Never say never

PEOPLE HOLD up peace signs. But who wants peace more – Israel or the Palestinians? (photo credit: REUTERS)
PEOPLE HOLD up peace signs. But who wants peace more – Israel or the Palestinians?
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a curious announcement by the minister for foreign affairs of the Palestinian Authority, Riyad Malki, made at a press conference in Tokyo on February 15, 2016, while accompanying his boss Mahmoud Abbas on a visit to Japan, Malki stated (as reported in The Times of Israel): “We will never go back and sit again in a direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.”
Many would brush aside such a statement as another example of routine Palestinian bravado and propaganda at a time when the world is somewhat fatigued with the endless Palestinian attempts to keep their plight at the forefront of world attention.
This is perhaps all the more evident when, at the same time, the Palestinian leadership adamantly refuses to return to the negotiating table, preferring instead to engage in endless efforts to bypass the negotiation process, whether in the United Nations or through other international organizations.
Additionally, the Palestinian leadership continues to openly and even proudly sponsor and encourage an international BDS campaign (boycott, divestment and sanctions) against Israel in commercial and cultural fields, and engages in open, daily incitement which leads to violence and murder of Jews and Israelis.
All this in clear and direct contravention of Palestinian commitments – whether to Israel or to the international community – in the various agreements signed over the past 20 years.
What is all the more ironic in this curious situation is the fact that it is Israel that is being accused and held responsible, whether by the French foreign minister, by the US State Department or by the EU leadership, for obstructing the return to a negotiating mode.
However, foreign minister Malki’s announcement needs to be taken very, very seriously. Indeed, in international diplomacy, the statements of a foreign minister are treated as official and authoritative governmental positions, with binding powers.
As such, Malki’s declaration runs solidly against Yasser Arafat’s solemn commitment in his letter dated September 9, 1993, to prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, according to which: “The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process and to the peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved by negotiation.”
Similarly, in the 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo 2) the parties reaffirmed their desire “to achieve a just, lasting and comprehensive peace settlement and historic reconciliation through the agreed political process.”
Thus, this official announcement by the Palestinian foreign minister ending, to all intents and purposes, any continuation of a negotiated peace process between the Palestinians and Israel, should logically be treated by leaders of the US, the EU, the UN and by other major international elements as a resounding and shocking volte-face by the Palestinians. It should be considered to be a clear violation of all Palestinian commitments so far, and possibly as a fundamental breach of the Oslo accords, by frustrating any possible return to negotiations.
It cuts through and undermines all the various UN, EU and other resolutions urging the parties to return to negotiations. It represents a clear slap in the face to all those senior politicians, foreign ministers, parliaments and others who repeatedly blame Israel for impeding the negotiation process.
This statement basically endorses what has, in practice, become the accepted policy of the Palestinian leadership, of encouraging anything other than direct negotiation, in the hope that the French, the US, the EU and the UN might bully Israel into accepting Palestinian dictates and impose a solution without taking into consideration Israel’s own legal, political, security and historical rights and needs.
One might presume that all those senior politicians and foreign ministers who consider themselves involved in the Middle East peace process – and especially US Secretary of State John Kerry, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini – will express their immediate indignation and objection to this statement by the Palestinian foreign minister.
One might hope that they will demand some solid, public reassurance by the Palestinian leadership that the Palestinians have not given up the option to solve the dispute through negotiation.
Is this too much to hope for?
The author, an international lawyer, served as the legal counsel to Israel’s foreign ministry and Israel’s ambassador to Canada. He was involved in all the peace process negotiations. He is presently Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs