In diplomacy, as in sports, a team that refuses to play against a rival for political reasons forfeits the game without the other team having to lift a finger or raise a leg. That is what the Palestinian team can expect if its captain persists in his refusal to enter the negotiating arena with Israel. This scenario, and perhaps its anticipation, can be discerned from comments made in recent weeks by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and special envoy Jared Kushner and the administration’s Middle East envoy Jason Greenblatt. In an interview on June 24 with the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper, Kushner explained, “To make a deal, both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions.” Referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, he added, “I am not sure President Abbas has the ability to do that.”
In a June 10 article in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Greenblatt addressed the Palestinian leadership, stating that “the time for leadership and responsibility is now.” Greenblatt argued that the Palestinian claim that the United States is not an essential partner in any peace process is a “mirage,” as is the idea that Israel will disappear or that Jerusalem will not be its capital. “The reality is that there is an opportunity for peace at hand, and that President Trump and his administration are working to help facilitate a peace that will open up the future of the Palestinian people, if they and their leadership have the courage to seize it,” Greenblatt added. He lashed out at chief Palestinian negotiator and PLO Secretary-General Saeb Erekat. “We have heard your voice for decades and it has not achieved anything close to Palestinian aspirations or anything close to a comprehensive peace agreement.”
Erekat was not to be outdone. “The Trump administration was the one that walked away from the negotiations, from international law and UN resolutions,” the veteran diplomat said in a June 24 statement. John Kerry, the secretary of state in the Barack Obama administration who tried his hand at promoting negotiations between the sides, has asserted in the past that the Palestinians were not the main culprits in the prolonged failure to realize their aspirations and overall peace, contrary to claims by the new would-be American mediators. In fact, at a November 2017 closed-door conference in Dubai, Kerry praised the Palestinians, saying they “have done an extraordinary job of remaining committed to nonviolence.” On the other hand, “the majority of the Cabinet currently in the current Israeli government has publicly declared they are not ever for a Palestinian state,” Kerry added. He praised previous Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Olmert, Ehud Barak, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, who displayed the willingness to make peace and proposed measures to achieve it. Presumably, his omission of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s name was not an oversight.
Erekat got his facts right, but if Abbas persists in his boycott of the Trump administration, the Palestinians will be well on their way to forfeiting the game. Palestinian refusal to address the US plan supposed to be presented soon will free Netanyahu of the need to respond to it. The prime minister will not have to deal with his coalition partners and his Likud party members, whose vocabulary does not include the word “compromise.” Netanyahu will be able to congratulate Trump on his efforts to advance peace and boast of being vindicated, yet again, in claiming that there is no Palestinian partner for negotiations, a claim first sounded by Ehud Barak following the failure of his talks with PLO leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David 18 years ago.
Israeli and Palestinian peace activists told Al-Monitor this week that in recent days they have been trying to convince Abbas to rethink his refusal, to swallow the personal insults directed at him by the Americans and to enter the arena. Indeed, the Palestinians do not need to reinvent the wheel. All they need is to demand that UN resolutions are respected by the United States. Suffice it for them to pull up UN Security Council Resolution 1515 adopted unanimously in November 2003, at the instigation of Republican President George W. Bush. This important but sidelined resolution adopted the road map for peace drawn up by the Mideast Quartet (United States, Russia, EU and UN) that foresees the founding of an independent Palestinian state living in peace and security alongside Israel and its other neighbors.
The road map demanded that both sides issue a commitment to the two-state vision. It also adopted the formula proposed by the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, which supports an agreed upon, just, fair and realistic solution to the Palestinian refugee issue to be decided in negotiations. UNSC Resolution 1515 calls for conducting negotiations on the status of Jerusalem, which would take into account both sides’ political and religious concerns. An article on ending incitement refers to both sides equally. The document also demands a total freeze of construction in the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories and the dismantling of a series of Israeli outposts. Not only have successive Netanyahu-led governments ignored this demand since the road map was presented, the settlement map has gradually expanded.
Leading states of the European Union, one of the four road map signatories, have a lot of unfinished business with Trump, including his withdrawal of the United States from the nuclear deal with Iran, his move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem and his walkout from the G-7 summit. Germany, Britain and France do not have any obligation to the “ultimate deal” Trump pledged to achieve between Israel and the Palestinians. Their leaders will not miss an opportunity to teach Trump that on his way to restoring America’s greatness, he cannot trample other nations, even weak ones like the Palestinians. However, the road map notes that the goal of establishing a democratic Palestinian state would be achieved once the Palestinians have a leadership that takes decisive action against terrorism; a leadership able and willing to establish a democracy based on tolerance and freedom.
The Palestinian leadership could learn a thing or two about democracy and tolerance, but Israeli security officials confirm that the Palestinian Authority is acting resolutely to foil terror attacks in the limited areas under its purview (i.e., Area A as designated in the Oslo Accord, which constitutes 18% of the West Bank). On the other hand, clerical zealots and armed militias govern the Gaza Strip, an enclave also included in the vision of an independent Palestinian state. The Palestinian leaderships fears, probably rightly so, that Trump’s “ultimate deal” is designed to perpetuate the three-state reality: an expanded Israel, a shrunken West Bank and an isolated Gaza.
The way out of this reality is in implementing the principle Abbas laid out: “A single authority, a single law, a single weapon.” As long as the Palestinians fail to set their house in order and refuse to enter the diplomatic arena, the governments of the settlers and of Hamas will keep beating both peoples. Sadly, these are Pyrrhic victories.