The Palestinians are very confident these days and with good reasons.
First, let’s take a look at Israel:
-The BDS movement has picked up some key endorsements and supporters;
-Israel is in the international diplomatic doghouse;
-When others aren’t criticizing the Jewish state, Israel finds ways like the attack on the flotilla to generate severe international approbation;
-Within Israel itself the divisions between secular and Orthodox Israelis as well as between the Leftists and the Rightists have never been more pronounced and hostile;
-Israeli Arabs have taken to siding openly with Israel’s adversaries and enemies;
-A number of pro-Palestinian Israeli NGOs as well as the Leftist newspaper, Ha’aretz, have gained significant international voices and influence;
-Israel’s right wing government is distrusted by default by many people including many diplomats and politicians from the West;
-While the settlements are growing, they have become a significant burden to Israel’s international image;
-and, Israel’s relationship with the US has never witnessed the challenges faced with Obama’s administration which has succeeded in making us all miss James Baker.
Let’s next take a look at the Palestinians:
-They have an ideal situation with the separation of the PA from Gaza. Suddenly, Fatah (and the PA) look like moderates in relation to Hamas and nobody, not the Israelis, not the Americans and certainly not the Europeans, is willing to let the PA falter. This means more revenue from donor countries, more diplomatic tuches-kissing of PA leaders, the development with foreign resources and training of a serious Palestinian military force and restraint from criticism that Israeli leaders can only dream about.
-Next, the Palestinian West Bank is thriving economically. It is growing by leaps and bounds with the Israelis attempting to offer as much support as they can within the confines of their security needs.
-Also, the new prosperity is helping the Palestinians grow their towns, villages and Jerusalem neighborhoods with very little oversight by Israel and almost complete freedom of movement to do so. Yes, some houses are being demolished, but on a broad scale, Palestinians are building out and creating “facts on the ground” to a significant degree.
-The so-called non-violent circuses in some key Palestinian villages have proven to be a goldmine as far as Palestinian international media coverage because they are now identified with non-violence while Israel has become identified as violent, racist and unfairly brutal.
-Even Gaza enjoys favorable press these days. Israel now appears to be a violent ogre intent on brutalizing Gazans with war and depriving them of basic needs in times of no fighting. Ironically, there is at the same time an abundant supply of everything from food to toys in Gaza, as well as serious international financial support including a recent pledge of hundreds of millions by the USA itself.
-Finally, while Hamas may be left out in the cold, Abbas has a favorable working relationship with Obama which is not manufactured for the media like Netanyahu’s, while Salam Fayyad is seen as something along the lines of a Palestinian Ben Gurion.
So what are the Palestinians doing with all this good news?
The Palestinians are continuing to play their waiting game. The latest is that Abbas has informed the US that he refuses to engage in negotiations directly with Israel unless there is an agreement before the negotiations even begin that the borders are defined as 1967 borders. To those who don’t understand the code, this means that Israel must give up the Holy Basin. It also means a run-around international law since UNSCR 242, which can be said to be the defining law surrounding the question of how a peace agreement should look, does not require that Israel return to 1967 borders. Abbas also wants an international force to be agreed to in advance of talks and not only on the Israel border, but also on the Jordan Valley side.
Now, it’s not as if these issues haven’t been discussed with Israel before. In fact, in early 2001 at Taba, Ehud Barak offered to allow foreign troops to control the Jordan Valley instead of Israeli troops. The sequence would take place after 5 years from the signing of the agreement. Barak and Olmert both offered the Palestinians all of Gaza and 95-97% of the West Bank, which is pretty darn close to “1967 borders.”
So what is Abbas doing here? A couple of things. First of all, he is throwing the ball into Netanyahu’s court. When Netanyahu says, correctly, that he has been asking for negotiations for over a year only to be rebuffed, now the Palestinians can say that they have offered to enter negotiations as well. When Israel says that they have offered an outline for peace that has been rejected, now the Palestinians can say they have as well. It doesn’t matter that the Israeli offers have been genuine and have even sought to share East Jerusalem while the Palestinian offers have not and most certainly have not been genuine since they maintain that they will not consider Israel a Jewish state or forego the movement of Palestinians (so-called “refugees) into Israel in the future. The point is the Palestinians can say they made a proposal.
But the most important thing Abbas is doing is postponing. He is playing for time with the confidence of a man who knows that waiting costs his side nothing while providing numerous advantages. The other players actually have electorates to answer to and are feeling enormous pressure to produce achievements of some sort. He can wait. Things are going well for the Palestinians relative to the past and with every new election, new leaders and responsibilities weigh down his adversaries while he remains secure in his position along with all of his PLO and Fatah cronies. His safety is even secured by Israel because they don’t want another Hamas-led province on their border.
What should Israel do?
Israel should accept Abbas’s proposal on the following model: Israel will enter into direct negotiations regarding 1967 borders solely on the basis of UNSCR 242, since that is the international law governing the question of final borders, and only if in advance to negotiations, the Palestinians officially recognize Israel as a Jewish state. After all, if the Palestinians won’t accept the premise of the Jewish state, what purpose is there to the 242 clause demanding that Israel’s neighbors live in peace with it. Second, in order to accept having a foreign military buffer between the state of Israel and the new Palestine, the trade off should be Palestinian consent to remain a demilitarized nation with heavily restricted airspace and borders. Otherwise, based on the experience of the buildup of arms in areas controlled by Hizbullah with a foreign military presence there to prevent such a buildup, Israel has no guarantees that the Palestinians won’t build an army to attack Israel. Finally, Israel should demand the Palestinians concede that the Temple Mount should come under Israeli sovereignty together with the Jewish Quarter in the Old City.
These, of course, are merely demands the Palestinians have to accept before direct negotiations begin.
Of course Abbas will reject these suggestions, but the ball will at least be back in his court.
Sadly for those of us who dream of peace, the reality is that the Palestinians don’t want it unless they are able to include Israel as their country.
Here are previous essays about this topic: