Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

The Political Logic of the Palestinian Authority

December 7, 2012 5:12 pm 2 comments

Palestinian Authority President Abbas at the United Nations.

The rumor that the Palestinian leadership systematically spread over the last few months was that immediately after the U.N. General Assembly upgraded the Palestinian delegation to the U.N., Mahmoud Abbas would renew negotiations with Israel without any of the famous pre-conditions he has set since 2009: prior Israeli agreement to the 1967 lines as the basis of negotiations and a settlement freeze including construction in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Since these preconditions were never placed before any previous Israeli government, from Rabin to Olmert, there was a basis for questioning what were Abbas’s true motives in demanding them. By saying that they would be removed, Palestinian representatives could argue that the U.N. initiative was not seeking to wreck negotiations but rather to get them back on track.

This argument was particularly important to make with the European states like Germany, who were planning to oppose the Palestinians at the U.N., but were persuaded at that last minute to abstain. To secure their support for the upgrade resolution at the U.N., Abbas went public with this argument during November. After a meeting with Arab League foreign ministers in Cairo on November 12, Abbas himself said on the record: “if it is possible to start peace talks the following day then we are ready for that.” He was quoted by a reporter for Reuters News Agency. Later, Time Magazine reported on Nov. 28, a day before the General Assembly convened, that Abbas “promised to return to talks immediately after the U.N. vote.”

It should have come as no surprise that after the vote on Nov. 29, Abbas did not budge on his famous pre-conditions. He even used the U.N. resolution as future terms of reference that Israel must agree to if negotiations are ever to be resumed. There are many possible explanations for his behavior. After repeated rounds of negotiations with Israeli leaders over the last two decades, he may simply have lost faith in ever reaching an agreement with Israel. He knew the Palestinians’ demands and was familiar with the limits of what Israel could concede. In fact, back in 2009, he revealed to Jackson Diehl of The Washington Post that he turned down Ehud Olmert’s final proposal because the gaps were still too wide to conclude a peace treaty.

Looking at internal Palestinian politics, real negotiations with Israel in any case would also require Palestinian concessions. Yet since 2006, Hamas has become a growing force in Palestinian political life. With the demise of the regime of President Hosni Mubarak, in particular, Hamas’ advantages over Mahmoud Abbas have grown, further diminishing his room for maneuver. Indeed, after coming under attack from Hamas leader, Ismail Hanniyeh, the Palestinian Authority quickly backtracked from Abbas’ interview on Channel 2 with Udi Segal, which was being interpreted in Israel as though he had compromised the Palestinian demand for a “right of return,” by saying that he personally would not go back to live in Safed. In short, the last thing that Mahmoud Abbas needs at this point are real negotiations with Israel.

Looking at the way Israel and the Palestinians have acted over the last decade and a half it is clear that they have each been driven by two very different kinds of diplomatic logic. On the one hand, Israelis from the main political parties have been consumed with how to make negotiations work. They have tried to understand what the Palestinians need to reach an agreement and have frequently made concessions up front before sitting down with the other side. They used language as a confidence-building measure with the other side.

Thus when the Palestinians declared that they must obtain a full withdrawal from the West Bank to the 1967 lines, unfortunately, there have been a number of Israeli politicians who thought they should offer the equivalent territory, so that the Palestinians obtain the same amount of land regardless of where the final border is located. This kind of diplomatic flexibility was also used to prove a politician bona fide as a peacemaker with the Israeli public and with international elites.

However, by following this kind of thinking, long-standing Israeli diplomatic positions have been badly eroded and international expectations raised about the extent to which Israeli will concede. This approach involved ignoring U.N. resolutions, like U.N. Security Council Resolution 242, that supported Israel’s territorial claims as well as past U.S. guarantees that Israel would not have to withdraw to the 1967 lines.

On the other hand, the Palestinians were driven by an entirely different political logic. They did not feel that they had to prove to anyone the sincerity of their commitment to peacemaking. They did not have to take into account Israeli positions, thus while formal Israeli positions over the last decade and a half moved significantly, the Palestinians did not move one inch.

Moreover, Abbas felt confident enough to adopt a unilateralist strategy already in early 2009 while Olmert was still in power. In January, his minister of justice turned to the International Criminal Court (ICC) to get its prosecutor to already designate the Palestinian Authority as a state, which would allow the ICC to have jurisdiction in cases of Palestinian claims against Israeli officers. Undoubtedly, he already had his eyes on the U.N. doing the same.

