For months now the Palestinian leadership in Judea and Samaria (also known by its Jordanian name, “West Bank”) has been pushing hard to get around two key international legal instruments that have hampered their ability to put pressure on Israel’s control of territory conquered in 1967. UN Security Resolution 242 essentially permits Israel to control Judea and Samaria for as long as there isn’t peace and Israel’s neighbors aren’t willing to accept its existence peacefully. The Oslo Accords turned 242 into a binding instrument upon the Palestinians who do not have a state and therefore were not necessarily obligated by 242 and added provisions that require negotiation and consent by both sides regarding a final peace agreement.
The problem for the Palestinians is that these agreements lock in the status quo indefinitely and force them to continue to pretend that they actually want peace and a resolution to this conflict. Had the Palestinians sought the outcome of peace and resolution, they could have negotiated after Olmert’s insanely generous peace offer in 2008 and closed the deal then. Alternatively, they could have gone to talks with the Netanyahu government. Instead, they opted to freeze talks on the basis of their belief that a clash between Obama and Netanyahu would greatly weaken Netanyahu and his government, eventually bringing them down. The Palestinians assumed this strategy would buy additional years, and time is, as far as they believe, the best weapon on their side. A team plays for time when it knows it’s losing the game but is hopeful that the more time they waste, the greater the chance of the other side making a mistake that could cost them their expected victory.
Israel has made many mistakes over these past years, particularly in permitting the charlatans of Fatah to escape Palestinian Darwinism in the form of a defeat to Hamas. In doing this, they permitted an Arafat crony and Holocaust denier in nice suits to lobby governments to grant his people a state or at least approval of a state-in-waiting over territory which remains in dispute on the basis of UNSCR 242 and Oslo. By going to the UN in September to request a state over those lines, the Palestinians are reaping the rewards of two decades of Israeli efforts toward a settlement of the conflict while giving up little in return.
Consider where the Palestinians were in 1994: their leadership was dispersed abroad; their local population was leaderless and lethargic after the waning of the first intifadah; their economy was extremely weak; they had few supporters among governments in the West; they were perceived as barbarians for their terrorism; they were heavily dependent upon Israel for their livelihoods; and, there didn’t seem to be much future to their national movement.
Oslo brought them back from the dead. Their leadership was permitted to reorganize in the Territories and were essentially given a clean bill of health from Israel’s government. Sanitizing them in this way, the Israelis essentially sponsored Arafat’s rebirth as an international diplomat and paved the way for Palestinian reorganization as a society. The exiled Fatah leadership took over and the Palestinians got a provisional government, policemen, soldiers, arms, more donations, a stronger international diplomatic presence, pockets of Judea and Samaria holding the majority of Palestinian residents there which were under their control, respectful attention from the press and governments around the world, and, well, a revived national movement.
The present situation is a direct result of those 17 years since Oslo began. Amazingly, nothing the Palestinians did over these years could undermine their progress under Israel’s and America’s tutelage and protection. They blew up hundreds of Israelis, rejected three peace offers, launched thousands of rockets at Israeli civilian centers, taught their children that martyrdom in killing Jews is a positive value, ran multiple international campaigns vilifying Israel for every wrong possible (often using imagery and language that brought up the most criminal of nations or anti-Semitic stereotypes) and as they did these things, they also oppressed their own people, restricted their press and visiting journalists, crushed political dissent, funneled large chunks of their aid into the pockets of people in the right circles and assiduously avoided any movement toward reconciliation with Israel or the formation of a true Palestinian state in the areas Israel was willing to cede (100% of Gaza, 94-97% of Judea and Samaria and additional land for swaps).
Nope, they could do no wrong. The world embraced these new Palestinians. Their noms de guerre disappeared, expensive suits replaced the military fatigues, the hair became styled and their language became diplomatic. So what if they blew up Israelis? It’s the Israelis’ fault for the occupation. So what if they kept saying no to Israeli offers? It’s the Israelis’ fault for not offering enough. So what if they would not relinquish demands that undermine their claims of seeking resolution to the conflict? It’s the Israelis’ fault for having won the wars in 1948 and 1967. Besides, there are geo-political considerations and the Muslim bloc in the UN has over 50 nations in it, many of which provide a large portion of the planet’s limited supply of oil. Internally, as well, the population shifts in many Western countries absorbing multitudes of Muslim immigrants, has made support for Palestinians and against Israel a viable position of politicians and even governments in the West.
Support for the Palestinians also came through the efforts of many left-wing Jews and Israelis who are either tired of the conflict or have accepted the Palestinian narrative of this conflict. They often drive media coverage of the conflict, provide some of the more compelling intellectual arguments favoring the Palestinians, provide guidance to the media, the UN and multiple prominent and less prominent NGOs, and ensure the Palestinian leadership is treated with greater respect and understanding than their Israeli counterparts.
These years have been good to Fatah, Hamas and the Palestinians leadership. They have been so good that they are ready to approach the UN to certify their semi-terror government and their aspirations to destroy Israel without submitting to their existing legal obligations. The plan is to have the UN General Assembly accept a Palestinian state over 1967 lines, which would include eastern Jerusalem and many areas where Jews currently reside but would become Palestinian. Why would they do this when they clearly want to bring Israel as the Jewish state down? Well, because it’s a victory that opens up the next chapter of attacks on Israel and they get it at no cost. As far as they’re concerned, it will be a temporary state that serves as a useful base of further attacks on Israel. They don’t have to give up anything in return and UNSCR 242 and the Oslo Accords become immaterial. Just a couple of days ago in a NY Times op-ed, Abu Mazen – that is, Mahmoud Abbas – announced that the primary focus of this embryonic state would be to pursue Israel in international courts and through international institutions with the goal of securing rights to Palestinians who currently do not reside in Israel. By establishing the title to a state and being so recognized by the UNGA, the Palestinians gain tremendously while giving up little. It’s a terrific victory for them.
It is this progress that Obama endorsed in his Middle East speech earlier. He essentially gave them 1967 lines, required Israeli withdrawal from Palestinian areas, and destroyed these two elements of Israel’s leverage in any negotiations with the Palestinians by giving them up without any demands made from the Palestinians except that they have to show some nebulous change in Hamas’s behavior. In other words, while Obama has not agreed to recognize a Palestinian state, he has paved the way for the world to say “yes” to 1967 lines because the US President himself has declared these lines valid. He has declared that Israel has to relinquish physical security lines but then wait until later to negotiate things like “return” or Jerusalem. Of course later Israel will have no leverage to compel the Palestinians to give up anything, but this doesn’t seem to concern Obama much. This is not unlike Obama’s equivocation a couple of months ago in the UN Security Council where the US refused to sign on to the lie that the settlements are illegal but then announced in that same meeting that the US government viewed them as illegitimate. In other words, “We agree with the rest of you guys, and keep moving forward on this basis, political considerations are preventing us from fully joining the party at this time.”
Obama is a friend of Israel’s detractors and attackers. He is not a friend of Israel’s except when saying so gets him applause. What is worse, he has now opened the door to continued conflict because his proposals merely entrench and strengthen the Palestinian leadership and its anti-Israel views. Israel will have little choice but to defend itself when the new attacks come – and this time, they won’t just be rockets and suicide bombs, but legal and diplomatic attacks by the General Assembly and some of its members. All in all, this was a terrible day for US-Israel relations, and for Israel’s future security needs.