Commentary Magazine


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.

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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