Commentary Magazine


Topic: 1967 borders

The Palestinian Shadow Game

Secretary of State John Kerry was encouraged yesterday by the idea of a revived and improved Arab Peace Initiative being floated by an Arab League delegation. But the Palestinian Authority wasted no time in pouring cold water on the idea that even this baby step means a thing. Palestinian Authority negotiators dismissed the significance of the statement issued by the foreign minister of Qatar that the 2002 proposal would be modified to recognize the idea of “minor” territorial swaps that would modify the 1967 lines. As far as Erekat is concerned, the Palestinians won’t even bother to return to the talks so long as Israel is unwilling to concede the outcome in advance.

“Netanyahu has to say 1967,” Erekat told Nazareth-based Radio Ashams. “If he doesn’t say that, there’s nothing to talk about. For us, what the Arab League delegation presented in Washington is no different from the official Palestinian position.”

Erekat noted that the Palestinian Authority had negotiated in the past based on the 1967 borders and had been willing to adjust 5 percent to 7 percent of the border.

“We don’t see that as recognition of the settlement blocs, as some commentators on both sides try to interpret it. For us, every stone in the settlements constitutes a violation of international law, so it’s impossible to talk about Palestinian consent regarding the settlements,” he said.

“Our position is clear: As long as Netanyahu does not say the number 1967, there’s nothing to talk about. Maybe he needs to undergo psychological therapy to utter that number.”

But if the Palestinians are really interested in peace, it’s they who need the therapy. By issuing demands in this manner, Erekat is not just directly defying President Obama’s call for them to come back to the peace table without preconditions. Nor is his attempt to justify a continued refusal to talk just about borders. It’s part of a strategy the Palestinians have been pursuing for more than four years. Since the PA knows it has neither the will nor the ability to sign a peace agreement recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, their goal is to avoid any diplomatic setting at which they might be forced to admit this, as they did when they turned down peace offers in 2000, 2001 and 2008.

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Secretary of State John Kerry was encouraged yesterday by the idea of a revived and improved Arab Peace Initiative being floated by an Arab League delegation. But the Palestinian Authority wasted no time in pouring cold water on the idea that even this baby step means a thing. Palestinian Authority negotiators dismissed the significance of the statement issued by the foreign minister of Qatar that the 2002 proposal would be modified to recognize the idea of “minor” territorial swaps that would modify the 1967 lines. As far as Erekat is concerned, the Palestinians won’t even bother to return to the talks so long as Israel is unwilling to concede the outcome in advance.

“Netanyahu has to say 1967,” Erekat told Nazareth-based Radio Ashams. “If he doesn’t say that, there’s nothing to talk about. For us, what the Arab League delegation presented in Washington is no different from the official Palestinian position.”

Erekat noted that the Palestinian Authority had negotiated in the past based on the 1967 borders and had been willing to adjust 5 percent to 7 percent of the border.

“We don’t see that as recognition of the settlement blocs, as some commentators on both sides try to interpret it. For us, every stone in the settlements constitutes a violation of international law, so it’s impossible to talk about Palestinian consent regarding the settlements,” he said.

“Our position is clear: As long as Netanyahu does not say the number 1967, there’s nothing to talk about. Maybe he needs to undergo psychological therapy to utter that number.”

But if the Palestinians are really interested in peace, it’s they who need the therapy. By issuing demands in this manner, Erekat is not just directly defying President Obama’s call for them to come back to the peace table without preconditions. Nor is his attempt to justify a continued refusal to talk just about borders. It’s part of a strategy the Palestinians have been pursuing for more than four years. Since the PA knows it has neither the will nor the ability to sign a peace agreement recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, their goal is to avoid any diplomatic setting at which they might be forced to admit this, as they did when they turned down peace offers in 2000, 2001 and 2008.

If the PA had even the slightest interest in negotiating rather than grandstanding, they would have jumped on the opportunity Kerry is foolishly offering them and agreed to show up anywhere and anytime to talk about peace. They would be vowing to hold Netanyahu at his word about wanting to create a two-state solution–which he repeated this week.

Instead, they are waving the banner of the 1967 lines as if it were any kind of real impediment. PA leader Mahmoud Abbas and his mouthpiece Erekat know very well they are not going to get any Israeli government to give up every settlement bloc or surrender Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. But they also know that the Israelis have already offered them deals that would have given them the independent statehood they say they desire and would have no choice but to do so again were they embroiled in a serious negotiation involving the United States.

Netanyahu has rightly refused to accept the 1967 lines as a starting point for negotiations. It hardly needs pointing out that prior to 1967, when every inch of the territories were off limits to Jews, there was neither peace nor a Palestinian state. Though the Israelis have made it clear they will give up the overwhelming majority of the West Bank, there is no reason for them to concede all of a territory to which both sides have legitimate claims, especially without getting anything in return. While most Israelis now accept that separation from the Palestinians is necessary, they are also not so foolish as to allow the West Bank to be transformed into a mirror image of the independent Palestinian state in all but name that currently exists in Gaza.

