As the world is riveted to the Syrian crisis, it may surprise many to know that the Palestinian-Israeli negotiations are still going on.
The talks, held in secret, do not appear to have achieved any discernible results yet. The absence of information, however, should not be used to indicate that the negotiators are doing nothing important.
Still, the issue of negotiations and time must be addressed clearly and frankly.
Most observers of negotiations would argue that parties to any set of talks rarely reveal their bottom line until the very end.
The hundreds of hours committed to the peace process have probably produced answers to all possible scenarios. What is needed is not negotiations but political decisions.
So the big question is why do Israeli and Palestinian negotiators need all nine months for a decision to be taken on an issue whose details are known?
A lengthy negotiation process suits Israel, which seems to want to have a peace process rather than an actual decision on peace.
Many Palestinians believe that protracted peace talks only aim to postpone an official Palestinian request by international agencies to recognise Palestine.
Activists involved in the boycott, divestment and sanctions of Israel, and Israeli settlement products are also unable to implement their non-violent efforts while peace talks are taking place.
Israel did not only push for an extended timetable for talks that are unlikely to produce any results until the last days of the nine-month period; it also linked the length of the talks to the release of prisoners.
When the Palestinians were unable to secure a settlement freeze or a clear reference to the 1967 borders, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas conditioned return to talks by having some 104 Palestinians jailed since before the Oslo Accords released.
Israel had agreed with the Palestinians and the Americans, in the 1999 Sharm El Sheikh agreement, to release the PLO prisoners whose leaders were allowed to return to Palestine. The prisoners were not freed because of the eruption of the second Intifada one year later.
Knowing that the prisoner issue was very high on Abbas’ priority list, the Israelis staggered the release of the prisoners in four tranches over the entire nine-month period.
Abbas and his negotiating team took the issue seriously. After all, Palestinians see no real alternative to ending the 46-year-old occupation without some type of political/negotiated agreement.
The Palestinians’ desire to use the talks as a means to bring an end to occupation was not met with similar will by the Israelis.
A look at Israel shows a divided country unable or unwilling to come up with serious positions.
According to some press reports, the four rounds of talks have yet to produce a decision on where to start negotiations. Should they begin — as is logical — where they were left when Ehud Olmert was negotiating with Abbas or, as the Israelis prefer, from the very beginning?
The Israeli tactics show a party that has no interest in serious discussions, but wish to use the talks as a cover for doing nothing.
Sure, the Israelis will refuse to admit that and insist that they are serious about peace. But if that is the case, why the need for nine months?
What will happen in nine months that cannot be decided on in one week?
In the fall of 2000, Bill Clinton wanted Yasser Arafat and Ehud Barak to reach an agreement in a few days at Camp David. Why do they need nine months now?
This period of time, with no intermediate goals, enables the powerful side, the Israelis to decide the agenda and pace of negotiations.
Israel took six days to occupy Palestinians and other Arab land. It certainly can made a decision to end its aggression and occupation — both illegal by international humanitarian law — through peaceful talks, in less than nine months.