security Council would then be forced to accept or reject this request, he said. If it was rejected, the negotiator said, the Palestinians would ask the Security Council to activate Resolution 377, passed in 1950.

    This measure, known as the “Uniting for Peace” resolution, states that, in cases where the Security Council fails to act in order to maintain international peace and security, due to deadlock among its five permanent members, the matter should be addressed by the General Assembly in an “emergency special session.”

    Resolution 377 was originally introduced by the US as a means of circumventing Soviet vetoes during the Korean War. The General Assembly has convened emergency special sessions 10 times in its history.

    And again by Hanan Ashrawi during her recent interview with the Instutute For Middle East Understanding (IMEU) during one of their regular press briefing.

    It would be a fitting irony if US abuse of the Security Council veto was finally ended via a GA Resolution the US itself sponsored.

    • Walid says:

      Sumud, the PA guys have made too many empty threats and nobody takes them seriously. The US cannot go along with the 67 borders since the US Congress has already signed those away along with the the RoR and even if this Congressional resolution is not binding, the US will still feel morally bound by it, which was its Sharon-stated purpose in the first place. As to any acrobatics around UNSC resolutions or the trying to go by way of the UNGA, the US has those under its full control. Think back to a few weeks back when the IAEA could not pass a resolution about Israel’s nuclear stuff because the US had applied enough pressure on member states to make its passing impossible; same would happen in the UNGA. Anyway, no one in the current PA is going to declare anything and the only one who’d probably do it is Mustapha Barghoutti but he doesn’t have an important Palestinian following. The US and Israel are keeping the illegitimate PA in power simply to prevent other less Israel-accomodating Palestinians from taking over. Short of a general population uprising, nothing will change for the Palestinians other than the further loss of whatever little they still have left.

  4. RE: ‘Let us out of the box’ – Erakat via McConnell
    FROM THE NAUSEATING EIGHTIES:

    [Because] I can’t take it no more
    I can’t stand it no more
    Who’s staring at me
    I gotta say -
    Chorus:
    Pull up your sox
    You’re the boy in the box
    What did the rebel say?
    When the wolf cried “fox”
    To the boy in the box
    Will you come out to play
    One, two (Spoken)
    You can’t get enough
    Three, four
    Open up the door
    Six, five
    Alive is the boy in the box
    [I gotta say]
    And no-one talks
    To the boy in the box
    When the world cried “fox”
    to the boy in the box…

    Corey Hart – Boy In The Box Official Video (04:50) – link to youtube.com
    P.S. Wasn’t that nauseating? Does “cry fox” have to do with a fox hunt? Towards the end of the video he sings, “Can you kill me from the outside?” From the outside of the box? I’m really clueless.
    And what the hell’s up with this? Corey Hart Sunglasses At Night Chris Geo Trance Remix (VIDEO, 06:55) – link to youtube.com