Sunday, February 16, 2014

Palestinians Confirm: It’s a “No”

by Tom Wilson

Few seemed to be listening earlier this week when the Palestinian Authority released a list of red lines that in practice meant an outright rejection of Secretary of State John Kerry’s peace framework. Prior to this, noises were coming from PA officials suggesting that they are not happy with Kerry’s efforts or enthusiastic about his proposals. But, in contrast to when figures in the Israeli government express skepticism about the negotiations, remarkably few seemed to be willing to hear any of this from the Palestinians. The Washington Post and The Times of Israel both recounted that Abbas had indeed released new red lines. But there was little sense given that these red lines were effectively driving a stake through the heart of any viable framework agreement. The State Department released no official statement, and even the Israelis apparently decided they weren’t dignifying Abbas’s outlandish demands with a public response.

So now the Palestinians are turning up the volume on their rejectionism, perhaps in the hope that someone will acknowledge that they are serious about what they are saying. The PA has officially informed Kerry that they will not accept his framework in its present form. This itself is confusing since Kerry has not yet released a full framework, merely the vaguest of outlines of one, and less than ten days ago the State Department’s spokespeople were denying that such a framework even existed.

As part of this concerted rejectionist push, one senior PA administrator even stressed, “We said ‘No’ to him in the past, and we will say it again in the future.” What is still more remarkable about this is that it doesn’t simply concern the content of any agreement, but the very principle of the PA even participating in an agreement. According to the Times of Israel, all of the officials that spoke to them claimed that the PA could not reach an agreement because it does not have legitimacy in the eyes of the Palestinian public for taking such a move. They’re not wrong. Abbas is now ten years into his four-year electoral term as president. In the past Abbas has used the end of the Israeli prime minister’s term to walk away from an agreement, as he did with Ehud Olmert in 2008. Now it seems that the Palestinian Authority may use its own lack of legitimacy to flee peace talks.

The Palestinians may be aware that issuing an outright “no” to having any agreement with Israel ever would not play out well for their international standing. A “no” has to be delivered in such a way that it can at least be framed as merely a rejection of specific proposals. But by making every single proposal a red line it is clear that the Palestinians are in effect saying “no” to the whole thing. And if they are serious about pushing this line that they don’t have the authority to make an agreement with Israel, then they are essentially ruling out the very possibility of agreeing to anything. Presumably the only thing that would change this status would be new Palestinian elections–and there’s no sign of these coming anytime soon.

Whether the U.S. administration or the international community wish to acknowledge it, the Palestinians are saying loudly and clearly “no.” At some point policy will have to be adjusted to recognize this reality.

Tom Wilson


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