Just days after the Obama administration threw a lollipop to the Palestinian Authority and its president, Mahmoud Abbas, they are once again showing the Americans who’s the boss in the Middle East peace negotiations. Last week, the United States upgraded the diplomatic status of the PA’s American mission. From now on, the PA’s Washington office will have the status of a “general delegation” — the same it enjoys in the European Union. This is still a step below a full-fledged embassy, a status reserved for sovereign nations. But it does give the PA’s representatives full diplomatic immunity, a not-insignificant factor when you’re the envoy of a coalition of terrorist groups, such as the one that makes up Fatah, the dominant force within the PA. The move was made with the tacit approval of Israel and is intended to give Abbas a shot in the arm as he continues to struggle for legitimacy in the face of growing challenges from the rival Hamas faction, which has possession of Gaza.
But this move, like so many similar measures that have been put into effect over the years to boost the shaky credibility of the Palestinian Authority, is not enough to get Abbas to agree to the one thing President Obama wants from him: direct peace talks with Israel.
According to Reuters, Abbas will tell a meeting of the Arab League tomorrow that direct talks with Israel are still out of the question. The reason for this stand is no mystery. Abbas insists that he won’t sit down with the Israelis until the United States guarantees that the talks will be based on the idea that Israel must withdraw to the 1949 armistice lines and until a complete freeze on building Jewish homes in the territories is implemented. In other words, Abbas won’t talk until Israel has conceded in advance the substance of the talks! The Palestinian president doesn’t want to negotiate. He wants the Americans to hand him the Israelis on a silver platter even before negotiations commence. In spite of Obama’s preference for more pressure on Israel, that isn’t going to happen — which is just fine with Abbas.
That’s because the last thing the Palestinian leader wants is a viable peace process, a fact that the administration may finally be starting to understand. Had Abbas wanted to accept a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, he could have accepted Ehud Olmert’s offer from 2008. He refused to even discuss that proposal because a peace deal would have forced him to accept not only peace but also the legitimacy of a Jewish state, even one inside truncated borders. Abbas knows that he cannot sign a peace agreement of any sort and survive, so he continues to prevaricate and seek excuses for not holding direct talks. The only question is how long it will take before Obama finally understands that although the Israelis have accepted the concept of a two-state solution, it is the Palestinians, who stand to benefit from such a scheme, who are incapable of accepting it. Until he does, the peace-process charade will continue.