Three months after Syria, Jordan, and Egypt lost substantial territory during the 1967 Six Day War, the Arab League convened in Khartoum and issued its infamous “three no’s”: no peace with Israel; no recognition of Israel; and no negotiations with Israel. Yesterday in Cairo, an uncharacteristically defiant Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas offered an updated version of these no’s: “No amending the Arab peace plan; No normalization without withdrawal; and no to the Jewishness of the Israeli state.”
You may wonder where a feckless, powerless, and unpopular leader of a non-state entity gets off setting the ground rules for future negotiations with the elected government of a regional power. As Jonathan has pointed out, the Obama White House has thrown its support so strongly behind Abbas – and issued such a strong condemnation of Israeli settlement expansion – that the Palestinian leader can hardly contain his newfound confidence.
Let this be a lesson to those who insist that a more “even-handed” approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would produce faster peace dividends. If anything, Abbas’s sudden bravado indicates that tilting against Israel makes its adversaries less compromising and makes peace prospects more hopeless. Consider for a moment that two of Abbas’s three no’s – his refusal to amend the Arab peace plan and vocal opposition to Israel’s Jewish character – can be collapsed into one: an insistence on Palestinians’ “right of return” to Israel proper. This is a stipulation that no Israeli government would ever accept, while Obama rejected the “right of return” explicitly as “not an option” during his presidential campaign.
In short, chalk up another failure for President Obama’s ongoing experimentation with American foreign policy.