Palestinian Authority sources told the media that Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly would be a “bombshell” and he did his best to live up to that claim. The PA leader told the world body that he no longer considered the Palestinians bound by the Oslo Accords. Israel’s violations of that pact rendered it null and void, and he therefore demanded that the UN vote to accept the Palestinians as a full-fledged member rather than its current observer status. That sounds like a very big deal since — in theory — the PA abandoning Oslo means that it would end security, economic, and civil cooperation with Israel. That might force the Jewish state to administer the West Bank directly as it did before Oslo set up the autonomy regime that first Yasir Arafat and now Abbas have ruled. But those expecting such a revolution on the ground shouldn’t hold their breath. Even the Palestinians are conceding that any changes on the ground will be put on hold as Abbas pursues UN recognition without the PA being forced to first make peace with and recognize Israel. Which is to say that it is a gigantic rhetorical bluff since Abbas benefits as much if not more from that cooperation than the Israelis. The only real question about this stunt, which was delivered in a speech that ignored the reality of routine Palestinian terror and the PA’s refusal to make peace, is whether the Obama administration will fall for it.
Let’s first dispense with the notion that, as Abbas claims, the failure to convert the Oslo Accords into a two-state solution with a peace treaty is solely the fault of Israel.
The chief claim that Israel has violated the Oslo terms is the “growth” of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It is true that the Israeli population in the West Bank has grown since 1993. But when people hear of growth and the Palestinian claims that their land is being “stolen” they assume that means the number of Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank has grown along with the population. But that is a lie. The actual number of settlements in the West Bank has remained largely unchanged. No new vast areas of land to which the Palestinians can assert ownership have been taken from them. All that has happened is that new houses have been built inside existing settlements or in Jerusalem, which Israelis consider their united capital city. The Palestinians may not like the fact that there are more Jews in the West Bank, but with few exceptions Israeli governments of both the left and the right have maintained the status quo in the West Bank in terms of land under their control.
Israel’s record isn’t perfect but it kept its side of an Oslo bargain that was based on the idea that it could trade land for peace but instead brought only terror. The deal signed on the White House Lawn 22 years ago brought the PLO back from exile. It handed it control of the West Bank and Gaza, allowing first Arafat and now Abbas to rule as unaccountable and corrupt autocrats, replete with numerous “security” services and the ability to skim billions in American and European aid into the bank accounts of the Fatah leadership and their families. In exchange, the Palestinians were supposed to cease terrorism and promote peace rather than foment hatred for Jews and Israelis in the official media and schools they control.
That is something they have consistently refused to do.
Of course, Abbas’s obituary for Oslo is 15 years too late. The accords collapsed in 2000 when then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton offered Arafat an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, and Gaza. Arafat turned them down and launched a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada. He turned down another such deal in 2001, and Abbas fled the negotiating table in 2008 when Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer in 2008. In 2014, Abbas blew up another round of negotiations when he trashed Oslo again by seeking to go around the U.S.-led talks by asking the UN to recognize Palestinian independence.
So there’s nothing actually new here except for the incendiary nature of Abbas’s rhetoric. Nor did Abbas mention that fact that his Fatah Party hasn’t governed part of the putative Palestinian state in eight years. Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005 as part of Ariel Sharon’s disastrous peace experiment. Hamas seized control of the strip in 2007 and has since used it as a terrorist launching pad for rocket and cross-border attacks. Those wondering what an independent Palestinian state would look like in practice need only ponder the reality of Gaza which operates as such a sovereign entity in all but name, albeit under the rule of an Islamist terror group backed by Iran. If the Palestinian goal was just statehood, they could have had it a long time ago. Instead, they have stuck to their refusal to recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn because to do so would mean ending a conflict they intend to continue so long as Israel exists.
Nor do the other alleged Israeli outrages detailed in Abbas’ speech amount to a reason for the international community to grant Abbas’s wishes.
Contrary to his assertions, Israel has not altered the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. To the contrary, it is the Palestinians who are seeking to exclude Jewish visitors to the holiest site in Judaism. Abbas has cynically sought to exploit this issue in order to whip up Palestinian resentment of Jews as part of his failing effort to compete with Hamas. Though he is doomed to always fall short in a contest based on which group is more hostile to Israel, he has nonetheless not hesitated to endorse terrorism and to encourage the upsurge in small-scale attacks on Jews in Jerusalem and the West Bank.
Nor do his complaints about checkpoints in the West Bank (which Israel relaxed in the last year) or the blockade of the Hamas terror state in Gaza ring true. Those measures, along with the construction of the West Bank security fence, are a response to the constant threat of Palestinian terrorism that was supposed to cease in 1993.
But the real reason why the international community should yawn at Abbas’s threat is that he will never cease cooperation with Israel because, without it, he and Fatah are finished. Now serving the 11th year of the four-year term as president of the PA, Abbas relies on Israel for security to ensure against a Hamas coup as well as for the money he needs to keep his kleptocracy propped up. Though he is always threatening to resign or to dissolve the PA, it will never happen because that would mean the end of Fatah’s ability to control West Bank life and leave the area open to Hamas.
But though none of this will change the situation on the ground, Abbas’s bluff might influence President Obama to abandon Israel at the United Nations. If the United States signals that it will no longer veto a resolution recognizing Palestinian independence in the Security Council that would fit nicely with Obama’s desire for more daylight between the U.S. and Israel as well as constitute revenge for the Netanyahu government’s stand on the Iran nuclear deal. But it would also pave the way for more chaos and violence as well as undermine America’s dwindling prestige since it is the guarantor of an Oslo process that Abbas and the PA have consistently flouted. Tempting as it may be for an administration that is increasingly hostile to Israel, being fooled by Abbas in this manner would be a disaster for American diplomacy and not advance the cause of peace one bit.
It remains to be seen whether Obama is sufficiently motivated by animus for Netanyahu to fall for Abbas’s bluff. But other than that dangerous possibility, the world would do well to ignore Abbas latest attempt to avoid doing the one thing that might bring the Palestinians a state: negotiate in good faith with Israel and recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.