The decision by the Palestinian Authority, with the backing of the Arab League, to suspend direct negotiations with Israel until such time as the latter places a freeze upon construction, is a strange response coming from a people yearning to establish a homeland of its own.
When the United Nations voted on the partition of Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state in November 1947, the Jewish Agency immediately accepted the resolution even though it would have involved dividing the Jewish State into three separate enclaves. That is how people behave when they are really desperate for statehood.
The reaction of Mahmoud Abbas to Israel’s decision to re-commence construction after a 10-month moratorium – something that she said she would do at the outset – is hardly the response of a political leader committed to advancing the cause of peace.
Meantime, the US Administration is trying to put a brave face on it all by expressing its appreciation for “the Arab League’s statement of support for our efforts to create conditions that will allow direct talks to move forward.”
However, the truth is that the decision by the Arab League to give the United States a further month to pressure Israel into halting settlement building has more to do with President Obama’s domestic political timetable than with anything happening in the Middle East.
Had the US Administration not made the construction moratorium an issue, the Palestinians would never have jumped on the opportunity to make it a pre-condition for direct negotiations. Indeed, peace talks took place between the Palestinians, including Yassir Arafat, and previous Israeli governments without any such demands.
The lack of willingness on the part of the Palestinians to negotiate may just be because they have other plans in mind. Saeb Erekat, their chief negotiator, has warned that they intend to call upon the United Nations to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Such a proposal, which would once again place the Jewish Quarter of the Old City and the Western Wall in Arab hands and would not recognize the suburbs of French Hill and Gilo as part of Jewish Jerusalem, is a non-starter. Surely Erekat knows that.
And, so, one is left wondering what the Palestinians want. Are they really looking for a country of their own living side by side with Israel in peace? A 2009 poll, commissioned by OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine in collaboration with Dr. Colin Irwin of the Institute of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, showed that no less than 71% of Palestinians insist that their future state should comprise all of the territories from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean.
If that is truly the case, then it is hardly surprising that Mahmoud Abbas isn’t that interested in negotiating for less.