Feeding the PA's belief that the West will pressure Israel without PA concessions sabotages peace.
By BARRY RUBIN
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's big policy speech received global attention. Not so that of his Palestinian Authority counterpart, Salaam Fayad, whose June 22 presentation deserves careful analysis.
Fayad is prime minister for one reason only: to please Western governments and financial donors. Lacking political skill, ideological influence or a strong support base, he does keep the money flowing since he's relatively honest, moderate and professional on economic issues.
But his own people don't listen to him. Most PA politicians want him out; international pressure keeps him in. So here's the Fayad paradox: If he really represented PA stances and thinking, there'd be some hope for peace. Since he's so out of tune with his colleagues, though, Fayad sounds sharply different from them. And even he's highly restricted by what's permissible in PA politics, limits which ensure the PA's failure, absence of peace and nonexistence of a Palestinian state.
HIS FIRST problem is that Hamas controls the Gaza Strip and seeks the PA's overthrow in the West Bank. Most Fatah and PA leaders prefer peace with Hamas rather than Israel. Make no mistake: This is a mutually exclusive choice. If Hamas merged with the PA, the result would be far too radical to negotiate a solution and would eventually be dominated by Teheran-allied radical Islamism.
Moreover, to keep the door open for such conciliation, the PA can't come closer to making a deal with Israel. But that's not all. In veiled - an appropriate word here - language, Fayad says Palestinians must avoid "politicizing" the Gaza issue that would enable sanctions to continue against the Hamas regime there.
By not opposing the suicide bombers, Fayad follows suicidal policies. By fighting any isolation or sanctions on Hamas, the PA ensures that Hamas tightens its hold on the Gaza Strip. By supporting Hamas's ability to attack Israel without costs, the PA ensures its Islamist rival appears the more effective fighter.
Second, while not directly endorsing terrorism and violence - in contrast to most of his colleagues and the PA's own institutions - Fayad argues that Israel holding any Palestinian prisoners in jail is "a violation of international law." In other words, if a Palestinian attacks or murders Israelis, Israel has no right to imprison him. What option does it have? Only to set them free to try again. Here, too, Fayad supports and glorifies cost-free terrorism.
Third, Fayad argues that it's not the PA's job to convince Israel by its good behavior or to negotiate bilaterally on the basis of mutual concessions and compromises. Instead, as other PA leaders have openly stated recently, the PA's strategy is to get the world to pressure Israel to give it everything it wants.
While presenting his speech partly as a response to Netanyahu, Fayad confronts none of his points, merely dismissing his position as vague, which it certainly wasn't. (Ironically, in contrast to most Western observers, Fayad acknowledges that Netanyahu endorsed a two-state solution six years ago.)
It's Fayad who is vague - Netanyahu gives a list of specific conditions; Fayad does nothing of the kind. In fact, he does something peculiar. According to him, Netanyahu is presenting an "Israeli narrative" about the conflict, while Palestinians say they have their own "narrative" - one which Fayad says he won't talk about. Why is he vague and not presenting his own case? Because he cannot do so. The narrative as laid out by Netanyahu is clear: Jews want and merit a state; the conflict is due to an Arab refusal to accept that state's existence. This does not prevent a two-state solution, one state for each people.
The Palestinian narrative, to this day, is that Jews have no such right to a state and that all the land is rightly Palestinian, Arab and (for the most part) Muslim. This narrative does prevent a two-state solution. That is what Fayad cannot admit.
He does claim that Palestinians' "main aspiration" is to have their own homeland, which he promises will live in peace, cooperation and respect with its neighbor. But he cannot say it will resettle all Palestinian refugees within its borders, won't bring in foreign troops, will end the conflict permanently or will provide security guarantees. Fayad might prefer such an outcome, but that's not the Palestinian position.
FAYAD SAYS the PA has done a good job and that "the citizens sense this progress." Why, then, is the PA afraid to hold elections, even in the West Bank? It is no secret that the PA isn't popular and fears Hamas's appeal. Fayad speaks of building a strong economy, dealing with poverty and developing social services, yet gives no sense of how this might be done. Even given massive international subsidies, the PA's management remains poor, riddled with corruption and incompetence. Fayad can do nothing to reform it since the political elite isn't with him and he has no power over the warlords and their gunmen, who are often the real powers in the West Bank.
Finally, he predicts a Palestinian state within two years. Yet he has no way to make this happen except to prove that the real reason the peace process hasn't succeeded is the misconception "that it is always possible to exert pressure on the weaker side in the conflict, as if there is no limit to the concessions that it could offer." In other words, the reason why peace has not been achieved is because the PA had to make all the concessions.
The truth, of course, is the exact opposite. Israel withdrew from most of the territory, allowed 200,000 Palestinians to come in, cooperated in the establishment of security forces, agreed to large-scale subsidies for the PA and so on.
And what concession did the Palestinians make? They said to international audiences - though not in their own media, mosques, schools or internal statements - that they accepted Israel's existence and sometimes, but far from always, stopped some terrorist attacks - when it suited them .
Doesn't Fayad see the irony in his words? He views Israel as the weaker side in relation to the West and thinks those other countries will force it to make concessions without limit.
By feeding the PA's false belief that the West will pressure Israel into giving it a state in the borders it wants, without concessions, restrictions or even implementation of past promises, the US and European governments are doing a very effective job in sabotaging any possibility for peace.
The writer is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle East Review of International Affairs Journal and Turkish Studies.
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