Last week, an exultant Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas returned from Washington to Ramallah and was received by cheering crowds. He came carrying a decidedly rejectionist, triumphalist message.
“I have honored my pledge and kept my promise,” Abbas declared to the thousands who had gathered at his Mukata headquarters.
It quickly became clear what the celebrating was all about. After eight months of negotiations, Abbas was proud to announce that he had not budged on any of the divisive issues preventing the creation of a Palestinian state.
The rally at the Mukata had been carefully planned with PA employees and schoolchildren bused in for the event.
It seemed to be, like the rallies that take place under other autocratic regimes in the region and elsewhere, more a testament to Abbas’s ability to mobilize those Palestinians dependent on the PA’s power and money than a genuine show of support.
This is not to say that there are within Palestinian society voices calling on its leaders to be more flexible and accommodating to Israeli demands. Eight months ago, Abbas had almost no support inside his Fatah party and among other political parties for his decision to renew negotiations with Israel. The situation has not changed since.
For most Palestinians, anything less than a Palestinian state established in the West Bank along the 1949 armistice lines with east Jerusalem as its capital; the removal of all Jewish settlements except for a few close to the Green Line; an equitable solution to the Palestinian “refugee” issue that includes the right of return for thousands; and complete Palestinian control of borders and airspace with no Israeli troops on the ground would be essentially a continuation of the “occupation.” No Palestinian politician has managed to convince Palestinians otherwise.
It is difficult not to be pessimistic about the prospects for a peace agreement. A gaping chasm separates Israelis and Palestinians on everything from Jerusalem and Palestinian “refugees” to security arrangements in the Jordan Valley and the recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people. Abbas refused to budge on all of these issues. And due to the inner dynamics of Palestinian politics, he is presenting his rejectionism as a heroic, act as though to have the guts to say no to US President Barack Obama can be leveraged by Abbas to increase his popularity on the Palestinian street.
There are other developments that also do not bode well for the future of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Gen. Jibril Rajoub, a senior member of the Fatah Central Committee, told The Jerusalem Post
’s Editorial Page Editor Mati Wagner in an in-depth interview that appeared on Sunday that “all the cards are on the table” for Palestinians, including violence.
The killing of three Palestinian terrorists in Jenin early on Saturday was yet another reminder that there are Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Fatah activists operating in the West Bank who continue to support an armed struggle.
PA security forces have almost no control in refugee camps in Jenin and Nablus.
Leading Palestinians seriously contemplating the possibility that the PA will fall apart or be dismantled. Just last month, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research published a 250-page report summing up the opinions of some 200 leading Palestinians about the chances that the PA will soon cease to exist and the ramifications thereof. Obviously, though, Israelis, many Palestinians and the international community have a strong mutual interest in preventing the collapse of the PA.
The US-orchestrated peace talks seem on the verge of falling apart. Can the relative stability that we have grown accustomed to in the West Bank no longer be taken for granted? Unfortunately, a Palestinian political leadership capable of making the sorts of concessions necessary for a peace agreement has failed to materialize. As a result, we are fast approaching a dead-end.
With little chance of a breakthrough in talks – unless there is a significant change in the Palestinian leadership’s approach – it makes little sense to move ahead with the release of the fourth and final batch of imprisoned terrorists.
The release of these terrorists was in any event originally conditioned on a sincere intention by the Palestinians to achieve peace through dialogue, an intention that is sorely lacking judging from Abbas’s reception in Ramallah.