If ever there was a statement that reflected the true position of Palestinian negotiators and Arab leaders, it was the one made by the Qatari prime minister, Hamad Ben Jasem Al Thani. The statement, made after the Arab follow-up committee gave the PLO the green light to resume indirect negotiations, reflects a pessimistic outlook of peace.
"We don't trust Israel, but we find positive indications on the part of the US mediator," said the Qatari premier, who is also his country's foreign minister.
It is not difficult to understand why Arabs mistrust Israel, especially under the current right-wing government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu. This coalition has yet to agree to a total settlement freeze in areas slated to become the Palestinian state and has repeatedly provoked Palestinians by its high-profile attempts to Judaiase East Jerusalem, whether through new Jewish settlements or through destruction of Palestinian houses.
The Israeli army has done little to deter Jewish settlers' activities, which including burning of mosques and uprooting of olive trees, while this same army, headed by the purportedly less radical Ehud Barak, is busy issuing military orders that violate the unity of the expected Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
The trust Palestinians and Arabs have in the Obama administration is the result of a number of factors. The persistent, unwavering involvement of Washington, starting with day one of the Obama administration, has been different from that of all previous US administrations. In an attempt to refuse everything initiated by Bill Clinton, when George W. Bush became president in 2000, his administration stayed away, as much as possible, from the pursuit of peace in the Middle East. Bush and his secretaries of state Collin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, did return to the pursuit of peace, but with the veto power of an unconfirmed White House official, Elliot Abrams, the Bush administration's efforts were not allowed to reach fruition.
While the upcoming "proximity talks" give the US mediators, a unique position to arbitrate and bridge proposals, US special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell had agreed, from day one, to the Palestinian request that American officials attend any direct negotiations so as to be sure to judge who is obstructing the path of peace. This is new for American negotiators.
Until the Obama administration, the US policy was that Americans help bring the parties to talks, but do not participate in talks. Obviously with a military/politically/financially strong Israel and a weak Palestinian party such an approach kept on failing because there was very little incentive for either side to make compromises.
Palestinians and Arabs are also willing to give the current process a chance because, for the first time, they have some strong points. The world community, led by the US, is totally united and genuinely interested in an end to the Israeli occupation and to help give birth to a truly independent and viable Palestinian state. The American army's high-profile intervention and suggestion that there is a strategic need for a Palestinian state strengthens the statement that such a state is necessary for the national interest of the US.
Arab unity is also quite noticeable this time. While there might be some internal disputes among Arab countries regarding Hamas and Fateh, the Arab support for the policies of the current PLO leader are unprecedented.
Internally, the situation also gives strength to Palestinian negotiators. Talks are not going to take place without public support and visible resistance to occupation. By embracing nonviolent protests, the Palestinian leadership has found a winning formula. Such protests help keep the kettle boiling and show that the occupation has persistent and active opponents. At the same time, by sticking to popular nonviolent activities against armed soldiers and an illegal wall, the Palestinians prove the Israeli claim that this is terrorism or indiscriminate violence against Israeli civilians to be false.
In addition to all of the above, what makes the Palestinian negotiating position stronger can be identified by name: Salam Fayyad. This Palestinian prime minister trained in the West has focused his attention, intellect and every fibre in his body on the goal of Palestinian statehood. Instead of cursing the occupation, he has created and is pursuing a two-year plan to build up the Palestinian state. His effort has brought security and the rule of law to the West Bank, and has won him admiration from friend and foe alike.
Ranked by Time Magazine as the tenth most influential politician in the world, Fayyad has made it his goal to declare a de facto Palestinian state by August 2011.
While the Americans have not stated if they will publicly give it recognition, so as not to make negotiations futile, Europe said it will do so irrespective of the results of the talks by then.
Palestinians and Israelis have their work cut out for them now that indirect talks are set to begin. With Americans being directly involved in every negotiating position that is offered, the moment of truth about who is truly obstructing peace has finally arrived.