by David Meir-Levi
Most of FrontPage Magazine’s readers already know that U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta yelled at the wrong guy in early December, 2011, when he scolded Netanyahu with his misplaced adjuration: “just get to the damn table.” But it will still be useful to take a quick look at the many times that Israeli leaders have invited Arab leaders to that “damn table” and have been rebuffed, in word and in deed, by Arab leaders.
For a summary of the 31 times since 1937 that Arab leaders have not only refused Israeli offers of peace, but have responded with war, terrorist attacks, and threats of genocide and annihilation, see two earlier articles by the present writer, here and here.
Over the past few years, there has emerged a new and different pattern that, while obvious and transparent, has not made much of an impression on Secretary Panetta or other of the USA’s or EU’s spokespersons.
This new pattern is: PA President Mahmoud Abbas creates pre-conditions for negotiations that he knows Israel cannot accept. Then he refuses to join in negotiations that are open-ended and without pre-conditions. Then he blames Israel for its refusal to agree to his unacceptable pre-conditions. Then Western leaders and journalists blame Israel for the “log jam” in negotiations.
In June 20091, shortly after he formed his coalition government, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called publicly for direct negotiations toward a two-state solution. A PA spokesperson, speaking on behalf of President Abbas, declared the PA’s refusal to respond to Netanyahu’s invitation.
In November, 2009, Israel implemented its 10-month “settlement” construction freeze as a compromise response to US President Obama’s demands and called upon Abbas to join him “in meaningful peace negotiations…that will finally end the conflict.” Abbas again rejected Netanyahu’s invitation, first insisting that he would wait until the construction freeze was over before he would consider joining Netanyahu in negotiations; but then, when the 10-month freeze drew to an end, he threatening that he would not meet with Netanyahu unless the Israeli prime minister continue the freeze and extend it to include East Jerusalem, which had been excluded from the original freeze agreement.
In February 2011, Netanyahu again called for a resumption of negotiations, and made some goodwill gestures to enhance the Palestinian economy. Not only did Abbas rebuff these gestures, but he announced his intention to side-step negotiations with Israel and take his case for Palestinian statehood to the UN despite President Obama’s objections.
In May 2011, Netanyahu again offered to restart negotiations for a two-state solution and promised significant territorial concessions. Abbas ignored Netanyahu, President Obama, and even the loss of $200 million in American aid; and instead he wrote his infamous op-ed essay in the New York Times in which he promised that even when “Palestine” becomes the 194th state in the UN, the conflict would not be over. The new state of “Palestine,” once it became the 194th member of the UN’s family of nations, would pursue political avenues of redress against Israel at the UN, the International Court of Justice and other human rights milieus.
In September 2011, at his speech before the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu renewed his invitation to Abbas. Abbas refused the offer and instead pressed on with his ultimately unsuccessful attempt at UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
Even Netanyahu’s “economic peace” plan of September 2009, that would have helped return the West Bank to the economic prosperity that it enjoyed during most of the pre-Oslo era from 1967 to 2004, was summarily dismissed by Abbas because it demanded that the PA put a stop to terror attacks emanating from the West Bank. Abbas rejected it, saying that: “We refuse to be security agents for Israel.” In other words, the PA prefers to tolerate, and therefore encourage, terror attacks against Israel rather than engage in cooperation with Israel that will economically benefit the Arabs of the West Bank.Israel’s refusal to accommodate Palestinian pre-conditions is rational and politically sound. If Israel were to agree in advance to:
- A complete cessation of all Israeli construction anywhere over the so-called “green line,” including east Jerusalem ( a growing family cannot add a bathroom, villages or towns cannot build housing , schools or even preschools to accommodate local natural growth);
- ceding of all of the West Bank to the PA and forcibly removing hundreds of thousands of Israelis from their homes; and
- acquiescence to the PA’s “Haq el-Awda” (The “right of return”) flooding Israel with millions of Arabs claiming refugee status and their descendents; then
Israel would be making enormous, costly, and dangerous concessions in advance of any PA agreements. But equally important, if one side acquiesces to all of the other side’s demands before negotiations even begin, then what are they negotiating about? The very idea of such pre-conditions renders negotiations meaningless.
It is important to point out that Israel has demands of its own; but these are not pre-conditions to negotiations, they are desired ends of negotiations.
Perhaps most problematic of all, PA leaders have worked long and hard to find a way to reconcile with Hamas and form a unified PA-Hamas strategy for what they call “popular resistance,” which Israel understands to mean renewed terrorism and a third Intifada.
Re-unification with Hamas poses the greatest threat to Israel. Hamas has been unrelenting in its commitment to an endless war against Israel, “until victory or martyrdom.” Hamas has also consistently refused any possibility of compromises with Israel, as well as any diplomatic process and any interaction that might end in peace and a cessation of hostilities. Polls and other reports indicate that Hamas enjoys much popularity on the West Bank that it, and therefore its agenda items and priorities, could become the dominant force in the West Bank if Hamas and the PA were united there. Israel has made it clear that it will not allow the West Bank to become another Hamastan, a massive launching pad for terrorism, for qasam rockets, and a new and improved training ground for the world’s worst terrorist murderers.
But the PA is forced into this strategy of re-unification with Hamas because without Hamas it loses credibility as an active participant in the 75-year-long genocidal war against Israel. El-qaeda and Hamas have condemned Abbas as a collaborator with Israel because he has made the mere pretense of willingness to negotiate. Abbas needs that credibility in order to continue benefiting from the largesse of Arab confrontation states and Iran.
So the PA must insist to its own constituency that it is refusing to negotiate, while representing to the USA and EU that it is Israel which is obstructing even indirect talks. This charade was exposed by the Quartet recently when Abbas and Sa’eb Erekat, a senior PA negotiator, demanded that the Quartet serve as a conduit for the communication of PA proposals, because the PA leaders were unwilling to meet directly with Israeli leaders. To their credit, Quartet officials refused to support the PA in this endeavor to circumvent direct talks, and told Abbas: “If you have something to say to the Israelis, you should give it to them directly.”
The latest attempt to get PA leaders to the negotiating table, this time in early January in Amman, foundered at the very onset. Palestinian representatives demanded that the talks be termed “exploratory talks” and not “peace talks,” and clashes about protocol and delegation participants moved the Palestinian side to refuse to even enter the same room with the Israelis. By all accounts the talks produced little, and the Palestinian side early on announced its decision to terminate them at the end of January. As this last in a long series of failed talks drew to a close on January 26, a new wave of terror attacks began in the West Bank, with daily attacks on individual Israeli motorists driving in the West Bank and the death of a father and son murdered on the main highway between Hebron and Jerusalem.
Mr. Panetta take note: Israel is already seated at that “damn table” but “peace” and “negotiations” are simply not in the PA’s vocabulary.
David Meir-Levi writes and lectures on Middle East topics, until recently in the History Department of San Jose State University.
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