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By Micah Halpern

Thursday March 4, 2010


The Arab League has spoken. The twenty-two country members and four observer members of the Arab League have decided to support the plan put forth by the United States to jump start the stalemate between Palestinians and Israelis.

On Wednesday, the Arab League voted to support indirect talks between Israel and the Palestinians. They will meet again in July, four months from now, to determine if, or what, progress had been made. What they discover four months from now might just take the United States by surprise.

It's all about game playing - and in this game, each player plays by a different set of rules.

On the one hand, Israel is pleased that the Arab League has taken this initiative and is encouraging indirect talks. Israel welcomes the Arab League's involvement. On the other hand, Israel is not at all fond of deadlines. According to Israel's rule book, deadlines usually force one party to make hasty decisions on issues that are of vital importance, decisions that would not otherwise be made, decisions that will later be regretted.

Palestinians are looking at the Arab League vote somewhat differently. On the one hand, indirect talks are intended to lead to direct talks and if that is what is accomplished at the end of these four months, the Arab League's mission will have been accomplished. On the other hand, somewhere in the fine print of the Palestinian rule book it is written that now that the Palestinians have the attention of the greater Arab world, a privilege they are often denied, at the end of these four months, they might just be able to finagle independence and statehood out of the deal. And they will do it without the direct support of the United States and the United States will be too diplomatically polite to dispute it, even if it is not what Israel wants.

The player with the most complicated rule book is the Arab League. It turns out that the Arab League, however well intentioned, has no authority to make decisions about Israel and the Palestinians. They have no jurisdiction here. Going into the meeting, the Palestinians declared that they would respect the decision of the Arab League. Note the use of the word "respect" and not the choice of the word “follow.” In the end, it behooves the Palestinians to both respect and follow the decisions of the Arab League which is a far more conservative body than those pro-Western countries usually dictating policy.

Delegates to the Arab League are the foreign misters of their countries. Not only does the Arab League not have authority in this matter, the Arab League - according to a decision made by the delegates themselves - does not even recognize Israel's right to exist. That is not only a rule they have played by for a long time, it is a rule they just recently re-confirmed. And here they are, suggesting indirect talks with Israel.

The Syrians, with another set of rules, broke the Arab League code of unity that requires all member nations to stand together behind all League decisions, by publicly rejecting the decision to light a fire under Israel and the Palestinians. Syria has said that there is no reason to support any dialogue with Israel at any time.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians disintegrated when the Obama administration came on the scene. The new and inexperienced administration demanded that Israel put a "total" stoppage to all building in the settlements. The Israelis said that they will not comply, citing natural growth and the special status of Jerusalem as reasons for their non-complicity. The Palestinians, however, grabbed onto this diplomatic blunder with great passion and have not yet released their grip. The United States has since realized how myopic it was to expect such a stoppage even in Jerusalem, but the damage has been done.

And now the Arab League has come to the rescue of both the United States and the Palestinians. This vote, this decision, provides Palestinian leadership with a safe and secure route back to the negotiating table with Israel. Now Palestinian leadership has the ammunition it needs to stand up to Hamas when they are critiqued for succumbing to decisions dictated not by their own needs, but by the wants of Washington, DC and Tel Aviv. Now Palestinian Authority leadership can come back to the table with their heads held high and the hope that, this time, their dream of statehood might just come true.

The funny thing about this whole game is that it's really a pre-game. All this posturing and all these machinations are just to get from the point of indirect talks to the point of direct talks. Imagine what will happen if everything falls into place and Palestinians and Israelis really do make it to direct talks.

Four months is not that very far away.

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4 June 2017 12:13 PM in Columns

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