The March 17 meeting between US President Barack Obama and PA President Mahmoud Abbas revealed little new information. There was no breakthrough.
This is little surprise; Abbas finds himself hemmed in by the US framework agreement, cornered by unprecedented dissension within the Fatah party, and left bereft of Palestinian support in the West Bank and Gaza.
In previous diplomacy, since his four-year term began in 2005, Abbas had been able to dance around red lines to avoid compromises he could never make. However, the current American led efforts have tightened the screws on the Palestinians beyond their pain threshold. The tireless efforts of Secretary of State John Kerry and his team to broker a framework for further peace talks have revealed Palestinian red lines.
They have also exposed fault lines within the ruling Fatah party that render Palestinian acceptance of Obama’s deal impossible.
Abbas is exposed on three issues in the American paper; long-term IDF active presence in the Jordan Valley, an undivided Jerusalem and recognition of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. The irony in the Palestinian rejection of the American proposal on these issues is that it was King Abdullah of Jordan who had insisted that the IDF, and not Palestinian security forces, defend the Jordan Valley up to the Judea and Samaria hill ridge facing Jordan.
Jordan’s insistence on Israeli troops in the Jordan Valley influenced the American position in recent months.
On Jerusalem, Jordan’s insistence on remaining the sole custodian of the Muslim holy sites in line with the 1994 treaty of peace between Jordan and Israel that noted Jordan’s special role in Jerusalem also dashed Abbas’ demand to control the Temple Mount and most of the Old City.
Abbas will not budge on the principle of mutual recognition; as he said repeatedly, “We will never sign an agreement recognizing Israel as a Jewish state.” Abbas’ local Arabic response to the US paper further illustrates his real positions.
As Abbas’s March 9, 2014, speech to Fatah revealed, Abbas remains faithful to Fatah’s founding principles.
Fahmi Zaarir, vice-chairman of the Fatah Revolutionary Council, stated on Radio Palestine on March 11 that, “Everyone knows what these principles are: Palestine’s borders from the Jordan River to the 1967 lines and no compromise on all of Jerusalem along the ’67 lines.”
Regarding refugees, Zaarir noted that, “They themselves will need to agree based on UN decisions and the Arab Initiative.”
Abbas spoke of the “right of return” of all refugees – into the State of Israel itself. But Abbas’ Fatah constituency and wider Palestinian public clearly understood that Abbas’s commitment to Fatah’s principles also includes what had been affirmed in the 6th Fatah conference as recently as 2009 in Bethlehem.
The Conference’s internal order document declared that, “The armed popular revolution is the only inevitable way to the liberation of Palestine,” and added that, “The struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine.”
Abbas faces a mountain of Fatah and Palestinian public opposition to any compromise on the US framework deal. The “pro-Abbas” demonstrations in Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin that took place on March 17 were protests led by Fatah against any Palestinian concessions. Notably, other PLO groups were absent.
In Gaza, the Hamas assaulted and arrested Fatah activists and confined them to house arrest to prevent “pro-Abbas demonstrations.”
The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported that the latest Palestinian hit song, called “The People’s Message to John Kerry,” that has taken Youtube by storm, accused the US secretary of state of “presenting a Zionist plan.” It also warns Abbas to uphold Palestinian rights, otherwise, “The people and I will take to the street and chant against you and demand you go away.”
Palestinian political and popular rejection of compromise and acceptance of the US paper begs a larger question. Who will enforce any agreement on the Palestinian side? Abbas, nearly 79 years old, is in his 10th year of a four-year elected term.
He stands to retire imminently, chalking up as his legacy standing up for Palestinian rights in the face of US pressure. There is no effective Palestinian parliament to affirm any prospective popular referendum.
Hamas is reengaging with the Iranian regime and competing for power with other jihadi groups such as the Palestinian Jihad that fired tens of rockets at Israel recently at the Iranian regime’s behest.
The chaos within Fatah’s ranks also begs the question of control and accountability. Abbas has no clear successor. At the same time Abbas and arch-rival Mohammed Dahlan are trading accusations over who assassinated former PLO chairman Yasser Arafat.
The US has unmasked the real Palestinian positions. US efforts to pin down a framework have also exposed the deep fissures within Fatah and among Palestinians at large. In this context, the Palestinian strategy will likely lead them back to the unilateralism they pursued at the United Nations in 2011.
That program enabled the PA to lead international efforts to demonize, incite against and delegitimize Israel at the UN, the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.
However, it failed to bring the Palestinians closer to a viable sovereign independent nation state. The implications are severe. Recently the European donor states have expressed impatience with Palestinian refusals and have threatened to curtail financial assistance to the PA .
Palestinian rejection of the current US framework paper may signal the end of the Palestinian statehood project in parts of Judea and Samaria/ West Bank and Gaza for the foreseeable future.
The author is a Research Fellow at the International Institute for Counter Terrorism, and a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He served as Secretary General of the World Jewish Congress from 2011 to 2013.