Abbas also understood that part of the unilateralist strategy involved a long-term effort to win increasing Western backing for the positions he was advancing. That is why he never gave up on using the U.N. to adopt hostile resolutions against Israel, even during the height of the peace process in the 1990s. His advisers specifically say that Abbas put in a reference to the 1967 lines in the recent U.N. General Assembly resolution because of this “war of ideas” he was conducting. It was important to them to counter the Israeli claim that the territories are disputed.

Abbas’ war of ideas also involved elements of delegitimization of Israel, especially statements that denied the Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem and the State of Israel. An official Palestinian Authority book published this year insisted that the word “colonialist” be used when describing Israel, otherwise “the Zionist endeavor” will be turned from a “racist” project into “an endeavor for self-definition and independence for the Jewish people.” For the Palestinian side, words were not used as “confidence-building measures” but as instruments to be employed for political warfare.

Thus at every opportunity, Palestinian spokesmen hammered this point. Just recently, Nabil Shaath wrote an opinion piece in the Daily Telegraph against the Balfour Declaration, ninety-five years after it was issued, arguing: “Balfour, on behalf of Britain, promised Palestine — over which Britain had no legal right — to a people who did not even live there.” The Palestinians, he concluded, were a “victim of British colonialism.” In his twisted analysis, that was the context for the birth of Israel. Shaath was not trying to reach out to the Israeli side to make peace, but rather to fully discredit its national rights.

Currently, Israel’s problem is that it is being forced to suddenly change its diplomacy after years of talking about how to make negotiations work. If in the past there has been an Israeli reluctance to spell out explicitly what Israel’s territorial requirements for its security are, that will now have to change.

After all, how can Israel suddenly annex those areas in the future if Abbas decides to formally declare a state in an effort to alter the legal status of the West Bank right up to the 1967 lines? The Palestinian upgrade initiative at the U.N. did not go that far and did not alter the situation on the ground so far. But what if Abbas goes further down this path? What was thought to be helpful in the context of negotiations actually negates Israeli interests in a unilateralist scenario, which the Palestinians appear to have decided to adopt.

Moreover, Israel cannot wage an international struggle against a withdrawal to the 1967 lines, unless it explains why that would be a disaster for Israel’s future. Finally, as seen this week, it is hard to get international acquiescence to Israeli construction over the Green Line, even if it is confined to the settlement blocs, unless it is made clear repeatedly that there are parts of the West Bank from which Israel will not withdraw.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

2 Comments

  • “Balfour, on behalf of Britain, promised Palestine — over which Britain had no legal right — to a people who did not even live there.”

    This argument is so twisted, that one wonders whether this person has a brain or not! Britain did indeed, have the legal right to the land, as given by the league of nations.

    To call this into question, is to question the borders of all countries in the region, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran – thereby questioning their legal status.

    This man, Nabil Shaath, obviously has absolutely no idea of what kind of political “pandora’s box” he may open by spewing this kind of commentary without thought.

  • Lawrence Kulak

    It is clear that the Palestinian Authority has turned into a mere propaganda machine as its people demonstrated through repeated terrorist acts that they do not desire a State of their own and its leaders have openly rejected generous offers by Israel. The UN declarations are deliberately vague and consistent with the fact that no nation has ever been forced to give up territory won in a defensive war. This was Ben Gurion’s vision when he agreed to the UN’s partition proposal to have a State and it has come to fruition notwithstanding the unfortunate withdrawal from Gaza and the uprooting of Israreli settlements. That move, ironically may have encouraged Hamas and the PA (now one and the same) to go for broke and get Israel to withdraw to the 67 lines. The Gush Katif gambit may prove to pay off if it continues to keep the Palestinians off the path to Statehood. It may have been a necessary tradeoff after the Israeli “Al Naqba” (catastrophe) which were the Oslo Accords. Rabin and Peres took Israel way off the righteous path and effectively emasculated the efforts of future patriotic statesman like Sharon and Netanyahu

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    First English-Language Trailer Debuts for Natalie Portman’s Hebrew Film ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness,’ Based on Amos Oz’s Memoir (VIDEO)

