By Tom Wilson
Last week, Jonathan Tobin wrote of how we were on the eve of a fourth Palestinian “no” to a peace agreement. It would appear that has now arrived, albeit slightly sooner than anyone had expected. Many observers assumed that once Secretary of State John Kerry got around to submitting his framework for a negotiated peace, Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas would then set about finding an excuse for rejecting it. What few could have predicted was that Abbas would find a way to reject the proposal before it was even submitted. Yet, this is precisely the impressive feat that Abbas has now accomplished.
Earlier today, Abbas’s spokespeople in Ramallah announced the PA’s new set of red lines in any negotiated peace settlement. Each and every one of these red lines blows to pieces anything Kerry was about to propose, as it does to the prospects for an agreement between the two sides in general. These red lines which Abbas details in a letter being sent to the U.S. and the Quartet seamlessly preempts whatever Kerry was likely to outline in his own peace parameters. In this way Abbas artfully dodges a scenario in which the Israelis would agree to a peace plan and the Palestinians would come under pressure not to derail yet another effort to resolve the conflict.
Abbas’s new red lines block just about every concession that the Israelis, and even the U.S., have requested. Abbas demands: a total Israeli withdrawal from all territories that went to Israel in 1967; that Israel complete that withdrawal within three to four years; that the Palestinians not be required to recognize the Jewish state; that east Jerusalem be specified as the capital of a Palestinian state; the release of all Palestinian prisoners; and resolving the refugee issue along the lines of UN General Assembly resolution 194, which in essence means sending those Palestinians claiming to be refugees, not to a Palestinian state, but to Israel, thus terminating the existence of the Jewish state Abbas refuses to recognize.
“Without these principles there can be no just and comprehensive peace in the region,” stated Abbas’s spokesman Abu Rudeineh. So it seems we can now bid farewell to Kerry’s rather shambolic efforts for reaching a negotiated peace, much of which have been marred by the trading of insults and accusations between the State Department and Israeli politicians, all the while with the EU standing on the sidelines, issuing threats about the repercussions for Israel should talks fail. In fact, earlier today EU parliamentary president Martin Shulz was in Israel’s Knesset lecturing Israelis (in German) on making “painful concessions for peace,” bemoaning the hardships he accused Israel of having inflicted on the Palestinians.
Israel’s chief negotiator, Tzipi Livni, recently suggested that on the matter of the Palestinians accepting the Jewish state we might be in for a surprise. As it turned out, we weren’t. No one will be surprised by this rejection from the Palestinians, even if its early timing will have caught some a little off-guard. Even President Obama, who had been speaking of Kerry’s framework having a less than 50 percent likelihood of success, won’t be surprised when he receives Abbas’s letter. And Kerry, who was seeing all of this unfold close-up, surely won’t be able to claim to be surprised either.
As it was, the State Department was increasingly looking like it was about to try strong-arming the Israelis into accepting a framework, even on such unacceptable matters as a full Israeli withdrawal from the Jordan valley. Kerry was beginning to issue thinly veiled threats to the Israelis about what might become of Israel should it not find a way to appease Palestinian demands. There were also rumors that the State Department was trying to get the White House to back efforts to pressure the Israelis into accepting a deal even less to Israel’s liking than the one it originally seemed Kerry was about to come up with. Now, presumably, Prime Minister Netanyahu won’t have to worry about being asked to accept parameters that no Israeli leader could be expected to inflict on their people. Instead, Abbas has most likely deflected that whole unpleasant business.
What remains to be seen is how the EU, the State Department, J Street, the boycotters, the writers of Haaretz and the New York Times, and indeed Abbas himself will manage to pin this whole debacle on Israel and Netanyahu.