For six years, the Obama administration has tried in vain to give the Palestinian Authority what it wanted. It has undermined Israel’s negotiating position at every turn and treated PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as a champion of peace even though he has repeatedly turned down opportunities to end the conflict. But by thumbing his nose at the U.S. at the United Nations Security Council with a doomed effort to pass a one-sided resolution recognizing Palestinian statehood and then heading to the International Criminal Court to pursue specious human-rights cases against Israel, Abbas may have finally gone one step too far. The new Congress can and probably will enact sanctions against the PA. The question is will the administration, which is the injured party in this nasty breakup, seek to prevent Congress from doing the right thing and holding the Palestinians accountable?
The end-run around the U.S.-sponsored peace process is not the first time the PA has flouted its commitment to negotiations under the 1993 Oslo Accords. For two decades, the PA, first under the leadership of Yasir Arafat and now of Abbas, has treated that famous peace deal and its follow-up agreements as merely pieces of paper to be discarded at will. It has sponsored terrorism, fomented hate for Israel and Jews, and refused to negotiate or even accept peace offers from Israel that offered them all they could reasonably hope for including an independent state in almost all the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem.
But in spite of these outrageous actions, the U.S. has not pulled the plug on the generous aid package that the PA received all these years. That has happened largely because the Clinton and Obama administrations have been so committed to the myth of Oslo that they have chosen to whitewash the PA. The Bush administration did the same thing once Abbas replaced Arafat. That did not advance peace but it allowed the Palestinians to think they would never be held accountable for their actions. Though legislation has been passed that would have cut off aid, presidential waivers were always exercised to prevent it from being enforced.
The same lessons applied in spades to the negotiations over the Palestinians’ decision to go to the UN. As even Tzipi Livni, who hopes to topple Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu in the March elections, told the New York Times last month, Abbas walked away from the talks even after the U.S. offered a framework that would have given them what they wanted and was okayed by the Israelis. Once the effort to get a UN resolution that would have given the Palestinians a state without having first made peace with Israel was in motion, the Obama administration made more noises about its reluctance to veto this destructive and pointless effort than exercising pressure on the PA.
But now that the PA is heading to the International Criminal Court for more mischief against Israel—a move that even warranted a stiff condemnation from the State Department—there can no longer be any doubt that the basis for U.S. aid to the Palestinians has been exploded.
Fortunately the leadership of the new Republican Congress seems to understand this and they are likely to pass new legislation that will seek to force an end to further subsidies for the PA. Given that it is President Obama’s policies and efforts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction that have been undermined by the PA, it stands to reason the White House ought not to try to obstruct this effort. Yet, still besotted with their unrealistic dreams of making Middle East peace, the president and Secretary of State Kerry may argue that cutting off the PA will hurt the prospects for future negotiations.
What they need to come to grips with is the fact that Abbas is no more inclined to ever make peace with Israel than are his Hamas rivals. While it’s doubtful that the PA would ever actually sign an agreement that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, if the peace process is ever to be revived it can only happen when the Palestinians realize that the U.S. will not continue to subsidize an entity that is dedicated to obstructing peace.
If Obama and Kerry wish to fight an aid cutoff the Palestinians have given them very little room to maneuver or arguments with which to stop the GOP. Indeed, given the disillusionment about the PA among congressional Democrats, it’s likely that any legislation about the Palestinians might be passed with a veto-proof majority. House Speaker John Boehner and new Majority Leader Mitch McConnell shouldn’t hesitate about pushing forward such legislation. If Obama and Kerry are smart, they will realize that this will strengthen their hands in future talks with the Palestinians, not weaken them.