Diplomatic sloganeering aside, the PA knows they can’t sign a deal with Israel even if it was on the terms they claim to support since doing so would mean giving up the so-called “right of return” to Israel for the descendants of Palestinian refugees, which remains an implicit part of the Arab Peace Initiative that Kerry lauded. That will never happen so long as Hamas is a major player in Palestinian politics. With the Islamist terror group still firmly in control of Gaza and a potent threat to Abbas’s Fatah in the West Bank, the notion that the PA is willing to do what is necessary to make peace is farcical.

What’s going on now is not the prelude to negotiations but a shadow game in which the Palestinians’ sole objective is to find a rationale to avoid talking. If the United States wishes to actually advance the admittedly dismal chances for peace, President Obama must instruct Kerry not to be suckered into making the same mistakes his administration made in his first term. For years, the president did everything in his power to tilt the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians, but was rewarded for his efforts with nothing but evasions from Abbas. The president’s rhetoric during his recent trip to Israel seemed to indicate he had learned from that mistake. He should not let Kerry repeat it.

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The Meaning of Nakba Day

Palestinians and their supporters will demonstrate in the territories, on Israel’s borders and around the world today to mark the anniversary of the Nakba. Nakba is an Arabic word which means disaster, and that is what those who participate in today’s protests consider the founding of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. But the focus on 1948 is significant.

For those who claim the Middle East conflict is about borders or Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the prominence given Nakba commemorations ought to be an embarrassment as it highlights something Israel’s critics are often at pains to obfuscate. The goal of the Palestinians isn’t an independent state alongside Israel. Their goal is to eradicate Israel and replace it with yet another Arab majority country.

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Palestinians and their supporters will demonstrate in the territories, on Israel’s borders and around the world today to mark the anniversary of the Nakba. Nakba is an Arabic word which means disaster, and that is what those who participate in today’s protests consider the founding of the State of Israel on May 15, 1948. But the focus on 1948 is significant.

For those who claim the Middle East conflict is about borders or Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the prominence given Nakba commemorations ought to be an embarrassment as it highlights something Israel’s critics are often at pains to obfuscate. The goal of the Palestinians isn’t an independent state alongside Israel. Their goal is to eradicate Israel and replace it with yet another Arab majority country.

As Palestine Media Watch notes in their survey of official Palestinian Authority programs, the point about the Nakba narrative is that it draws no distinction between the pre- and post-1967 borders. That means the Jewish presence within the internationally recognized borders of the State of Israel is treated as just as illegitimate as that of the settlers in the territories who we are constantly told are the main obstacle to peace. This is not a minor point, because for the Palestinians, the desire for the descendants of the 1948 refugees to “return” to Israel is tantamount to demanding the dismantling of the Jewish state.

The Jewish left has become increasingly sympathetic to Nakba Day demonstrations. They feel it is only right that the victors show compassion to the losers in Israel’s War of Independence. But compassion for those who suffer — and the Palestinian Arabs have suffered since 1948 — is one thing. Indulging the political fantasies of those who wish to reverse the verdict of that war is something else.

As much as the world seems to have tired of hearing about the history of the events of that year, it is vital we point out that the war that created the refugees was one started by Arabs whose goal was not to share the land but to prevent Jewish sovereignty on any part of it. The vast majority of Palestinians who fled did so because they feared the consequences of this war. Most thought they would return to reap the spoils of the expected destruction of the besieged Jewish community. That they and their descendants still regret this reversal of fortune may be understandable, but it is not a point on which they have any right to demand the world’s sympathy.

Nakba Day is also a reminder that the focus on refugees also ought to discredit Israel’s critics and others who have kept the Palestinians stateless and homeless during the last 64 years. Unlike every other refugee population during this period, the Palestinians have been deliberately not resettled or allowed to assimilate into the Arab populations of the surrounding nations. Instead, they have been kept in poverty by a United Nations agency (UNRWA) supposedly dedicated to their welfare but which is, in fact, merely interested in perpetuating their status as refugees so they can remain props in the Arab war on Israel.

On this day, the unhappy fate of the Palestinian refugees will be endlessly rehearsed. But no mention will be made of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who fled or were expelled from Arab countries in the wake of the events of 1948. Unlike the Palestinians, these people were given homes and new lives in Israel and the West. If Arabs are entitled to compensation for what they lost when they fled the newborn State of Israel, the Jews of the Arab and Muslim world deserve to be paid for what was stolen from them.

Nakba Day takes us back to the unfortunate fact that the Arabs have always treated the struggle between these two peoples as a zero sum game. In 1948, the Jews were willing to share the country, but the Arabs would hear of no solution other than the destruction of any Jewish state no matter where its borders were drawn. Those who wonder why the Palestinians continue to refuse to negotiate with Israel and have rejected offers of statehood repeatedly during the past two decades need only go back to 1948 to discover the roots of this madness.

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