PA President Mahmoud Abbas (C) at a meeting for the Central Council of the PLO, in Ramallah, March 4, 2015.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Palestinian narrative has historically attempted to portray its society as victims of oppression. Whether falsely accusing Israel of having an apartheid regime, labeling Israeli tactics “indiscriminate targeting” or Palestinian terrorist attacks “freedom fighting,” the PLO managed to use empathy as a powerful tool to arrive at the negotiation table.
When the moment for Oslo came, the true conflict began. Up until 1993, the PLO had a clear mission: to liberate Palestine. When enough international and regional pressure was placed on Yasser Arafat to sign the Oslo agreements and recognize Israel’s right to exist, an existential threat to Palestinian identity arose.
Despite the character of the Palestinian leadership, the mediation process was doomed to fail the moment Oslo was introduced to both parties. Its lack of content regarding the issue of refugees, division of Jerusalem, and lack of land swaps failed to coerce the parties to understand that concessions needed to be made and not all demands could be met. It was a symbolic document which failed to address the critical issues surrounding the conflict.
In addition, it removed the historical and religious aspect of the conflict by attempting to engage it as a political debate. All these factors would seal the fate of Camp David before the parties arrived. Ultimately, mediation failed due to the identity crisis that continues to rattle Palestinian society to this day.
Forwarding to 2008, a second opportunity for the Palestinian people seemed imminent. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas met with prime minister Ehud Olmert over 30 times to try to reach a final peace agreement.
Though Olmert was offering a full withdrawal from the West Bank, a Palestinian capital in east Jerusalem, and land swaps with sovereign Israeli territory, Abbas repeated Arafat’s crime against his own people. By clinging to a full return of Palestinian refugees, which he knew could not be accepted by Israel due to its demographic impact, Abbas and the Palestinian leadership again evaded peace and recognition of a Jewish Israel. Since then, Abbas has preoccupied himself with using foreign aid to fund Palestinian terrorism, incite hate, and use his political influence to advocate for economic warfare against the State of Israel.
In his most recent speech, Abbas declares: “Colonialism created Israel to perform a certain function. It is a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism, but rather used the Jews as a tool under the slogan of the Promised Land.”
Yet, his people continue to cling to the hope of a life with dignity and a chance to prosper. Polls indicate that the majority of Palestinians in the West Bank would like Abbas to step down. These political tantrums by Abbas and his team are only contributing to the further isolation of the PA from the international community. The region is facing bigger conflicts. A growing Shi’ite sphere of influence is expanding from Tehran to the Mediterranean, and unexpected alliances are beginning to form.
The Syrian civil war is coming to a swift end, and uncertainty continues to reign in the Levant. The Palestinian cause is beginning to fade away amid bigger regional conflicts. The Palestinian people understand this, and are not willing to put their future on hold anymore. It is not just time for an agenda change among Palestinians, it is time for change in vision. To one that consists of recognizing a Jewish neighbor, reconciliation and the goal of prosperity for all.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has proven to be about more than just territory or sovereignty. Its historical component is imperative, and mediation is useless for the time being. Despite its controversial policies, Israel has stretched out a hand for peace since 1947. It has shown its capacity to reach and abide by agreements with both Jordan and Egypt. Unless the Palestinian leadership can demonstrate its commitment to peace and confront the inevitable truth that concessions must be made, third party involvement will remain hopeless.
The international community will be tasked with restoring the historical framework of the conflict and address the requests of both parties with unbiased propositions for a stable agreement. The PLO awoke Palestinian nationalism as a counter-movement to Zionism. It must now decide whether it seeks a change of agenda or remains on course with its original mission. Both Arafat and Abbas have deprived their people of independence. Whether the next leader is more or less moderate may not have such a powerful bearing on negotiation, it will depend more on a vision of peace and reconciliation.The author is a former IDF paratrooper and holds a BA in political science and MA in diplomacy and international security from IDC Herzliya. He is an Israel advocate and Middle East analyst.