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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.