The opportunity the Palestinians choose to miss

It is more important for Abu Mazen to go down in history as one who stood firm against this eventuality rather than to take practical measures that would ease the hardships of his people

By
July 9, 2019 21:01
4 minute read.
The opportunity the Palestinians choose to miss

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses Arab journalists in Ramallah on July 3. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

 
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‘The Palestinians never miss an opportunity… to miss an opportunity,” – or to use a more common idiom, “to shoot themselves in the foot” – the late Abba Eban quipped in his day. And commentators in Israel and around the world have never tired of repeating it. This time, too, some of them made this observation after the Palestinian rejection of the economic part of US President Donald Trump’s “Deal of the Century” and their refusal to attend the event in Bahrain.

They are wrong – that is, both the commentators and Eban – since that is precisely the Palestinian leaders’ true intention: from the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Mohammed Amin al-Husseini in the 1940s to PA President Mahmoud Abbas, a.k.a. Abu Mazen – namely, to thwart in advance any Israeli or international initiative that would put them on the road to genuinely and ideologically accepting the existence of the State of Israel, which could be interpreted as a final and historic confirmation of the Jewish people’s right to a state in any part of Palestine.

It is more important for Abu Mazen to go down in Palestinian history as one who stood firm against this eventuality rather than to take practical measures that would ease the hardships of his own people – even if those measures would have eventually led to a political solution in the spirit of the proposals for establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Jared Kushner’s lament in a post-Bahrain conference call to Arab journalists, that the Palestinian leadership had made a “strategic mistake” by boycotting the conference, was thus a misreading of the Palestinians’ strategy (as was his generous but a bit over-the-top statement that Mahmoud Abbas had devoted his life to making peace). Mr. Abbas claims that he is opposed to terrorism, and apparently genuinely so – but his basic ideology is no different from that of the terrorist organizations.

An important book entitled 1947, written by the Swedish journalist and historian Elisabeth Åsbrink and published last year, tells the story of how the international inquiry committees – first the joint Anglo-American one and then the one at the UN, which visited Palestine and the region in 1947 in order to draft a proposal for a political agreement between the Jews and the Arabs in the country – were met by an absolute refusal on the Arab side even to meet with them. This was as they had been ordered by the mufti under threat of death.

However, the members of the Jewish community – leaders and ordinary residents alike – responded gladly to every approach from the members of these committees, touring the country with them and showing them what had been built and established over the years. The majority conclusion of the UN committee was that the Jews in Palestine were capable of running a state, and the Arabs were not.

DURING THE NEGOTIATIONS with the Palestinians after the Madrid Conference, chairman of the Israeli team Elyakim Rubinstein and I were invited to an unofficial dinner with the head of the Palestinian delegation, Haidar Abdel Shafi, a doctor from Gaza, at the home of Swiss ambassador Edouard Brunner (who was also the representative of the UN secretary-general). The conversation was halted at first, until – after a good-natured appeal by Abdel Shafi – the host replaced the unceasing flow of orange juice with a bottle of good Scottish whisky. From then on, the conversation flowed, in a very different vein from the Palestinians’ Orwellian double-speak during the official talks.

By the by, I said to our Palestinian interlocutor: “Among us, too, there were those who thought that the first stage of the effort to establish a Jewish state should be a ‘charter’ – in other words, an international political declaration. But others believed that if we concentrated on creating facts on the ground in all areas of public life, the economy, the administration, and so on – then the concrete foundations for the future state would be established, and so it was. But you, the Palestinians, insist on an agreement in advance on political formulas, most of them unrealistic, which leads you nowhere.”

 I had the impression that deep down, Abdel Shafi, who hated Yasser Arafat, agreed. But if there had been any chance whatsoever of a change in the Palestinian positions, the Oslo Accords and the return of the PLO and Yasser Arafat to the territories put paid to that idea.

By the way, the recent meeting in Bahrain had a precedent: the Casablanca Conference following the Oslo Accords. There, too, politicians and businesspeople gathered from all over the world, including a few Arab countries – and there, too, was euphoria. The Israeli delegation, which included ministers and prominent businesspeople, even prepared detailed plans for economic cooperation with all the parties, the Palestinians first and foremost. But the unofficial Palestinian representatives (there were no official ones) announced right from the start: “No cooperation with Israel.”

Thus, Shimon Peres’s vision of the “New Middle East,” the main project of that conference, died before it was born. As then, so now: the Palestinian leaders care nothing for the logical assertion that economic advantages do not cancel out the option of future political gains – which means that US President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner’s generous and balanced plan is doomed to become another link in the chain of Palestinian rejectionism.

The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the US.

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