The peace talks and Palestinian representation: in conversation with Osamah Khalil
After much political drama and media fanfare, US Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to rekindle "peace talks" between Israel and Palestine finally commenced this week with a meeting in Washington D.C. between the Israeli justice minister, Tzipi Livni, and Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat. Of course this was merely a staged opportunity to announce their commitment to more "peace talks," and not the actual talks themselves, so the only thing that was agreed upon was a draft schedule for more talks.
Still, many Palestinian leftists and Islamists have denounced the resumption of these US-brokered talks. With political reconciliation put on hold, a senior Hamas official told Maan News Agency that the Palestinian Authority's return to negotiations is a "disaster" and provides continued cover for the Israeli agenda of the Judaization of Palestine.
A coalition of Palestinian organizations and activists in North America has also strongly opposed these talks. In a statement they asserted that twenty years of "peace talks" have not served Palestinian interests, because "Israeli settlement construction has escalated, thousands of Palestinian political prisoners are held behind bars and Palestinian rights - including Palestinian refugees' right to return - are no closer to implementation." The statement ends with the following affirmation: "As Palestinians in [the] shatat/diaspora, we are not being represented here, and we demand to reclaim our voice and role. We do not accept these negotiations, and our rights, our people and our land are not for sale!"
To help put both the "peace talks" and the critical reaction to them in perspective, I spoke with Dr. Osamah Khalil, Assistant Professor of History at Syracuse University and co-founder of Al-Shabaka, a US-based organization that brings together diverse Palestinian viewpoints to address strategic issues in areas of interest to the Palestinian people. Khalil recently authored a controversial policy brief that is critical of both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and the most recent attempt to reform it, arguing instead that a new representative body is needed to achieve Palestinian rights.