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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the United Nations, February 2018.(Photo by: LUCAS JACKSON / REUTERS)
Abbas must learn ‘give and take’
That is the critical variable missing from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ point of view on resolving the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
It’s all about give and take. And that is the critical variable missing from Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ point of view on resolving the Palestinian conflict with Israel and the formal creation of a Palestinian state.

In the history of Israeli/Palestinian peace talks to date, the Palestinians have proven themselves very adroit at taking, but not at all skilled at giving. This deficit in the Palestinian art of negotiating has been the bone of contention crippling almost every attempt at a sit-down with Abbas – and before him with Yasser Arafat – aimed at bringing about any resolution.

Analysts are split on why this is the case. Some assert that the failure to find a solution is intentional and Abbas simply does not want to end the game. Others place blame on Israel, asserting that Israel has not sweetened the pot enough for Palestinian leadership to save face and repulse anti-peace trends in the Arab world. Still others claim that signing an agreement with Israel is tantamount to a death warrant for any Palestinian leader.

There is probably some truth in each of these analyses. But none of that explains the fundamental lack of give and take in all attempts at negotiating with Abbas or the members of his team.

Proof positive was last seen (and heard) in Abbas’s presentation before the United Nations Security Council. His was not a call for dialogue or negotiation, it was a set of demands. It was Abbas’s wish list. Benching the United States as a prime player in the negotiation process and creating an international conference to fill the void was, not surprisingly, at the top of the list.

Abbas is still reeling from US President Donald Trump’s December 6, 2017, declaration recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and his response, his visceral, knee-jerk reaction was to lash out at the US with the intention of hurting the US in the international arena. In an amusing stab at irony, Abbas is trying to teach the US a lesson in diplomacy.

It’s certainly within the purview of the Palestinians to call for an international conference. But walking out at the end of his speech only served to further emphasize Abbas’s own lack of desire to actually conduct a back and forth, a give and take, a hear and be heard scenario.

The walk-out was not only an insult to the US and Israel, as it was intended to be – it was also an insult to the other members of the Security Council, many of them member nations eager to be Palestinian advocates at such a conference.

Then again, will that conference ever be convened? Just because Abbas proclaimed his desire for a conference, it does not mean that, poof, it will happen. The place to talk about the conference would be at the Security Council, a difficult task to accomplish if you’ve left the hall.

Calling for this international conference is in step with many of Abbas’s other demands. That is the Palestinian president’s understanding of “give and take.” I give you my wish, now you take it and make it happen. He’s been president since 2005; by now Abbas should have learned that in the democratic world, neither diplomacy nor negotiations work that way.

There are opening moves, negotiations and then come final resolutions. Most of us negotiate on a regular basis. At work and at home we engage in negotiations, some more and some less formal, but all following the same rules and all involving dialogue, not presumptive declarations.

The issues confronting Israelis and Palestinians are among the most complex and complicated dilemmas anywhere in the world today. There are powerful voices in the Arab world condemning any interaction at all with Israel, especially an agreement which might be less than perfect. But that ship has already sailed.

Those voices of unmitigated hatred and dissent cannot and should not be heeded. They are the voices of extremism and those voices need to be muzzled. Two countries in the region already have peace treaties with Israel, many others have warm and quiet relations. And the Palestinians have already declared that they accept Israel – albeit it not as a Jewish state.

Voices of extremism should not set the tone for dialogue and resolution, not with Israel and not ever. They should not be given the honor of being labeled voices of reason in any situation. Abbas and his team need to engage in give and take and, with Israel, cobble together an agreement that is mutually beneficial for both parties. Not perfect, but certainly mutually beneficial.

If that is a task Abbas is not up to, the situation, as untenable as it is, will continue. It will continue until a Palestinian leader emerges with the fortitude to give, not just take.

The author is a political commentator. He hosts the TV show Thinking Out Loud on JBS TV. Follow him on Twitter @MicahHalpern.
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