Palestinian Terms Leave Little to Talk About
Jonathan S. Tobin
The silence couldn’t last forever. The one thing that was conspicuously successful about the peace negotiations initiated by Secretary of State John Kerry was the way the Israelis and the Palestinians managed to keep their mouths shut about what’s been discussed since they agreed to start meeting again in July. While some reports have surfaced indicating that there has been no progress, today’s scoop by Israel’s Channel 2 gives us a lot more insight as to where the parties stand. And what we’ve learned makes it obvious that the meetings are every bit the fool’s errand that most observers thought they would be all along. According to the Israeli TV station, a “disgruntled Palestinian official” has leaked the Palestinian proposals offered for peace. As the Times of Israel reports:
According to the report, the Palestinians are also insisting that they gain control over water, and control at their sides of the Dead Sea and border crossings; that a Palestinian state be able to sign agreements with other states without Israeli intervention; that Israel release all Palestinian prisoners it holds; and that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants be granted the right to choose to live in Israel or the Palestinian territories as part of a final agreement.
Let’s digest that for a minute. Not only did the Palestinians arrive at the peace table not prepared to compromise on their ability to militarize their putative state or join in offensive alliances against the smaller and more vulnerable Israel that would result from a peace treaty authorizing the birth of “Palestine.” They are also insisting that the millions of descendants of the Arab refugees of the 1948 War of Independence be allowed to “return” to Israel and effectively end the existence of the Jewish state. If that’s peace, what’s their idea of war?
To those who will argue that this is just an opening bargaining position that ought not be construed as their final offer, let’s imagine what the Israeli moral equivalent of these demands would be. It’s more or less the same thing as the Israelis saying the Palestinians could have an independent state alongside Israel provided that they accept that Jews would rule it.
Leaving aside the refugee question for a moment, the land-swap question is no minor technical dispute. Peace process advocates have estimated that 80 percent of the Jewish communities in the West Bank including the overwhelming majority of the settler population could be incorporated into pre-June 1967 Israel with a swap of 4 percent of West Bank land. But according to this report, the Palestinians won’t budge past 2 percent.
While the Palestinians may not like the Israeli positions on land swaps, they do not compromise the basic premise of land for peace. Such demands are subject to negotiation and if there was a genuine commitment to make a deal on the part of both sides they could, albeit with difficulty, be resolved. The Israelis, even this so-called “right-wing” government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has accepted the legitimacy of a two-state solution and agreed to the principle of territorial withdrawal from almost all of the West Bank. But the Palestinians are still stuck on what is, in essence, among the first principles of any peace deal: recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Part and parcel of that would mean discarding the right of return. Without doing that, what they are demanding is a Jew-free Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza alongside an “Israel” inside the 1949 armistice lines with what would potentially be an Arab majority.
It’s true that Kerry’s blueprint for the talks calls for them to stretch out for nine months and we are only three months into that schedule. Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who is leading the Israeli delegation in the negotiations, is still making optimistic noises even while keeping mum about details. But such terms being offered by Palestinians make it hard to believe they are doing anything but going through the motions.
Peace is not just about pressuring parties to come to the table, though it must be conceded that Kerry’s efforts in this regard were impressive. In order for the diplomatic process to succeed there must be a desire to reach some sort of accommodation. But any discussion that involves terms that basically mandate the end of Israel illustrates that the Jewish state’s alleged peace partner is not genuinely interested in ending the conflict.
Given the Palestinian Authority’s culture of incitement and fomenting of hatred, this should come as a surprise to no one. And even if we accept the proposition that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas wants peace, the fact that Gaza is ruled by his Hamas rivals makes any agreement unlikely since signing it might give the embattled Islamists a major boost at his expense.
Meanwhile Israel is still acting as if peace is a real possibility and keeping its promise to release Palestinian terrorists, the price Kerry asked Netanyahu to pay in order to entice Abbas to participate in the talks. Israeli right-wingers continue to fret about the possibility that the Palestinians will take yes for an answer from Netanyahu.
By the same token, many in the United States still continue to talk as if it is Israel that must be pressured to make more concessions to the Palestinians. But so long as the Palestinians are still talking about the right of return, it’s painfully obvious there is nothing to talk about.