Palestinian Bad Faith

by A. Jay Adler on January 7, 2011
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At Foreign Policy, Steven J. Rosen offers a clear statement of the present situation regarding Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

For the first time since the Oslo peace process started 18 years ago, Palestinian leaders are openly refusing to negotiate with the government of Israel, and U.S. President Barack Obama’s administration is doing very little about it. As Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, explained the policy on Dec. 9, “We will not agree to negotiate as long as settlement building continues.” The Arab League is backing Abbas in this refusal, says League chief Amr Moussa, because “the direction of talks has become ineffective and it has decided against the resumption of negotiations.

But Abbas himself negotiated with seven previous Israeli prime ministers without such preconditions. For 17 years — from the Madrid conference of October 1991 through Abbas’s negotiations with then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, which ended in 2008 — negotiations moved forward while Jerusalem construction continued. Madrid, Oslo I, Oslo II, the Hebron Protocol, the Wye River Memorandum, Camp David, Taba, the disengagement from Gaza, and Olmert’s offer to Abbas — all these events over the course of two decades were made possible by a continuing agreement to disagree about Israeli construction of Jewish homes in Jewish neighborhoods outside the pre-1967 line in East Jerusalem.

For its part, Israel remained ready to, and did, negotiate without preconditions even as antisemitic education, indoctrination, and incitement continued through the Palestinian school system, media, and mosques.

There is also the question of whether Abbas’s motive here is actually about the settlement issue, or rather to drive a wedge between Obama and Israel and induce the United States to impose a solution in lieu of negotiations. Isn’t this a reversion to the pre-Oslo strategy of rejecting contact with Israel and demanding instead that the great powers impose Arab terms on the Jewish state?

In refusing to meet with Israel, Abbas is violating one of the most important commitments his predecessor Yasir Arafat made at the start of the Oslo process, which included this pledge to then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on Sept. 9, 1993: “The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides, and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations.” It is also a direct violation of the pledge that Abbas himself made barely three years ago at the Annapolis conference. As witnessed by foreign ministers of 47 countries on Nov. 27, 2007: “We agree to immediately launch good-faith bilateral negotiations in order to conclude a peace treaty, resolving all outstanding issues, including all core issues without exception, as specified in previous agreements. We agree to engage in vigorous, ongoing and continuous negotiations.”

Abbas is also rejecting the imperative laid down by the Middle East “Quartet” in March 2010, demanding “the resumption, without preconditions, of direct, bilateral negotiations that resolve all final status issues as previously agreed by the parties.” It is a repudiation of Obama’s Middle East envoy George Mitchell, who said, “We do not believe in preconditions. We do not impose them. And we urge others not to impose preconditions.” It is a dismissal of an objective considered vital by the Obama administration, to “re-launch negotiations as soon as possible and without preconditions, which is in the interests of everyone in the region.” Abbas is spurning all appeals from Clinton, who says that “negotiations between the parties is the only means by which all of the outstanding claims arising out of the conflict can be resolved.” [All emphasis added]

Yet neither the Obama administration nor the Quartet are holding the Palestinian Authority accountable for this violation of a repeated commitment to negotiations without preconditions. The reason for that is plain: many parties in the West, including significant segments of the political Left, refuse to recognize the actual nature of  Israel’s surrounding Palestinian and Muslim political cultures or their true, continuing goal for Israel – though, in fact, it is regularly stated. As Rosen reminds us, however, the U.S. government is obligated by legislation to call the Palestinians on their bad faith.

As it happens, a statute is already in place, requiring sanctions against such violations of the solemn commitments the Palestinians made. The Middle East Peace Commitments Act of 2002 notes that “Resolution of all outstanding issues in the conflict between the two sides through negotiations” is one of the core commitments to which the Palestinian Authority has obligated itself, and it requires the president to notify Congress of such violations and impose penalties, which may include a “prohibition on United States assistance to the West Bank and Gaza.”

It is the Palestinians who are refuse to negotiate. Yet talk is always of pressure on Israel. However, there was recognition in 2002 that the PA had expectations to meet, and it is not meeting them. It is time for pressure on the Palestinians.

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