One would have thought the Palestinians might have learned their lesson when they devoted all of their efforts last year to an attempt to get the United Nations to issue a unilateral recognition of their independence. Many predicted the showdown over the initiative would produce a “diplomatic tsunami” that would overwhelm Israel and do serious damage to its political standing around the world and even in the United States. But those predictions, which were rightly debunked here at Contentions before the UN General Assembly met last September, proved to be mere hot air. Rather than a tsunami, the Palestinian push to make an end run around the peace process was a total flop, as even many European and Third World countries not sympathetic to Israel bailed on them.
But rather than moving on from that failure and seeking a diplomatic path to statehood, Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, told the Times of Israel today that he and PA leader Mahmoud Abbas are heading back to the UN this fall for another tilt at the statehood windmill. Observers should take this signal for what it is: an indisputable statement of their disinterest in making peace with Israel on any terms.
The Palestinian failure at the UN exposed more than their leadership’s faulty judgment. It demonstrated that even an international community that could always be counted on to bash Israel understood that a peace accord had to precede a Palestinian state. The idea of giving even symbolic sovereignty to the Fatah-Hamas mess was always a non-starter. The world body made it clear to the Palestinian Authority that if it wanted a state, negotiations with Israel was the only way to get it.
But if this message fell on deaf Palestinian ears it is not because the PA’s leadership doesn’t understand that they have no more chance of getting UN approval for their proposal than they have of persuading the Israelis of giving up and disbanding their state. If they would prefer another humiliation at the UN to talking with the Israelis it is not because the Israelis won’t negotiate — the Netanyahu government has been pleading with the PA to engage in talks without preconditions for more than three years — but because negotiations are the one thing that really scares them.
The UN ploy has exposed for anyone who cares to open their eyes the fact that the political culture of the Palestinians still makes it impossible for the PA — whether it is run by Abbas and his Fatah alone or in conjunction with the terrorists of Hamas — to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. The only kind of Palestinian state they want or can possibly accept is one that won’t require them to pledge to end the conflict and live in amity with their Jewish neighbors, even if all settlements in the West Bank were wiped off the map.
Erekat and apologists will go on blaming the Israelis and talking about settlements being an obstacle to peace even though Netanyahu has signaled that he is willing to give up territory if it means a real and permanent peace. But the rerun of their UN fiasco is proof that they would rather have their European allies shame them than go back to the table. Middle East peace is still theoretically possible, but so long as the Palestinians prefer surefire diplomatic failure to negotiations, it remains but a dream.