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The Arabs need guarantees
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 16 - 02 - 2017

US President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who were scheduled to have their first meeting Tuesday, were expected to discuss prospects for resuming long suspended Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.
The Israeli prime minister had already, according to Israeli press, told his cabinet that the phone conversation he had with Trump following his election revealed that the new US president is interested in a final Arab-Israeli peace deal, especially on the Palestinian track.
But this is not something Netanyahu wants. He has long been stalling and has shown incredible intransigence, despite international political and diplomatic pressure to halt the illegal construction of settlements in Palestinian territories occupied in 1967.
Netanyahu found the perfect excuse amid the complications of the early waves of the Arab Spring to drop the entire peace process, and even get away with making the lives of Palestinians in Gaza unbearable further.
Today, while the Israeli prime minister might be getting ready to celebrate the Trump administration moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, he is also getting ready to put limits on any peace talks with the Palestinians after all Arab leaders have signalled disaster were Washington to move its embassy without acting to find a final settlement for the Palestinian cause.
The Israeli prime minister, as the Israeli press has said, would only settle for a Palestinian state in a few disconnected enclaves of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. This is not something that could be called a “viable” Palestinian state, as per the jargon of the peace process underway since the adoption of the Arab Peace Initiative by the Arab Summit in Beirut in 2002.
It is not even what would amount to dignified Palestinian self-rule as envisaged by the Likud government in the late 1970s amid negotiations of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.
Arab leaders, no matter their positions on Israel, know very well that to reduce the Palestinian state to the Gaza Strip and a few enclaves in the West Bank would be an incendiary act that could incite a new Intifada that nobody in the Arab world is prepared to handle.
This is why it is necessary for Arab capitals, especially those with traditionally close rapport with Washington — like Cairo, Riyadh and Amman — to remind Trump that the Palestinians cannot be the only side to make hard compromises.
Arab capitals need to call on the Trump team to draw the attention of the new US president to the plain and simple fact that no peace deal can be imposed on the Palestinian people.
To avoid acting late, Arabs need to agree amongst themselves on a clear set of parameters of what they would accept and not when Trump pursues his scheme for Middle East peace talks.
Arab leaders are meeting in the Jordanian capital towards the end of March for the annual Arab summit. It is there that concrete positions on collective action need to be voiced.
Typical resolutions of Arab summits are not something that need reiterating. There has to be a clear delineation of the limits of Arab concessions, and collective Arab commitment to these limits.
The Arabs should also seek guarantees from Trump about the commitment of his administration to securing implementation of any deal that might be concluded, or any steps that might be agreed on to facilitate serious peace talks, with the suspension of Israel's illegal construction of settlements on occupied Palestinian territories being an obvious first step.

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