What Would Abbas’ Palestinian State Look Like?
Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri recently called Mahmoud Abbas “a traitor who is selling Palestine.” The statement was made in a speech available on al-Qaeda-affiliated websites, and he also said that while Fatah claimed to be a national liberation movement, it had in fact become the movement that was selling out the homeland, and that its president had waived the rights of the refugees to appease the United States.
Shortly after the speech was made public, top Fatah members called al-Zawahiri a hypocrite. They accused him of trying, “in the service of the Zionist plot,” to cause a rift within the Palestinian people at a time when Mahmoud Abbas was facing threats and pressure to surrender to American and Israeli demands. Fatah spokesman Ahmed Assaf accused al-Qaeda of never having taken an interest in the Palestinian cause, and although the entire world was their battlefield, it had not carried out so much as one action against the Israeli occupation.
Al-Zawahiri’s accusations reflect the atmosphere of failure surrounding Abbas and his supporters after the last round of negotiations with Israel, and are an omen for the future. Something upset the Palestinian leadership’s recent sense of euphoria, and the situation is such that Abbas has threatened to resign, dismantle the Palestinian Authority and turn everything over to Israel.
Until just recently, Abbas and his supporters were convinced they could link the European Union’s pressure on Israel to the American effort brokered by Secretary of State John Kerry to twist Israel’s arm and force it to make further concessions toward establishing a “Palestinian state,” without the Palestinians having to concede anything. The Palestinian tactic was inherited from Yasser Arafat, author of the “salami plan” to dismantle Israel slice by slice, an illustration of the Arabic saying “khuz watalib,” “Take and demand more.” The Palestinians had aspirations to obtain a state without having to pay Israel any price that the Palestinian, Arab and Islamic streets might consider “unfavorable.” The illusion of exploiting the negotiations’ momentum and getting “Palestine” for free was joined by the Israeli left’s cry of “gevalt,” lest Israel’s not caving in to the Palestinians’ demands would immediately lead to the third Intifada, to sanctions, to forcing Israel to become a binational state or, heaven forbid, to Mahmoud Abbas’ resignation, which would leave Israel to deal with the chaos in Judea and Samaria alone.
In response to the Palestinian mantra of “Take and demand more,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formulated his own mantra, “Give and you will get, don’t give and you won’t get.” In the meantime and quite unexpectedly, the Palestinians had the global media rug pulled out from under them and were forced to the sidelines by the talks with nuclear Iran, the drama unfolding in Ukraine, and the ongoing slaughter in Syria. Israel’s firm position on the issue of its Jewish character put the Palestinians in a vise. They are now at a crossroads, where accepting Israel as a Jewish state will write “finis” to the so-called “right of return” (the “right” of all the descendants of the Palestinian refugees to return to the territory of the State of Israel), and will of necessity lead to the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The last round of talks made it clear that Abbas and the rest of the Palestinian leadership reject a peace agreement with Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state, and are manipulating marginal technical excuses. The threats, veiled or not, by radical Islamists (such as those made by al-Zawahiri) and a quick look at Arab-Muslim world, especially Syria, have made it clear to the Palestinians what the future has in store for them, and it now appears that in the meantime, they prefer the status quo to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Thus, it is easy to understand why the negotiations with Israel have faltered and stalled.
Abbas and his advisers are gradually abandoning the illusion that Israel will agree to commit suicide just to please them and are beginning to realize that Israel will never accept the descendants of the original refugees who fled in 1948, to say nothing of the jihadists who will try to hitch a ride on the so-called “right of return.” Abbas knows that if the Palestinians really do decide to establish an independent state alongside Israel, as part of the peace agreement they will have to accept all those descendants. That is a message Abbas will never be able to send to the Palestinians in the “dispersal.” If he agrees to the condition that there will be no “right of return” into Israeli territory, the future Palestinian state will have to allow the millions of Palestinian descendants spread around the globe to enter “Palestine” and claim Palestinian citizenship. Legions of them will do so to escape the poverty, slaughter, racism and discrimination that have been their lot in the poverty-stricken, conflict-ridden Arab states in which they have lived for years, where they are second-class residents with neither citizenship nor basic civil rights.
