More documents detailing Palestinian negotiating stands with Israel were released last night by Al Jazeera, providing observers with more information about the negotiations that took place from 2007 to 2009 between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The latest bunch show that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was realistic enough to understand that the notion of Israel’s accepting a million descendants of the original 1948 refugees was a non-starter.
The idea that Abbas was giving up on the Palestinian dream of swamping Israel with Palestinian Arabs is widely seen as a disgrace among his own people, as well as with their European cheerleaders at places such as the Guardian newspaper, which has also played a role in revealing the documents. Some critics of Israel are claiming that the PA’s willingness to acknowledge that hundreds of thousands of Jews were never going to be turned out of their homes in Jerusalem as part of a peace deal shows that Abbas was a true peace partner. But the furor over these documents reveals anew the insurmountable obstacles to an agreement that are created by Palestinian public opinion. The problem is that anything that smacks of recognition of the legitimacy of a Jewish state (something that even these documents show the PA was never willing to admit) is considered anathema to the Palestinian street, not to mention that the Guardian seems to be as appalled by Abbas’s willingness to dicker over Jerusalem and refugees as Hamas has been. That is why, despite all the excruciating negotiations that took place with the Olmert/Livni government, which offered the PA a state in virtually all the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem, Abbas’s answer was still no.
Even amid all these supposed signs of moderation on the part of the PA, a glimpse of the extreme nature of Palestinian political culture still shines through. For example, during one session involving then Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni and PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, the two explored the possibility that Israelis living in the Jerusalem suburb Ma’ale Adumim might be allowed to stay there if it became part of a Palestinian state. When Livni asked Erekat how she could provide Israelis “living in Palestine with security,” his reply was telling: “Can you imagine that I have changed my DNA and accepted a situation in which Jews become citizens having the rights that I and my wife have,” asked Erekat. “Can you imagine that this will happen one day?”
The Israelis present had no such illusions, and it soon became clear that any Jews living in Palestinian territory after a proposed peace would wind up like the greenhouses of Gaza that were left behind when Israel evacuated that territory in 2005. They would have to flee since, unlike Arabs living in the State of Israel, who enjoy equal rights as citizens, such persons wouldn’t last a day. This should provide an explanation to anyone wishing to understand why the majority of Israelis appear to have given up on the idea of a real peace with the Palestinians. Under such circumstances and with such peace partners, what hope is there for peaceful coexistence in the foreseeable future?