Once again the international community is pressuring Israelis and Palestinians to launch another round of peace talks. After 18 years of US sponsored Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a “two-state solution,” the once relished Oslo Accords are nearing an end. Despite the elaborate White House ceremony marking the beginning of negotiations in the summer of 2010, talks broke down after a few weeks. The official reasons for the Palestinians to withdraw from talks was settlement activity. Demanding that negotiations only take place once Israel halted all settlement activity in the West Bank and former East Jerusalem. The Israeli refusal to stop building in Jerusalem, which it views as separate to the West Bank, angered Washington. Such a precondition was never introduced in earlier negotiations, even under Arafat. Despite the unprecedented freeze on settlement building in the West Bank, a move that threatened to break apart Israel’s right-wing coalition government, negotiations were not restarted during the 10 month freeze.
The turmoil and instability within the Middle East threatens any possibility for a long-term peace agreement. Even when the region is more stable and predictable, all earlier negotiations have failed. Regional disorder only compounds the . Israel’s immediate neighbors; Syria, Jordan, and Egypt are politically unstable and volatile. Anti-Israel sentiment in Egypt and Jordan threatens to annul their peace treaties with Israel. Today, the Egypt-Israel gas pipeline was bombed for the 6th time! Egypt has lost control in the Sinai and has been unable and unwilling to halt new weaponry from entering Gaza from the Sudan and Libya. The PA needs support from their Arab neighbors for legitimacy and consults the Arab League on major policy issues. Securing an agreement requires a regional understanding, as the new PA state, if ever created would need military, political, and economic support from its immediate neighbors. Thus the strategic upheavals in the Arab world would make any agreement untenable.
The strategic situation of the Palestinian Authority is desperate. The PA is in dire economic straits and has come under a growing threat from its rival Hamas and supporting elements within the West Bank. Israel’s recent arrest of some 130 Hamas members in the Hebron area illustrate Hamas’s growing presence in Area A. The PA is a welfare entity. It survives off of international aid, mainly from the US, EU, and Israel. Recently the IMF disclosed that the PA would collapse if funds were not procured and would cease to work as an effective entity. The political gains Abbas has received from his UN bid have increased his regime’s stability and image, but as with all things in the Middle East, this stability could dissipate fast.
Recently the PA has played its usual card, threatening violence if its economic help is not provided for. This strategy has thus far worked, as Israelis and foreign donors, fearing another Intifada, continue to give funds. However, the economic crisis and instability in the world market threatens continued financial aid to a level needed for effective governance. The fact that the PA is unable to sustain any growth on its own and dependent on welfare from the international community, signifies they are not ready for a state. Therefore, it is not far-fetched to imagine the PA, absent of foreign aid, would soon collapse after becoming a member state. The last thing the Middle East needs is a new failed state that would allow another terror organization to launch a third asymmetrical war of attrition on Israel’s eastern border. Why would Israel accept any agreement under such uncertainty? After Israel left Gaza in 2005, Hamas grew in political and military power. In 2007, the PA was defeated in Gaza after ONE day of armed clashes with Hamas gunmen. Given the economic crisis and a weakening of America’s presence in the Middle East, there are no guarantees the PA would be able to support and sustain any agreement with Israel, let alone its hold on power.
On top of the geopolitical realities that threaten any agreement following negotiations, the actions and statements by the PA itself, limits the benefits of negotiating. The PA has clearly changed strategies with its unilateral bid to the UN. There are claims Israel violates the Oslo Accords by building in settlements, however, these actions do not alter the overall status of the West Bank as a disputed territory. The Oslo Accords forbid any unilateral action that alters the legal status of the West Bank, an agreement the PA has openly defied. Therefore, by seeking a UN vote on a Palestinian state, without an agreement to end the conflict with Israel, the PA would be able to continue the conflict with Israel.
PLO official Hanan Ashrawi stated in an interview with Christian Amanpour that basically negotiations are now only a tactic in achieving Palestinian goals, they are no longer the solution. Declaring their stance on negotiations so openly is surprising, as they are pursuing other means to establish a state. Over the past year, the PA has created many preconditions for negotiations and despite Israel’s settlement freeze, which was never done by any Israeli government, the PA refused to negotiate. They are asking for concessions they know Israel cannot give. There is nothing Israel can offer that would be more generous than the proposals in 2000 and 2008. Although Abbas called for negotiations following his UN bid, one day later the PA rejected Quartet sponsored negotiations with Israel due to the Quartet’s recommendation on accepting Israel as a Jewish state.
Recent declarations by PA officials illustrate their hardening position on negotiations with Israel. Along with Obama, PA officials have stated Israel must withdraw to pre-67 borders. This was a topic of negotiations, but the new PA strategy declares borders as a precondition. It has recently been affirmed the PA will have a future state Judenrein (Jew free). Thus, if Israel is forced return to 1967 borders and no Jews are allowed to live in a Palestinian state, Israel would be forced to uproot and expel some 600,000 Jews. Such an operation is unfeasible and not based on any reality. The settlements of Ariel, Maaleh Adumim, Modin Illit, and Beitar Illit, which are essentially small cities, are not going anywhere.
Peace must be made between people and not just between governments. This cannot be more clear after the developments in Jordan and Egypt. Also, the leaks of details on the PA’s negotiations with the Olmert government in 2008 and the Palestinian response to those details is telling. The PA has not readied its people for peace with Israel, rather only to achieve a state to continue the conflict. They still instill false hopes that millions of Arabs and their descendents will be granted “right of return” to their former villages in Israel, is something that with total certainty will NEVER happen. For many Palestinians, after learning from Al Jazeera that the PA was negotiating to relinquish the total “right of return” with Israel, they felt betrayed. Discussions over the status of some Jewish settlements and issues within the Old City of Jerusalem were shocking to many Palestinians as well. Ordinary Palestinians were not told the nature of negotiations with Israel and what that implies. To Israelis, this news was nothing new.
The PA’s subjects are fed endless propaganda about their own version of the region’s history and the lack of any Jewish connection to it. Speaking of a Jewish presence, not in the West Bank, but in Tel-Aviv as if it were the British in India. This cannot be clearer than by examining the PA educational curriculum, as there a countless examples of books, maps, and other items omitting Israel and replacing it with Palestine. The PA’s campaign against the legitimacy of a Jewish state couldn’t have been more clear than Abbas’s speech at the UN. His speech referred to Palestine as holy to both Muslims and Christians, while conveniently leaving out any mention of Jewish ties or history to the land.
The PA does not want negotiations without being offered unreasonable concessions, to show an immediate victory, something the Israeli government is not willing to do. The PA is riding the anti-Israel sentiment in the international system, hoping to pressure Israel to bend. Negotiating for the sake of negotiating is dangerous and strategically ill-advised, as the outset of negotiations or their failure have a history of sparking violence. Israel must realize that while the PA has not publicly declared its termination of the Oslo Accords, its actions speak otherwise. Strategically, the region is too volatile to reach an agreement and the international community is too weak to secure it. The PA has made a strategic decision to act unilaterally to change the status-quo in its relation to Israel. Israel must go on the offensive and take bold unilateral steps of its own.