The Palestinian leadership knows that if their demand for Palestinian control of the Jordan Valley crossings were accepted, the operative result would be floods of people seeking entrance into “liberated Palestine.” They know that among them would be operatives of all the Palestinian terrorist organizations, to say nothing of the armed jihadists currently active in the Arab-Muslim world, especially in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, who would stream in “to liberate all Palestine.” The new Palestinian state would have no grounds to refuse entrance to the “jihad heroes,” or to close its borders to all those attracted by the prosperity in Judea and Samaria, or to those who hoped to enter Israel or to those who intended use “Palestine” as a convenient base from which to attack Israel.
The Palestinian leadership, which is supposed to establish a Palestinian state alongside Israel in the West Bank, understands that what is happening in Syria, i.e. the destruction caused by the Islamic organizations fighting there, will be replicated in the new Palestinian state itself. Simple observation of the activities of al-Qaeda-affiliated organizations in Syria, among them the Al-Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, reveals that they are on a rampage of murder, rape and robbery, and that innocent civilians are their hapless victims. In addition, the Palestinian leadership has not forgotten how its people were killed and thrown from the roofs in the Gaza Strip as Hamas took over, not a particularly encouraging lesson.
In addition, the masses that stream into “Palestine” will demand a role in government and will clash with Palestinian property owners and demand that resources be reapportioned. Jihad fighters who enter Judea and Samaria in the name of the “right of return” will use force to introduce a lifestyle based on the Sharia, and with Hamas will begin a revolution that will end with the establishment of an Islamic emirate alongside the one in the Gaza Strip. Later, the Islamist terrorist organizations will quarrel among themselves and vie for control of the territory (exactly like what is happening now in Syria, where the Islamist organizations war with one another as they fight to wrest control from Bashar Assad), even as they wage a military confrontation with Israel.
This scenario will inevitably lead to the end of Palestinian security collaboration with Israel, which the Palestinian Authority currently enjoys and which serves its interests. The final act will be the internal destruction of the Palestinian Authority, crowned by the hanging of Abbas and those close to him, after which their bodies will be dragged to the main square in Ramallah. The property of the corrupt upper echelons of Fatah will be confiscated – property they stole and money they embezzled from Western and Arab aid funds which were originally intended for projects for the Palestinians.
After that, Hamas and the Salafist-jihadi organizations will force themselves on the local population, but the battles between the Palestinian and Islamist organizations will give rise to chaos and destruction within Palestinian territory, mass murders and the destruction of the infrastructure built when the West Bank was under Israeli control. The Islamists, some of them jihad tourists from other killing fields, will wreak havoc among Palestinians civilians, their property and their women exactly as they are currently doing in Syria. Terrorist attacks on Israel will increase and Israel will respond with increasing violence and the almost-flowering Palestinian territory, currently neighboring on Israel, will become a wasteland, sharing the fate of the cities of the Arab Spring. As usual, Israel will be held responsible for the internal Palestinian slaughter, just as it was held responsible for the slaughter of the Palestinians by the Maronites in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps in Beirut.
Abbas conducted negotiations in an attempt to wrest tactical gains from Israel in order to preserve the momentum, extend his rule (which is neither legal nor supported by a Palestinian consensus) and wait until a better opportunity presents itself to act against Israel, for, according to the Arab saying, “Allah favors the patient.” Abbas wants neither peace nor an independent Palestinian state because it would mean the end of the conflict with Israel and the establishment of a state coexisting with Israel, the recognition of Israel as legitimate and as a Jewish state. That result goes against Palestinian interests and is an infallible recipe for the internal destruction of the Palestinian Authority. The establishment of a Palestinian state coexisting with Israel will shatter the newborn Palestinian dream of the “return,” the expulsion of the Jews, and the takeover of all “Palestine.”
