Mahmoud Abbas has come up with what seems like a foolproof plan to pressure Israel into withdrawing from the West Bank and allowing the creation of a Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority leader is reportedly planning to give an ultimatum to the Israelis demanding they agree to the borders of such a state and threatening to withdraw security cooperation and go to the United Nations for redress if they don’t. It sounds smart but, like virtually every other initiative undertaken by the PA, it’s entirely fake, and his threats are, for the most part, a transparent bluff.
Abbas’s plan is to set up a nine-month negotiating period that would start with Israel being forced to agree to a map for a Palestinian state largely along the parameters of the 1967 lines at the outset. After that, the parties would negotiate other issues including refugees, water, settlements, and security cooperation. If the Israelis don’t do as Abbas bids, he will not only run to the UN to get it to grant the Palestinians independence and to the International Criminal Court to get the Jewish state indicted for their “crimes” against the Palestinians. He will also withdraw security cooperation.
Given the anger about Israel in the international community in the wake of the war in Gaza and the destruction and death suffered by the Palestinians during that conflict, Abbas thinks the timing is perfect for a round of pressure directed at the Jewish state. With President Obama openly displaying his anger and resentment about Israel’s government, the Palestinians may believe Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deeply divided government will crack up and give him what he wants.
While President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry may take Abbas seriously and use this initiative as the excuse for another round of Middle East diplomacy, I doubt that Netanyahu is foolish enough to take the bait. Despite his grandstanding, Abbas won’t sign any peace deal no matter where his putative state’s borders would be drawn. Nor has he the slightest interest in withdrawing security cooperation with Israel.
Why can Israel be so sure that Abbas doesn’t mean what he says?
First, it should be remembered that despite Abbas’s claims that Israel has yet to put forward a map of where an acceptable Palestinian state might be, the PA has already received several such maps and turned each one of them down over the course of negotiations stretching back to 2000. When former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas a map pretty much along the lines he is demanding in 2008, he fled the negotiations and wouldn’t return to the table for years. In the latest round with the Netanyahu government during the past year, Abbas wouldn’t negotiate seriously on any issue and again seized the first pretext to break them off.
The reason for this behavior is that although Abbas sometimes talks a good game about peace, he knows his public is not ready for a deal that will recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian one. So as much as he has put on a good show in recent years about wanting a state, his goal has always been to avoid a peace deal or even being put in a position where he would be forced to say either yes or no to one.
Abbas does like the idea of going to the UN and the ICC since that allows him to avoid making reciprocal agreements with Israel, recognizing a Jewish state, and acting as if the future of the Palestinians lies in cooperation rather than futile “resistance.” But he also knows that the UN can’t give him a state.
As for the threat of Abbas ending security cooperation with Israel, that’s a bad joke. While the Israelis do view any help they get from the various PA security forces as useful, the main beneficiary of the cooperation is not the Jewish state; it’s Abbas. As the revelations of a planned Hamas coup against the PA uncovered by the Israelis proved, the PA leader’s hold on his office as well as his personal security depends on Israel’s good will.
That fact should also factor into an understanding of why Israelis are so reluctant to hand over more territory to Abbas. While his more moderate brand of Palestinian nationalism is certainly to be preferred over that of Hamas’s Islamist rejectionism, the lack of enthusiasm for peace among Palestinians and the popularity of Hamas both restrains the PA leader’s ability to make peace and would render any such deal a perilous risk for Israel.
These conclusions are bolstered by a new poll of Palestinian public opinion that shows Hamas’s popularity skyrocketing in the wake of the destructive war they imposed upon the country this summer. As the Times of Israel reports:
According to the data collected on August 26-30 by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) headed by pollster Khalil Shikaki, 79 percent of Palestinians questioned in Gaza and the West Bank said that Hamas had won the war against Israel, while only 3% said Israel had won. …
In stark contrast to predictions voiced during Operation Protective Edge by senior Israeli military officers saying the extent of damage in Gaza would likely turn the civilian population against Hamas, 94% of respondents said they were satisfied with Hamas’s performance in confronting the IDF and 78% were pleased with the movement’s defense of civilians in Gaza. Eighty-six percent of the 1,270 adults questioned in the survey said they supported the continuation of rocket attacks at Israel as long as the blockade on Gaza is maintained.
In other words, despite the expectations of some in both Israel and the United States, the war has not created an opening for Abbas or for the advancement of moderate Palestinian policies. To the contrary, the results make it all too plain that any withdrawal from the West Bank might ultimately produce the same result as in Gaza when the removal of every soldier, settler, and settlement paved the way for a Hamas terror state rather than peace and development. Even if Israel wanted to grant Abbas his wishes and accept his ultimatum on territory, the likelihood of the creation of another, larger and more dangerous Hamas state in the West Bank would make such a move impossible. Even if Abbas wasn’t bluffing—and he almost certainly is—no Israeli government of any political stripe will risk such an outcome. And it would be irresponsible for any of those who purport to be Israel’s friends to urge it do so.