In defending their decision to support direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Arab League foreign ministers said last week that they had come under heavy pressure from the US Administration and some European governments.
The Palestinians said they have also been facing immense pressure from the Americans and Europeans to agree to negotiate directly with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority and the Arab governments are actually telling the world that they are being forced to make peace with Israel against their desire.
Moreover, the complaints about the pressure and threats coming from Washington and European capitals make it sound as if Arabs in general and Palestinians in particular are being forced to make peace with Israel at gunpoint.
Many Palestinians and Arabs are already criticizing Abbas and the Arab league for "surrendering" to American and European pressure. Abbas's aides have warned that the pressure was "undermining" the Palestinian Authority's standing among his own people and playing into the hands of Hamas and other radical groups.
Dragging the Palestinian Authority – against its will - to the negotiating table and forcing its leaders to discuss "explosive" issues such as Jerusalem, borders, refugees and settlements could also have serious repercussions. Obama is making the same mistake that President Bill Clinton made at Camp David in 2000, when he exerted heavy pressure on Yasser Arafat to strike a deal with Israel on the same issues.
Back then, Arafat ran away because he knew he could not make any compromise on the "core" issues. A few months later the second Palestinian intifada erupted and thousands of Palestinians and Israelis were killed and wounded.
Palestinian legislator and spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi went as far as describing the pressure as "extortion." She told a London-based newspaper that President Barack Obama had threatened to cut off ties with the Palestinians if they refused to enter into direct negotiations with Israel unconditionally.
Other Palestinian representatives disclosed that the Americans and Europeans had also threatened to cut off badly-needed financial aid to the Palestinians if they continued to reject direct talks.
Earlier this week, Dalia Rabin, the daughter of slain Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, said after meeting with Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah that the Palestinian president was concerned about the mounting pressure on him to launch direct talks with Israel.
Peace is not something that any US president or European prime minister could or should impose on Middle East parties. Peace can only be built from bottom up and not the other way around.
The Palestinian Authority may eventually have to succumb to the pressure and threats and accept direct negotiations with Israel, mainly because its survival depends on American and European taxpayer money.
But then the Palestinian leadership would not be able to sell any agreement with Israel to a majority of Palestinians and Arabs. Any deal Abbas reaches with Israel will be seen as the fruit of "extortion" and "threats" from Obama and European governments.
Peace talks, whether direct or indirect, should be held only when Israelis and Palestinians alike feel that the right time has come to do so.