A recent New York Times op-ed states that special US Middle East envoy George Mitchell made a "misleading" comparison by likening the Israel-PA talks to the negotiations between the IRA and the British government that he helped bring to a successful conclusion.
The op-ed, by Ali Abunima, emphasizes certain "differences" between the two others, but ignores others. It does not note, for instance, that the Israeli-Arab talks feature one side that has made it its goal to obliterate the other – an aspect that was lacking in the IRA talks.
Rather, Mr. Abunima focuses on other issues. He begins by stating that the US made sure that all parties to the Irish conflict were part of the talks, while in the Middle East, Hamas is not being given any role at all.
Abunima writes: "The U.S. insists that Hamas meet strict preconditions before it can take part in negotiations: recognize Israel, renounce violence and abide by agreements previously signed between Israel and the PLO, of which Hamas is not a member. These demands are unworkable. Why should Hamas or any Palestinian accept Israel’s political demands, like recognition, when Israel refuses to recognize basic Palestinian demands like the right of return for refugees?"
For one thing, Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah faction has – at least on paper – agreed to accept Israel's demand for "recognition," such that the premise of the above question is not accepted even by many Palestinians. And for good reason: One side's demand for recognition by the other is the very basis for negotiations! It is certainly more fundamental than technical demands such as the "right of return" for millions of people and their descendants who could easily turn Israel into another Arab state.
Abunima agrees that Hamas commits violence, but states that that, too, is not a reason for disqualifying Hamas from the talks: "Hamas has inflicted a fraction of the harm on Israeli civilians that Israel inflicts on Palestinian civilians. If violence disqualifies Hamas, surely much greater violence should disqualify the Israelis?"
Again, the comparison is logically flawed. Whatever violence Israel has perpetrated is only a consequence of the Hamas terrorism. If Hamas renounces violence, Israel's violence will evaporate as well. As Binyamin Netanyahu said in 2006, "The truth is that if the Arabs were to put down their arms, there would be no more war - but if Israel were to put down its arms, there would be no more Israel."
Finally, Abunima comes out against one-sided demands: "It was only by breaking with one-sided demands that Mr. Mitchell was able to help bring peace to Northern Ireland. In 1994, for instance, Mr. Mitchell… urged President Bill Clinton — against strenuous British objections — to grant a U.S. visa to Gerry Adams, the Sinn Fein leader…" Abunima's point is that Mitchell must now, too, overcome Israel's one-sided demand not to include Hamas in the talks.
Yet just three paragraphs later, Abunima writes in favor of one-sided PA demands: "The resumption of peace talks without any Israeli commitment to freeze settlements is another significant victory for the Israel lobby and the Israeli government."
Failure Can be Expected
In the style of Abunima's concluding paragraph, it is clear that as long as the Arab side continues to view terrorism, incitement and the pursuit of Israel's destruction as legitimate opening positions, Mitchell can expect many more days of failure.