Actually, Abbas does not want an independent Palestinian state under any conditions. An independent Palestinian state would entail free and democratic elections, which he and his associates would lose to Hamas. An independent Palestinian state would need Palestinian leaders who would finally have to take responsibility for their citizens without being able to blame the “occupation” for their own failures. An independent Palestinian state would have to end the embezzlement of funds and force the introduction of an independent economy with fiscal transparency. The establishment of a Palestinian state would end the massive influx of Arab and Western resources delivered in the name of “the Palestinian cause.”
The government in the Palestinian state would be forced to prevent the return of the descendants of the original Palestinian refugees even to “liberated Palestine” because of limitations of security, economy and territory. This action will enrage and cause antagonism among those who will not be allowed to settle in “Palestine.” The Palestinian state will also have to find a way to deal with the Gaza Strip, whose population suffers from every form of socio-economic backwardness and is completely different from the population of the West Bank. It will have to cope with Hamas, the dominant factor in the Gaza Strip, which is belligerent and hostile to the other Palestinian organizations and their supporters. Hamas will use force to Islamize the secular lifestyle of the Palestinians in the West Bank, just as it has in the Gaza Strip.
Establishing a state side by side with Israel is not good for the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority’s situation will deteriorate even further if Israel abandons the Jordan Valley border and turns it over to the Palestinians. Abbas is trying to squeeze interim concessions out of Israel as a way of maintaining his regime’s momentum and convincing the Palestinians, an increasing number of whom support Hamas and the Salafist-jihadis in their campaign against Israel and the West and do not want a Palestinian state that will live in peaceful coexistence with Israel, that he has actually achieved something. Secretary of State John Kerry is to be congratulated on his efforts to bring peace to Israel and the Palestinians, but as far as Abbas and his followers are concerned, the vision of establishing a Palestinian state is like the work of recently-deceased Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a “chronicle of a death foretold.”
Pursuing a policy of brinkmanship, the Palestinians instituted moves for an international boycott of Israel, increasing the tension and violence on the ground, and also asked for recognition and the status of a national state in various UN agencies, violating agreements with Israel. In addition, Abbas threatened to resign, dismantle the Palestinian Authority and make Israel responsible for the fate of the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. His threats were virtually unnoticed and had no effect.
The need for a Palestinian decision to recognize Israel as a Jewish state and abandon the so-called “right of return” was raised in the negotiations Kerry brokered. It is a just, legitimate demand, and it became an obvious and accepted condition for ending the conflict, achieving peace and establishing a Palestinian state. Abbas refused, and his refusal meshed with the ideology of Hamas, an arrogant Palestinian terrorist organization that not only rejects any peace agreement with Israel, but is committed to destroying it. Internal Palestinian reconciliation became attractive to Hamas because of its precarious position, having lost the support of Syria, Iran and Hizballah. In addition, Hamas has been outlawed by Egypt as a terrorist organization and is being pursued as such. The Egyptian army has destroyed 1,400 smuggling tunnels under the border at Rafah, which served to provide Hamas with ammunition, logistics and funding for its terrorist activities.
Thus, at the end of April, the PLO and Hamas held a series of meetings in the Shati refugee camp near Gaza City. They pieced together a unity agreement on the only single common factor of their totally different ideologies, which is seeking Israel’s destruction and the establishment of a Palestinian state in its place, but until recently they disagreed over authority and the way to realize their dream. The agreement reached included the formation of an interim government of “technocrats,” elections, and processing a joint new national agenda that would crystalize and express both sides’ “national and religious” aspirations. Nevertheless President Mahmoud Abbas claims that he will continue supporting the negotiations with Israel, but his new-found ally Ismail Haniyeh, who is head of the terrorist administration in the Gaza Strip, insists on establishing a Palestinian state on “all the land of Palestine.”
Now one can only hope that the Americans finally understand with whom they are dealing. Only the future will tell if the dog is wagging its tail or if the tail is wagging the dog.
Dr. Reuven Berko has a Ph.D. in Middle East studies, is a commentator on Israeli Arabic TV programs, writes for the Israeli daily newspaper Israel Hayom and is considered one of Israel’s top experts on Arab affairs.