Commentary Magazine


Topic: Abbas Still Says

RE: Abbas Still Says No

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

The new preconditions for negotiations that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas posed this week are, as Jonathan noted, equivalent to refusing to negotiate until there’s nothing left to negotiate about. If talks cannot even start until the PA is granted every inch of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, that doesn’t leave much to discuss. I also agree that Abbas’s reluctance to talk stems partly from the knowledge that his own public would reject any deal Israel could actually sign.

However, another factor is at play here: refusing to talk has consistently proved a very successful Palestinian tactic. As chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat told Al-Dustour in June: “At first they told us we would run hospitals and schools, later they were willing to give us 66 percent, at Camp David they reached 90 percent and today they have reached 100 percent. Why then should we hurry?”

Erekat is correct: the offer Ehud Olmert made Abbas last year — to which Abbas never even responded until after Olmert left office, then finally rejected via the media — indeed gave the PA the territorial equivalent of 100 percent (with swaps).

What is noteworthy, however, is that these ever growing Israeli concessions occurred without a single parallel Palestinian concession. In 16 years, Palestinian positions haven’t budged. The PA still insists on resettling 4.7 million descendants of refugees in Israel; it still won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state; it even rejects a 6 percent territorial swap for the settlement blocs.

In short, these concessions were not obtained through the normal give-and-take of negotiations, in which the parties inch closer by trading concessions. It has been a one-way street.

So how have Palestinians achieved these gains? By refusing to negotiate. Whenever Israel makes an offer, the PA just says “no,” with no counteroffer. Then it waits for the world to pressure Israel into offering something more to “restart the talks.” And Israel complies.

At Camp David in July 2000, for instance, mediator Bill Clinton lambasted Yasir Arafat for refusing to make Ehud Barak a counteroffer. But rather than press him to do so, Clinton proposed his own, far more generous deal in December 2000, offering the Palestinians 94 percent of the territory (compared with Barak’s 88 percent), plus the Temple Mount. Barak, pressured by Washington, agreed; Arafat again said no. Barak then sweetened the offer again at Taba in January 2001.

Abbas’s current tactic is identical: having rejected Olmert’s offer without even a counterproposal, he now seeks to pocket Olmert’s concessions, plus a few more (like eliminating the territorial swaps), and make them the starting point for the next round of non-negotiations.

You can’t blame the Palestinians: any negotiator would rather get something for nothing. As long as they can do so, that’s clearly their best strategy.

But you can blame the U.S. and Europe for letting them get away with it. Until the West stops demanding ever more Israeli concessions to “jump-start talks” and instead starts demanding that the Palestinians give something in exchange, no peace agreement will ever materialize.

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Abbas Still Says No to Talks but Everyone Still Blames Bibi

The decision of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a freeze on building homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank has earned him little credit either in Europe or among his country’s Arab foes. Rather than respond to Israel’s gesture aimed at re-starting peace talks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas raised the ante today by telling the PLO Central Council that he won’t engage in talks unless the international community recognize the 1967 lines as the borders of a Palestinian state and unless Israel halt all construction work not only in the settlements but also in Israel’s capital Jerusalem. In other words, until the Israelis make concessions that ensure that nothing be left to negotiate about, he won’t engage in negotiations.

Abbas, whose term in office will probably be extended without holding an election because his Fatah Party knows it might lose to the Islamists of Hamas, has been telegraphing his lack of interest in talks all year. Given the fact that the Palestinian public still won’t accept any deal with Israel no matter where the borders are set, it’s not likely that this will change. Having turned down a Palestinian state in virtually all of the territories as well as East Jerusalem when former Israeli leader Ehud Olmert offered it last year, it’s hard to understand why anyone would think the supposedly moderate Abbas would make peace now. But the focus of pressure and international speculation about peaceful intentions continues to be put on Netanyahu, not on the Palestinians.

Thus the conceit of Ethan Bronner’s latest “Mideast Memo” in the New York Times, which ponders the sincerity of Netanyahu’s desire for peace. The notion that Netanyahu is possibly undergoing some kind of conversion to a love for peace is, of course, absurd. His formal embrace this past summer of a two-state solution was a departure but he has always been on record as favoring a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The question is whether or not he’s willing to bend to the dictates of the West as to borders or the terms of Palestinian statehood, not whether a peace agreement would provide the Palestinians with sovereignty over part of the country.

But the frustrating aspect of this discussion isn’t so much in the condescension toward Netanyahu, but rather in the way the peace process is framed—that is, in such a way as to put the entire onus on Israel to make concessions, while the Palestinians continue complete refusal to accept the concept of peace with a Jewish state is virtually ignored. The point is, rather than wasting time worrying whether editorial writers at Ha’aretz or President Shimon Peres think Netanyahu is sincere, foreign correspondents based in Israel might want to spend a little more time paying attention to the fact that the political culture of the Palestinians makes peace an impossibility even for their allegedly moderate leader.

The decision of the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to agree to a freeze on building homes in Jewish settlements in the West Bank has earned him little credit either in Europe or among his country’s Arab foes. Rather than respond to Israel’s gesture aimed at re-starting peace talks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas raised the ante today by telling the PLO Central Council that he won’t engage in talks unless the international community recognize the 1967 lines as the borders of a Palestinian state and unless Israel halt all construction work not only in the settlements but also in Israel’s capital Jerusalem. In other words, until the Israelis make concessions that ensure that nothing be left to negotiate about, he won’t engage in negotiations.

Abbas, whose term in office will probably be extended without holding an election because his Fatah Party knows it might lose to the Islamists of Hamas, has been telegraphing his lack of interest in talks all year. Given the fact that the Palestinian public still won’t accept any deal with Israel no matter where the borders are set, it’s not likely that this will change. Having turned down a Palestinian state in virtually all of the territories as well as East Jerusalem when former Israeli leader Ehud Olmert offered it last year, it’s hard to understand why anyone would think the supposedly moderate Abbas would make peace now. But the focus of pressure and international speculation about peaceful intentions continues to be put on Netanyahu, not on the Palestinians.

Thus the conceit of Ethan Bronner’s latest “Mideast Memo” in the New York Times, which ponders the sincerity of Netanyahu’s desire for peace. The notion that Netanyahu is possibly undergoing some kind of conversion to a love for peace is, of course, absurd. His formal embrace this past summer of a two-state solution was a departure but he has always been on record as favoring a negotiated settlement to the conflict. The question is whether or not he’s willing to bend to the dictates of the West as to borders or the terms of Palestinian statehood, not whether a peace agreement would provide the Palestinians with sovereignty over part of the country.

But the frustrating aspect of this discussion isn’t so much in the condescension toward Netanyahu, but rather in the way the peace process is framed—that is, in such a way as to put the entire onus on Israel to make concessions, while the Palestinians continue complete refusal to accept the concept of peace with a Jewish state is virtually ignored. The point is, rather than wasting time worrying whether editorial writers at Ha’aretz or President Shimon Peres think Netanyahu is sincere, foreign correspondents based in Israel might want to spend a little more time paying attention to the fact that the political culture of the Palestinians makes peace an impossibility even for their allegedly moderate leader.

Read Less




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