Understanding the strategic and historical context of the latest US-brokered return to peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority can help modify expectations and avoid the outbreak of violence and terror should the talks collapse. The concern is not theoretical. Both sides have expressed skepticism. The Israeli Foreign Ministry told the Ma’ariv daily recently that it was “highly unlikely” a final agreement would be reached.
It’s no secret that the Israeli public is cynical. Far-reaching Israeli offers to end the conflict, including major territorial concessions offered by prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000 and then by prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni in 2008 failed to elicit Palestinian agreement or interim political cooperation and resulted in thousands of casualties in subsequent acts of terrorism.
As a result, the Palestinian leadership abandoned negotiations and has instead adopted what the Palestinian leaders termed “the Kosovo strategy” – winning unilateral recognition at the United Nations General Assembly as a nonmember state in violation of 20 years of signed agreements with Israel, while engaging in political warfare against the nation state of the Jewish people, rebranding Israel as the latest version of Apartheid South Africa, a country that must be criminalized, isolated and disbanded.
As part of the current talks, Fatah and PA President Mahmoud Abbas have vowed to avoid additional unilateral actions in the interim, such as charging Israel with crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes at the International Court of Justice, the International Criminal Court, and the UN Human Rights Council in the aftermath of the Hamas rocket wars against Israel.
However, Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have not committed to a “code of conduct” like that which anchored the success of the 1991 Madrid Conference, aimed at stopping incitement to hatred of Jews and Israel, nor have the PA and its supporters ceased mobilizing boycott groups and political NGOs in the West, who call for Israel to be dismantled.
As an entry point into the current round of talks, the Palestinian’s political warfare strategy against Israel was vindicated recently by the EU’s draft boycott of all cooperation with Israeli organizations and institutions east of the 1967 lines that transforms the EU from a diplomatic mediator into an unabashed activist for the Palestinian Authority.
Renewal of peace talks between the PA and Israel under the honorable stewardship of US Secretary of State John Kerry suggests that the Palestinians have succeeded in leveraging up their longstanding strategy of “struggle” without compromise or concession. The PA/Israel “balance sheet” of concessions and gestures in the pre-negotiation period is telling. Abbas has already won a round of concessions from Israel in exchange for accepting Kerry’s invitation to meet at his Washington home and set the procedural agenda for talks.
Nearly five years ago, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu accepted the Palestinian demand of a state with security conditions. Israel has also agreed to release more than 100 additional incarcerated Palestinian terrorists in stages.
Israeli housing starts are frozen in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria and, according to Palestinian officials, Abbas has received a side letter or an oral guarantee at a minimum from the United States assuring the Palestinians that the disputed pre-war, June 4, 1967, lines would be the baseline for final-status negotiations, as reported by the Associated Press on July 21.
Virtually every Israeli government since 1967 has determined the pre-war 1967 line to be indefensible, while former Oslo negotiators such as former ambassador and legal adviser to the Foreign Ministry Alan Baker have noted that the 1967 lines constitute a legal fiction and that “no such borders ever existed.”
There have been other indications that the Palestinians are using the diplomatic process to advance their “struggle by all means” that was first outlined in the PLOs 1974 phased plan to liberate Palestine (from the River to the Sea). The allusion may seem disruptive to current diplomatic efforts, however, the reference is neither outdated nor radical.
Observers of Palestinian politics remember – and many in Israel and the West forget – that Fatah’s grand strategy by which “the struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine” was affirmed as recently as the summer of 2009 – a few months into Netanyahu’s previous government – at the 6th Fatah Congress in Bethlehem, as recorded in Arabic in the Fatah’s “Internal Order Document” (IOD).
This internal protocol was hidden from the international program summary, particularly from the United States which as a sponsor poured tens of millions of dollars into the 2009 Fatah Conference – the first in some 20 years.
Fatah‘s internal protocols also stated (Article 17) that “the armed popular revolution is the only inevitable way to the liberation of Palestine.”
Fatah’s recent public affirmation of its strategy of armed struggle follows the strategy of former Fatah and PA founding chairman Yasser Arafat, a Nobel laureate who according to a source close to the PLO told Fatah seniors in Tunis following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 that “we did not come to make peace but to renew the Fakahani state that we created in Beirut.” Arafat was referring to the Fatah headquarters in Beirut from whence he launched global operations against Israel.
Abbas is not Arafat. However, his statements are no less fallacious. Abbas told Al-Rai on July 21, referring to the disputed territories of Judea/Samaria-the West Bank, whose disputed status was enshrined and agreed on in Oslo between Israel and the PA and was to be resolved by direct negotiations, that Israel should “get out of Palestinian land completely.” Abbas and the PA leadership’s latest success in mobilizing the European Union to assault Israel’s most fundamental rights in the Palestinian- Israeli conflict creates a strong disincentive for Palestinian negotiators to reach an end-of-claims agreement with Israel. It also empowers the Palestinian “struggle by any means.”
The “low-hanging fruit” of assaulting Israel’s housing in Jerusalem and in Jewish communities east of the 1949 armistice lines may likely prove too tempting for Abbas to make the necessary sacrifices and compromises that are critical to demonstrate goodwill and acceptance of the other. In the meantime, Israel continues to make painful concessions for peace, as the families of terror victims pointed out this week in their tearful protestations outside the prime minister’s office in Jerusalem.
The writer is a Foreign Policy Fellow at the Jerusalem Center and a former secretary-
general of the World Jewish Congress.