Can Abbas still be a peace partner?

Published in Israel Hayom, September 30, 2012  Click for a printer-friendly version.

Abbas’ U.N. speech indicates no real desire to negotiate, only to place Israel in the international dock of criminality. He must be dragged down from the aggressive perch dangerously high up on the warlike tree that he has planted in the PA. A renewed multilateral effort for the proven combination of state-building and security cooperation is the best way forward.

So Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is threatening us with war.  He stood before the UN General Assembly on Thursday, as if he were appearing before the International Criminal Court, and argued that Israel is guilty of numerous crimes, including – and I quote exactly – ethnic cleansing, terrorism, racism, inciting religious conflict, apartheid, house demolitions, dispossession, imprisoning “soldiers of freedom,” a policy of war, occupation, settlement colonization, peace obstructionism and much more.

Israel is preparing a new “nakba” (catastrophe) for the Palestinians, he charged.

Consequently, Abbas declared, the international community must “compel the government of Israel to respect the Geneva Conventions” and impose a “solution” (a Palestinian state) on Israel.

Like the letter that Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad sent to Prime Minister Netanyahu in April, Abbas’ text mixes fact with fiction, is maximalist and threatening, and indicates no real desire to negotiate – only to place Israel in the international dock of criminality.

The April letter and September speech clearly lay out the bogus diplomatic history on which the PA is basing itself and its strategy going forward. The language used is manipulatively taken directly from the texts and discourse of international law. The PA “seeks the full and complete implementation of international law” to criminalize and penalize Israel’s presence “as an occupying power in all of the occupied Palestinian territory.”

The International Criminal Court is getting ready to play along with the PA’s strategy. According to the ICC’s new prosecutor, Gambia-born Fatou Bensouda (speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington this weekend, reported by Haviv Retig of The Times of Israel), “if Palestine is able to pass over the hurdle of statehood (by UNGA recognition as a non-member state), we will revisit what the ICC can do” about prosecuting Israel for war crimes against the Palestinians. The ICC, she said, would not need to wait for another Palestinian request to begin investigating Israel. (In other words, the original 2009 Palestinian Authority request to join the Rome Statute is enough to give the ICC jurisdiction to investigate the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at its discretion.)

Abbas’ speech is “more than a spit in the face,” says Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. Israel has practically begged the PA to enter unconditional peace talks with Israel, but Abbas has refused unless Israel concedes practically every point of contention on borders and settlements in advance. Israel has furthermore transferred to Abbas hundreds of millions of shekels in recent months to prop up the Palestinian economy, initiated and encouraged international development projects in the PA, and formally backed PA requests for mega-loans and grants from the IMF and other donor countries. “He didn’t even say a single word of thanks.”

With the Palestinians leadership planning this gang-up on Israel and the peace process seemingly at a dead end, radical and unwise alternative programs are being floated, ranging from deposing Abbas (Avigdor Lieberman) to unilateral disengagement (Ehud Barak).

A more sober and realistic look at diplomatic options has just been penned by former Israeli negotiator Tal Becker (who worked with Tzipi Livni) on behalf of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. In “Abbas’s Five Non-Options” Becker writes that Ramallah’s current path could lead to violence, further empowerment of extremists, or even the PA’s demise. Any PA move towards reconciliation with the Hamas, or unilateral UN recognition, or dismantlement of the PA, or non-violent/violent protests – are simply “untenable” at the moment, and attempts to broker final status talks are bound to fail badly as well, he writes. These are all bad policy options.

Consequently, Becker argues for a renewed multilateral effort to the proven combination of state-building and security cooperation as the best way forward for all parties.

“It is particularly unfortunate that much of the energy and promise that once surrounded the Palestinian state-building project has dissipated,” writes Becker. Unlike the bad options detailed above, a revitalized effort at Palestinian state-building can make concrete contributions to the creation of a viable long term peace. “With negotiations unlikely to begin soon, let alone to produce meaningful results, and with other alternatives potentially complicating the situation more than they advance it, working with Abbas and Fayad on building the institutions and mechanisms of a viable nascent Palestinian state seems more important than ever.”

The international community, writes Becker, must encourage the Fatah leadership to favor concrete gains on the ground over symbolic or political ones in the international arena or in the court of public opinion. “A serious effort to advance the state-building project may require diminishing the amount of political capital spent on trying to advance a negotiated peace that is currently not in the cards. Arguably, too much emphasis has been placed on trying to make deals to get the parties to the table, at the expense of deals that could have been reached to achieve progress on the ground. Even if both are critical, some degree of prioritization between state-building and negotiations is inevitable. In light of both sides’ constraints, now may be the time to favor small, tangible steps that can be achieved over the pursuit of laudable but presently unattainable outcomes.”

Becker pointedly notes that until now those who have floated such ideas have been rebuffed in large part by the argument that the Palestinian side will never agree. “But insufficient pressure has been brought to bear on the Palestinian side to properly valuate the dangers of this kneejerk opposition. Crafting interim measures that deal adequately with Israeli and Palestinian concerns will not be easy, but given the current alternatives, it has been given too little consideration.”

In short, Abbas has to be dragged down from the aggressive perch dangerously high up on the warlike tree that he has planted in the PA. Becker: “Before the Palestinian leadership feels compelled to chose an option that does much more harm than good, and before its indecision facilitates violence, the empowerment of more extreme figures, or its own demise – there is good reason to try to help Ramallah emerge from the present impasse in as constructive and pragmatic a way as possible.”

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

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