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Peace and the Palestinian We Do Not Know

In his now-famous interview with President Obama, Jeffrey Goldberg asked if he agreed with Secretary Kerry’s June 2013 statement to the American Jewish Committee that “we’re running out of time … [and] if we do not succeed now, we may not get another chance.” Obama added his own window-is-closing pressure on Israel, but the last sentence of his answer – which he intended as an argument for speed – actually argues for the opposite. Here is what he said:

I think [Kerry] has been simply stating what observers inside of Israel and outside of Israel recognize, which is that with each successive year, the window is closing for a peace deal that both the Israelis can accept and the Palestinians can accept — in part because of changes in demographics; in part because of what’s been happening with settlements; in part because Abbas is getting older, and I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, he has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue. We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.

Before signing an agreement with an aging “president” more than five years past the end of his stated term — someone with no known successor, no process for choosing one, no institutions for holding elections, no capacity to implement any agreement in half his putative state (controlled by the terrorist group he promised to dismantle under the Road Map and didn’t), presiding over a society steeped in anti-Semitic incitement, unwilling to endorse even the concept of “two states for two peoples” (much less explicitly recognize a Jewish state) – we should put aside the perennial argument that time is running out, the over-hyped demographics, and “what’s happening in the settlements” (since what’s happening in the settlements is mostly construction in areas Israel will retain in any conceivable peace agreement), and pause to reflect on President Obama’s last sentence: “We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like.”

We do not know, in other words, who will be implementing the agreement Israel is being rushed to sign. We do not know whether it will be Hamas, taking over a Palestinian state in an election or coup (both have happened before); or perhaps the guy next in line in Abbas’s corrupt ruling party; or perhaps the charismatic terrorist currently serving multiple life sentences in an Israeli jail, who would undoubtedly be released as part of a “peace agreement” but is not likely to be the next Nelson Mandela. We do not know because the Palestinian Authority has demonstrated multiple times that if converted to a state it will be a failed one, lacking the basic institutions of a successful state, unwilling to recognize a Jewish one. Yesterday the Fatah leadership unanimously endorsed Abbas’s rejection of any recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, without which the “two-state solution” is simply a two-stage plan.

If it is in fact urgent to sign an agreement while President-for-Life Abbas is still around, it is even more urgent for him to give his long overdue Bir Zeit speech, telling his people in Arabic that the price of a Palestinian state is recognition of a Jewish one, and that the conflict will not end with the “return” of the descendants of refugees from the 1948 war the Arabs started to a place where those descendants have never lived. It will end with their resettlement in the Arab states that started the war, where those descendants have lived their entire lives, deprived of basic civil and human rights by the countries of their birth.

If Abbas cannot give his Bir Zeit speech, it is not likely he can preside over a peaceful state. Moreover, as President Obama noted, we do not even know what the successor to Abbas will look like. Perhaps it is time to rethink a Palestinian state, not rush to create one.


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