Palestinians have killed two Israeli soldiers in planned attacks over the last three days; the armed wing of Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party has proudly claimed responsibility for both killings (though Israeli officials are skeptical); and the Palestinian Authority that Abbas heads–Israel’s so-called peace partner–has yet to muster even a lukewarm condemnation of the murders. In a normal universe, this might raise doubts about the prospects of the current Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. But anyone who has been following the negotiations already knows these prospects are nonexistent: Aside from all the reasons I listed three weeks ago, the constant stream of PA leaks about the talks is a dead giveaway.
Ever since negotiations resumed in late July, PA officials having been giving the media gloomy progress reports on an almost daily basis, thereby violating the explicit commitment both sides gave Secretary of State John Kerry not to talk about what happens at the negotiating sessions. That alone attests to bad faith. But what’s really remarkable is that while all the Palestinian leaks agree the talks are going nowhere, they offer blatantly contradictory reasons for this conclusion. In other words, the “facts” on which this conclusion is supposedly based can’t possibly be true.
Over the space of just a few days earlier this month, one Palestinian official said Israel had done nothing for the past six weeks but present the issues it wants to discuss; another said Israel had proposed an interim deal for a Palestinian state with temporary borders on 60 percent of the West Bank; and a third said Israel had made an unacceptable final-status offer that would give Palestinians 90 percent of the West Bank while leaving Israel in control of the border crossings with Jordan. These three statements are clearly mutually exclusive: If, for instance, Israel has done nothing but outline the issues it wants to discuss, it can’t have offered either temporary or permanent borders. Similarly, if Israel has made a final-status offer, then it hasn’t just proposed an interim deal.
In short, the Palestinian claim of “no progress” is evidently independent of whatever actually happened in the talks, and Palestinian officials don’t even care who knows it: They have no problem espousing mutually contradictory explanations. But if the “no progress” claim is unrelated to actual developments in the talks, then its obvious purpose is to prepare world opinion to blame Israel when the negotiations reach their foreordained breakdown. After months of hearing nonstop Palestinian complaints about how Israel is stymieing the talks, without Israel offering any counter-narrative (since it has thus far honored its pledge to stay mum), the world will obviously be primed to believe that Israel is at fault.
Nor need one look far to understand why the PA would plan for a breakdown a priori: The talks have zero support among ordinary Palestinians. As the Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported back in July, not a single Palestinian faction favored resuming the negotiations, and yesterday, several Palestinian groups launched a public campaign to demand an end to the talks while also opposing any Palestinian concessions whatsoever as part of a deal.
So with no support for a deal at home, Abbas has little choice but to plan for how to blame Israel for a breakdown. The only question is whether the U.S. is willing to let him get away with it.