How similar is today to yesteryear? When US president Bill Clinton failed to move Palestine Liberation Organisation chairman Yasser Arafat on the issue of Jerusalem at the 2000 Camp David talks, he decided to turn to America's Arab allies. He tried and failed
US Secretary of State John Kerry, unable to change Mahmoud Abbas' position, is trying to do the same. He will also fail.
The contentious issues appear to concern Jerusalem and convincing Palestinians to recognise Israel as a Jewish state. Kerry began his recent Arab trip with quick visits to Amman and Riyadh, on January 5, before the meeting in Paris, on January 12, with the Arab Peace Initiative follow-up committee.Shortly after Kerry's visit, on January 8, Amman was host to a quick visit by the Palestinian president. He made a statement to the effect that Palestinians will not accept any deal short of having East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine. Abbas also reiterated the Palestinian refusal of any recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.This consistent position was interpreted by Israelis as a rejection of the Kerry initiative. Israeli officials claimed that Abbas' statements show that Palestinians are not ready to make the tough decisions needed for peace.
Perhaps the clearest sign of Abbas' thinking regarding Kerry's ability to change Arab opinion were his subsequent statements in Ramallah.
Speaking to a group of representatives from East Jerusalem, Abbas said, referring to the US diplomat: "He will hear from the Arab ministers that without Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine, there will be no agreement."
Normally the Arab League is the last address the Palestinian leader consults before making difficult decisions. The follow-up committee consists of foreign ministers from Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the secretary of the Arab League. It usually endorses the position of the Ramallah-based leadership, providing Abbas with the necessary Arab umbrella for difficult decisions. Abbas' most recent meeting with the committee was last July, prior to agreeing to resume the current nine-month peace talks with Israel.
Pushed into a corner during the Camp David talks in the fall of 2000, Arafat had asked for a chance to speak to Arab leaders. The Palestinian leader posed a simple question to each, one by one: whether they agree to surrender sovereignty over East Jerusalem and, specifically, Al Aqsa Mosque. Arafat knew their answers before he asked the question.
Leaks coming out of the ongoing marathon talks between Kerry and Abbas focus on two obstacles: Israel's insistence that Palestinians recognise Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people and the fact that the current round of talks aimed at reaching a framework does not include any mention of Jerusalem. The Palestinians' rejection of both these conditions, as evident in Abbas' statement, has left some to conclude that Kerry's mission is futile.
While the April 2014 deadline for the talks to conclude is fast approaching, Kerry will certainly continue pushing for a framework agreement that would allow for an extension of the negotiations.
The Palestinians, however, are determined to go to the International Court of Justice and other international agencies to address the decades old illegal Israeli occupation.
When it comes to the sensitive issue of Jerusalem and recognising Israel as a Jewish state, Arab leaders have proved, over and over, that they will not budge under American pressure, and Abbas knows this well.