Palestinian Leverage

An article in Haaretz today describes the problems that the Palestinians have with the current moratorium extension proposal. The article quotes an unnamed Israeli official as saying:

The political benefits that Israel would receive as part of the package of understanding with the U.S. are not acceptable to the Palestinians because they ease some of the pressure on Israel and make it impossible for [the Palestinians] to apply their strategy of evading direct talks and of trying to force Israel into an arrangement through UN resolutions.

One might argue that this strategy should be dismissed outright by the United States, that the United States should argue, as it along with Israel have been arguing, that direct talks are the only means to achieve peace. Certainly, to take the debate to the UN would be bad for Israel, but for the United States to allow that to happen would be to abandon its relationship with Israel and its influence in the region. The UN is extraordinarily hostile to Israel and would vote Israel out of existence if given the opportunity, much less take the Palestinian side.

The US must discourage this kind of thought process. This cannot be an option afforded the Palestinians because if they were to choose it and the US were to back off, the result would be persecution of Israel on a scale never before witnessed and of Jews on a scale witnessed all too often throughout history. The US must stand up for Israel. So, if in fact, this really is the Palestinian strategy, and it appears to be, the Palestinians must be forced to abandon it.

The Haaretz article notes specific concerns that may be driving Palestinian opposition to the agreement beyond that noted above:

Officials in Jerusalem believe that the Palestinians are particularly disturbed by the following guarantees given by Clinton:

1. The understanding would prevent the Palestinians from demanding another extension of the West Bank construction freeze at the end of the 90-day period, and would take off the agenda completely any building moratorium in East Jerusalem.

2. The American promise to veto any anti-Israeli proposals in the United Nations for more than a year would foil the Palestinian plan to get either the Security Council or the General Assembly to recognize a unilateral declaration of statehood.

In addition, the Palestinians want the Obama administration to agree to set the borders of a future state as soon as the temporary West Bank freeze is over.

In all honesty, none of these is reasonable for the US to concede to the Palestinians. The last point, functionally also the first point, namely setting borders, is what negotiations should be about. The Palestinians want far more than they may obtain through negotiations and thus, do not wish to negotiate. This is partly due to the fact that short of threatening to allow Hamas to take over the West Bank (which would be catastrophic for the members of Abbas’ party, much less for the Palestinian people as a whole) or threatening another intifada (which didn’t work before and done now would simply ruin a thriving economy and result in many deaths without gaining anything for the Palestinians), the Palestinian Authority has no bargaining chips.

Some of the few chips on its side at all come from other Arab nations, namely normalization of relations and trade. However, those Arab nations are on the hook to make citizens of tens of thousands, or in some cases hundreds of thousands, of Palestinians once peace happens (after compensation is paid to those Palestinians for lost property), and they are reluctant to do that. Syria and Lebanon are now united with Iran and could not be trusted in a peace agreement, even if they were to agree to one. Worse, Jordan and Egypt are both far more worried about the consequences of having a potentially radical Palestinian state on their borders than they are about maintaining the status-quo. In other words, the Palestinians do not really have these bargaining chips either. The Arab nations prefer to keep the status-quo.

The only changes since the rejection of the agreement at Camp David in 2000 WEAKEN the Palestinian position, namely a Hamas takeover of Gaza, the rocketing of Israel from Gaza (making Israelis fear the possibility of that happening from the West Bank also), and increasing Iranian influence on Gaza making it less likely that moderation will be forthcoming. Now with perhaps the President most likely to work with them for a long time to come sitting in the Oval Office, the Palestinians have little ability or will to act.

Personally, I would think that the 2000 proposal is not one that the Israelis would accept at this point, much less something more generous to the Palestinians. In 2000, there was an assumption that Hamas would NOT be allowed to be the government of such a state. Now, Israel would need significant additional security guarantees.

The idea that future proposals would move in the direction that the Palestinians desire makes no sense unless the US forces them to go there which is unlikely given that the US shares many of the same concerns that the Israelis have.

More to come, I am certain.

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