The Palestinians’ apparent inability Thursday night to say “yes” to US Secretary
of State John Kerry’s efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks shows
that the Arab League is, in the words of a stereotypical teenager, “so
The well-intentioned Kerry invested a lot of time and effort
getting the Arab League on board and behind his initiative. He invited
representatives of that body to Washington in April and made much of their
willingness to adjust their 2002 peace initiative to include “moderate” land
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Kerry gambled,
would only move if he had backing, and who better to give that backing than the
22-member Arab League.
But that was yesterday’s thinking, or rather
thinking from the last decade.
The “Arab Spring,” and the convulsions
shaking the Arab world, have stripped the Arab League of its power and
As The Washington Post editorialized recently, “Mr. Kerry
banks on the support of Arab states, but two of Israel’s Arab neighbors have no
functioning government, while the other two – Jordan and Lebanon – have been all
but overwhelmed by the spillover of refugees and fighting from
One of the key by-products of the Arab Spring was the loss of all
authority in the Arab world.
Once Egypt was a spring of legitimacy, a
source of authority.
No more. Now there is no source of
On Wednesday, the Arab League representatives gave
full-throated backing to Kerry’s efforts.
“The Arab delegates believe
Kerry’s ideas proposed to the committee today constitute a good ground and
suitable environment for restarting the negotiations, especially the new and
important political, economic and security elements,” they said in a statement
With this green light, many assumed, the road was paved for
Abbas to give a resounding yes. But those who assumed that the Palestinians
would jump on Kerry’s offer once the Arab League gave its blessing misread the
mood on the Palestinian street.
There, where the Arab League has
disappointed time and time again, not a whole lot of stock is placed in what the
foreign ministers of countries that have not delivered for them really
The PLO’s failure to grasp the Kerry offer is the Palestinian
leadership responding to its grassroots, and the message filtering up from the
grassroots is that time is on their side, more can be extracted from Israel and
why enter into negotiations with a man they genuinely dislike and do not trust:
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Kerry thought that the Arab League
backing would impress the Palestinians. But this backing from countries on the
ropes like Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia and Yemen impressed no one. It
simply does not matter.
The Palestinians will do what they want, and what
they want is to continue their struggle because of a sense that time and world
opinion – as evidenced by the current brouhaha over the new EU settlement
guidelines – is on their side and will eventually wear Israel down until it
gives them what they want.
Kerry put his money on the Arab League, but
that horse is no longer a determining factor in this race.