Despite having made a commitment to refrain from taking actions to pursue statehood unilaterally during the course of the current U.S.-sponsored negotiations with Israel, on Monday Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas chaired a meeting preparing plans to do precisely that. While the State Department has been quick to condemn as “offensive and inappropriate” the remarks made by Israel’s Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon regarding Secretary of State John Kerry’s obsession with the negotiation process, this move by the Palestinians risks having far more serious repercussions for the likelihood of achieving a negotiated settlement. Indeed, the fact that Abbas is already making contingency plans, months before negotiations are due to conclude in April, suggests that the Palestinians also lack confidence in the efficacy of Kerry’s strategy.
Under the framework for the current round of talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Israel agreed to release a cohort of convicted terrorists and in return the Palestinians would halt their campaign to gain membership in an increasing number of United Nations agencies. Previously this had been the PA’s preferred strategy for avoiding making peace with Israel while gaining international recognition of statehood. By successfully gaining a seat at ever more international bodies, the Palestinians have been positioning themselves to be able to better manipulate international law against the Jewish state.
Since negotiations began in July, Israel has stood by its part of the agreement and so far released 78 of the 104 Palestinian prisoners due for release. As part of this arrangement, the final group of prisoners is to be released ten weeks from now, at the end of March.
During this same nine-month period the Palestinian Authority was obligated not to take unilateral moves toward statehood outside of the agreed-upon negotiation framework. This period is due to end in April. Israel has requested that this window for negotiations be extended, but Abbas has already stated that the Palestinians will not continue peace talks beyond that date. Now, at a meeting Abbas chaired in Ramallah on Monday, the Executive Committee of the PLO announced the decision to resume its moves to seek membership in U.N. bodies, in direct contravention of the agreed-upon peace framework.
The Palestinian News Agency WAFA reports that the statement released by the PLO announces that the Executive Committee has called on its political committee to immediately prepare an operative plan “to implement [the] UN General Assembly resolution that granted Palestine a non-member observer status that allows it to join all UN international agencies.” This move should be of far more critical concern to Secretary Kerry and the State Department than the throwaway remarks of Minister Ya’alon. If the Palestinians are serious about pursuing this breach of their commitments, then Kerry’s peace plans could unravel even faster than many observers already expected them to.
The fact that over the weekend Abbas insisted that the Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, that Jerusalem would have to be the Palestinian capital, and that the Palestinian refugees, or rather their descendants, would have to have a right of return to their lands, by which he means Israel, hardly bodes well for the outcome of Kerry’s talks. Nor does the fact that the Palestinians seem unwilling to countenance an extension of peace negotiations beyond April, or that from the beginning there have been constant noises from Palestinian negotiators about an imminent collapse of the talks.
The State Department can express its deep sense of offense at Ya’alon’s cynicism about the peace process if it wishes. Yet the fact that the Palestinians are already making contingency plans for the failure of the talks is an indication of just how much faith they really have in these negotiations reaching any kind of successful conclusion.