Sunday, August 25, 2013

What the Palestinians Already Won

What the Palestinians Already Won

Jonathan S. Tobin

As I noted yesterday, the Palestinian Authority has good reason to try and keep coverage of the recently restarted peace talks with Israel under wraps. Having done so much to foment hatred of Jews and Israelis on its broadcast outlets and education system, the Palestinians aren’t ready for coexistence, let alone genuine peace. That places the PA and its leaders under pressure from a culture of intolerance, but it also gives them the incentive to spin the negotiations in such a way as to make it look as if their decision to return to the talks was a great victory. It’s in that context that we should view PA negotiator Saeb Erekat’s claim that prior to deciding to sit down with the Israelis, they obtained serious concessions from both the United States and the European Union even before Israel agreed to release more than 100 terrorist murderers from prison.

As the Times of Israel reports:

In a lengthy interview with Nazareth-based A-Shams radio, Erekat said that the US had assured Palestinians in writing that talks would recognize the pre-1967 lines as the basis of a Palestinian state; would deal with all core issues (Jerusalem, refugees, borders, security and water); would take place within a six- to nine-month timetable; and would not allow for any provisional or interim solutions before a final status agreement was signed. Erekat also said that an American-Israeli agreement existed regarding settlements, but did not elaborate on its contents. …

Erekat also claimed that the European Union’s new directives outlawing all EU cooperation with settlements and other Israeli entities over the 1967 lines were part of a deal reached with Europe in exchange for returning to negotiations. He noted that the Palestinian Authority was currently holding talks with Latin American countries, China, Russia, Japan and the African Union to adopt similar sanctions toward settlements.

While none of this is terribly surprising, it does make clear not only what the Palestinians have gained by going along with Secretary of State John Kerry’s initiative to restart peace talks for the first time since 2008, but also how the U.S. and the EU have given them little incentive to make concessions of their own in the months of talks that lie ahead. With such assurances securely in their pocket, the Palestinians believe they have no reason to budge from their current positions not only making the failure of the talks certain but also emboldening them to think they have everything to gain and nothing to lose from such an outcome. While Kerry has been taking bows for having reconvened the talks, if this is what he considers a diplomatic triumph, I’d hate to see what he’d consider a defeat.

It should be remembered that during his visit to Israel this past March, President Obama explicitly endorsed Prime Minister Netanyahu’s position in which he offered to negotiate with the Palestinians anywhere, anytime without preconditions of any sort. But in order to entice the PA and its leader Mahmoud Abbas, who rejected an offer of a Palestinian state including almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem in 2008, Obama allowed Kerry to throw his promise in the same trash can in which the administration stored President Bush’s pledges to respect Israel’s position on the major settlement blocs as part of the U.S. incentives given to Ariel Sharon when he withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

But the problem goes deeper than another broken promise. The American position backing up Palestinian demands doesn’t obligate Israel to give in to them on all of the points about settlements, Jerusalem, and borders. But putting the U.S. in the position of endorsing Palestinian demands prior to the talks gives the Palestinians another incentive to refuse to budge an inch on any important issue and to then claim that it was the Israelis who are intransigent.

Presumably Obama and Kerry think that backing up the Palestinians on borders, settlements, and Jerusalem will give them the courage to back down on the key existential issues at stake: recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn and giving up the so-called right of return to Israel for the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees. But since Abbas and Erekat have shown no sign that they will ever be able to do either, all the U.S. has done is to give them a free pass for not negotiating seriously on any other issue. With the Palestinian leadership only there in order to avoid blame for the failure of Kerry’s effort, it’s a given that they will use the U.S. support for their positions not in order to make peace, as Washington hoped, but as justification for heating up the conflict once the whole thing collapses. The American cooperation with the EU’s blackmail of Israel on settlements is also disturbing.

Seen from this perspective, we see clearly just how disastrous the Kerry “triumph” could turn out to be, especially when you consider the likelihood that Abbas will use the failure of the talks which he plans to engineer to justify violence. Though Kerry is taking bows right now, it’s fairly obvious that it is Abbas who is the winner in the talks, no matter what follows, and Israel the loser.