    The first English-language trailer for Natalie Portman’s directorial debut — A Tale of Love and Darkness — based on Israeli author Amos Oz’s memoir, was released on Thursday. The movie, originally filmed in Hebrew, tells the story of Oz’s childhood in Jerusalem at the end of the British Mandate and the early years of Israel’s independence. Portman, who was born in Israel and speaks fluent Hebrew, plays the lead role of Fania, the author’s mother. She struggles to raise her son as she deals with inner demons, a […]

    Read more →
  • Features As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    As Berlin Prices Rise, Israelis Turn East for German Real-Estate Bargains

    JNS.org – Sonnenallee, a street in Berlin’s Neukölln district, looks like it comes straight out of an Arab city — so much so that it goes by the nickname “Gaza Strip.” Kebab and bakery shops are advertised in Arabic; men sit in men-only coffee shops; and bridal shop windows showcase glittery, not-so-stylish gowns. But take a random turn, and you’ll find a swath of bars, burger joints, and Indian restaurants where hip Berliners announce that they have arrived to urban coolness. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Slays in ‘Wonder Woman’ Trailer (VIDEO)

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot engages in fierce action sequences in the new Wonder Woman trailer, which Warner Bros. premiered during the San Diego Comic-Con on Saturday. The nearly 3-minute trailer, the first to debut for the superhero film, shows scenes of Diana, princess of the Amazons, fighting alongside men in the battle against the world’s toughest enemies. The first shot of the video shows Wonder Woman discovering a man, Steve Trevor (played by actor Chris Pine), washed ashore. The clip then takes viewers to the all-female island where Wonder Woman was born. […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    A Theatrical Look at Diplomacy and the Oslo Accords (REVIEW)

    Is diplomacy worthwhile, even if the end result isn’t what we hoped for? That is the question, among many others, posed by the new play Oslo, by J.T. Rogers. Making its New York debut at Lincoln Center, the play examines the secret diplomatic process that led to the historic 1993 peace accords. The character of Shimon Peres makes an appearance onstage — and he, along with Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, tower over the proceedings. But they mainly do so in absentia. Instead, […]

    Read more →
  • Spirituality/Tradition Sports Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    Israeli Trailblazer Dean Kremer Brings Jewish Values to Nascent Pro Baseball Career

    JNS.org – Other than being part of the Los Angeles Dodgers organization, Sandy Koufax and Dean Kremer have something else in common: a respect for Jewish tradition. Koufax — who was recently ranked by ESPN as the best left-handed pitcher in Major League Baseball (MLB) history — decided not to pitch Game 1 of the 1965 World Series because the game fell on Yom Kippur. “I would do the same,” Kremer said in an interview. Last month, the 20-year-old Kremer became […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    Lead Guitarist of British Rock Band Queen Asks Adam Lambert to Sing in Hebrew During Upcoming Israel Concert

    The famed lead guitarist of British rock band Queen, Brian May, encouraged Jewish singer-songwriter Adam Lambert to perform in Hebrew during their upcoming joint concert in Israel, an entertainment industry advocacy organization reported on Tuesday. During a recent interview with Israeli television personality Assi Azar, May was played a 2005 video of Lambert singing the popular song Shir L’Shalom, (Song for Peace). May was so impressed by Lambert’s singing of the Hebrew track that he told the American singer, “We have to do that. Let’s […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    Kenyan Marathoner to Compete for Israel in Rio Olympics

    JNS.org – Kenyan-born marathoner Lonah Chemtai is expected to compete for Israel at the Olympics Games in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil next month after gaining a last minute approval. “I am very proud [to represent Israel] and I hope to achieve a new personal best time,” Chemtai told Reuters. Chemtai, who grew up a rural village in western Kenya, first came to Israel in 2009 to care of the children of her country’s ambassador to Israel. The 27-year-old runner recently gained […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish Identity Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    Will Laughs Lead to Love on Show About Orthodox Dating?

    To date or not to date? That is not the question for most Modern Orthodox singles in New York. The question is when will they find their future spouses, and when will their families stop nagging them about having babies? Inspired by the success of the Israeli show “Srugim,” Leah Gottfried, 25, decided she would create and star in her own show, “Soon By You.” “Dating is so serious already,” Gottfried said. “We wanted to take a lighter approach and laugh at the […]

    Read more →