Preconditions, the sequel?


I wrote the other day how I’m annoyed when any side — and both Israelis and Arabs have done it — make "preconditions" a sine qua non of what not to bring to the negotiating table.

Not all preconditions are alike — in fact, the term is so broad, it’s virtually meaningless without further definition. It is the quality of the precondition that should be at issue — dismissing "preconditions" out of hand is lazy.

Yet here is its latest manifestation, in a letter from AIPAC praising 87 U.S. senators who have asked President Obama, essentially, not to allow the Palestinian Authority to make freezing settlement building a precondition of continuing peace talks. Here’s AIPAC’s summing up graf:

Direct talks without preconditions are the only proven path to peace and two states—a Jewish state of Israel and a demilitarized Palestinian state—living side-by-side in peace and security.

I won’t be cheeky and point out that the sentence above includes two preconditions ("Jewish" and "demilitarized") — okay, I just did.

But this could soon get more vexed — there’s not a huge chance, but follow me for a sec:

–Israel and the pro-Israel community have become so attached to the "preconditions" stick, it’s use has become reflexive (see above.)

–Today, Khaled Meshaal, the leader of the Damascus-based Hamas, says unity talks with Fatah (i.e, the Palestinian Authority) are about to produce results next month. Via the AP:

The agreement came during a four-hour meeting that ended early Saturday between two delegations headed by Mashaal and senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed.

A joint statement issued after the talks said the two sides have reached an understanding on "the majority of points of difference." It gave no details, but the sides have differed over control of Palestinian security forces and the date for parliamentary and presidential elections.

–These statements anticipating Palestinian unity emerge every couple of months or so and then dissipate — differences, surprise surprise, turn out to be more unbridgeable than believed, and believe me, there is little love lost between sides that fought viciously just three years ago. The one caveat I would have is that this is emerging from Meshaal and the Damascus branch of Hamas, which has until now proven more recalcitrant in these issues.

–But say it’s true, say it eventuates and say we return to the putative 2006–2007 formula: The P.A. sticks to the "roadmap" conditions for peace talks — recognizing Israel, renouncing terrorism, abiding by existing agreements — while Hamas keeps out of the talks, does not overtly adopt the roadmap, but defers to the P.A. on negotiations.

Opposition to that formula by Israel and by Congress — and with the full-throated backing of AIPAC — prevailed in 2006-2007. Now. there were other factors in the non-advancement of the peace process at that time — chief among them, the failure of the P.A.-Hamas coalition to truly get its act together, and its collapse into bloody civil war.

But had the P.A. and Hamas come to an accommodation, all the signs were that such a partnering would have been rebuffed by Israel and the Bush administration, with AIPAC’s blessing, in any case.

–So here’s the hypothetical chronology : Months and months of reflexive Israeli/pro-Israel rejection of "preconditions;" a new Palestinian alignment; and the Netanyahu government, with congressional backing, reverts to  "Not with Hamas, you don’t."

Isn’t that a precondition?

How does Netanyahu pull it off? How do AIPAC and the broader pro-Israel community explain it? How do 87 senators explain it, if they sign onto the new theoretical letter urging Obama not to press Israel to negotiate with a government that includes Hamas?

And what does the Obama administration do?

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