It is difficult to know what to make of the President of The Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. He went to Washington at the invitation of President Obama, ostensibly to engage in direct peace talks with Israel.
Everyone understands that, if these talks are to get anywhere, compromises and concessions will have to be made by both parties. Indeed, Abbas has threatened to boycott the process should Israel recommence construction work over the 1947 Armistice line (Green line) following the termination of the current freeze on building due to expire at the end of this month.
There are good reasons why Prime Minister Netanyahu would be well advised to extend that freeze as a gesture of goodwill, even though such a course of action would inevitably place his current coalition government in jeopardy. That having been said, gestures have to be reciprocal.
President Abbas is reported in The Jerusalem Post this Tuesday as having stated that “If they (the Israeli negotiators) demand concessions on the rights of the refugees or the 1967 borders, I will quit. I can’t allow myself to make even one concession.”
If President Abbas cannot make any concessions, why did he go to Washington? Did he expect, on the basis of past experience, that President Obama would force Israel to make compromises while the Palestinians could sit back and reap the benefits?
Given our experience in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip, Israel has every right to demand acceptable security arrangements as a condition for her withdrawal from the areas of the West Bank in which her forces continue to operate. Equally, Israel cannot be expected to absorb any more than a token number of the Palestinians who fled, or were forced out of their homes, over sixty years ago.
If President Abbas does not recognize that these are red line issues for Israel in negotiations that are intended to result in the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, it is difficult to understand what he thought the negotiations in Washington would be all about.