Monday, December 24, 2012

Palestinians Burning Their Bridges

by Jonathan Tobin

The Palestinians and their leadership have spent the last 20 years converting a strong Israeli majority in favor of the peace process into one that regards the whole concept as a dangerous fantasy. Twenty years ago the Israeli left romped in an election that relegated the Likud to minority status. In next month’s Knesset elections, not even the Labor party will spend time advocating for more concessions to the Palestinians in exchange for the hope of peace. Terrorism, the second intifada, the rise of Hamas and the conversion of Gaza into a terror state have effectively destroyed the Israeli left. But rather than react to this somber shift in the mood of their neighbors with an attempt to restart peace talks or to convince them that their goal is to end the conflict rather than to merely continue it on more advantageous terms, the Palestinians are planning on doubling down on their negative image.

As the Associated Press reports, the Palestinian Authority is planning on responding to the expected re-election of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a wide range of activities designed to deepen rather than to ameliorate the antagonism and the cynicism with which the majority of Israelis view them. The PA plans to use its enhanced status at the UN to pursue specious charges of war crimes against Israelis in the International Criminal Court and advocating for sanctions and boycotts against the Jewish state. Worse than that, they are threatening not just to organize mass protests and confrontations with Israelis in the West Bank but to end all security cooperation between their armed forces and those of Israel, a measure that has helped keep relative peace in the region. While PA leader Mahmoud Abbas thinks this is a clever tactic designed to force President Obama to pressure Israel into giving in to more of his demands, the result will be nothing less than a third intifada that may help further isolate Israel but which will devastate the Palestinian economy and effectively end all hope for Israeli support for a two-state solution.

The Palestinians claim they have no choice but to resort to this strategy because the Israelis and even many of their foreign friends such as President Obama are ignoring them. But the reason why someone as sympathetic to the Palestinians and hostile to Israel’s government as Obama may have given up on the peace process is that four years of attempts to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction was never enough to convince the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

Palestinian harassment of Israelis at the UN and in international forums will be annoying but won’t change a thing. But their decision to go back to intifada tactics is a guarantee of bloodshed. They may claim their protests will be peaceful, but rock throwing inevitably escalates to more violent tactics. It is also a given that Hamas and terrorist elements of Abbas’s Fatah that are tasked with competing with the Islamists in that category will be using the protests as cover for attacks. If the PA ends security cooperation, it will end the same way the second intifada did with PA “police” joining the terrorists in shooting at Israelis.

This will kill what little support remains inside Israel for compromise with the PA. But Abbas is not wrong to believe that it will make the Palestinians more rather than less popular in Europe, where any form of Israeli self-defense will be depicted as immoral no matter what the circumstances might be. A rising tide of anti-Semitism on the continent has made Israel particularly unpopular there. But while heightening Israel’s isolation may seem like a smart thing to do in Ramallah, it won’t do a thing to give the Palestinians a better life or to get them closer to peace or independence.

The only thing that will do that is for Abbas to do the one thing he has refused to do since he fled the talks with Netanyahu’s predecessor when he was offered a state. The best alternative to the status quo isn’t an intifada that will send the conflict into another death spiral of violence and futility. It is negotiations for a two-state solution that no Israeli government could spurn. By choosing to avoid that obvious path to peace, the Palestinians are burning their last bridges to the Israeli people. They shouldn’t expect the United States, even during a second Obama administration to dig them out of the hole they are placing themselves in.

Jonathan Tobin


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