Thursday, October 8, 2009

The Palestinian Authority and the Goldstone Report: A Pie in Obama's Face and a Key to Understanding Their Behavior

By Barry Rubin

Should the Palestinian Authority (PA) be the main advocate pushing acceptance of the bizarre Goldstone report in order to demonize Israel at the UN or might it just stand aside and let a couple of dozen Arab and Muslim-majority states take the lead?

This is—or should be—a minor issue but it has blown up to once again push the main reality of the Arab-Israeli conflict into everyone’s face.

When the U.S. government asked the PA not to be the main sponsors of demanding UN sanctions against Israel, the Palestinian leadership agreed for a few hours. But then, unable to resist flaunting its radicalism and obstructionism, it then double-crossed the United States. This step further sabotages President Barack Obama's efforts to advance the peace process, which often seems to be his number-one international priority.

On the surface, the Palestinian leadership—PLO, Fatah, and Palestinian Authority (PA), which are all the same thing—is once again shooting itself in the foot. It is throwing away a real opportunity for a state; it is sabotaging its relationship with Western patrons.

How to explain this apparent perverseness, which Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban once called, “Never missing a chance to miss an opportunity”?

The answer is simple: When it comes down to a choice between continuing the conflict and trying to win a total victory that wipes Israel off the map or making peace and getting a state, the Palestinian leadership always chooses the former.

And when it comes to choosing between being a bit more moderate and gaining Western support or being demagogically radical and appealing to the most radical forces, the Palestinian leadership chooses the latter. The Fatah-dominated PA doesn’t want peace with Israel; it prefers peace with Hamas, its rival that not only murders and tortures Fatah people but—one more irony—is the main beneficiary of the Goldstone report.

In fact, Fatah sought unity with Hamas in this matter. Jibril Rajub, a Fatah military expert usually seen as moderate, announced:

"The Fatah leadership has decided to invite the Hamas movement as well as all other Palestinian factions to form a joint Palestinian committee....We want our joint efforts... to bring all the Israeli generals and leaders who had committed crimes against our people before the International Criminal Court in The Hague for war crimes,"

Like much of what happens in the Middle East, this would be humorous if it weren't so tragic. Obama thinks he will make peace quickly. Meanwhile, the PA refuses to meet officially with Israel, prefers to make a deal with Hamas which opposes any peace at all, and instead wants to put Israeli leaders on trial as war criminals.

President Obama, Welcome to the Middle East. Note the PA's and Arab states' refusal to cooperate with your efforts. Of course, you did try to defuse this situation. The Obama Administration said to the PA: Look, we’re getting you lots of money and diplomatic help on the basis of the idea that you want peace. No president in history has ever been more sympathetic and supportive of you. So stand aside on this issue for a few days. Do us this little favor.

But this is too much for the PA, which now faces protests and criticism at home.

Yet that is no excuse, is it? After all, if the PA cannot even refrain from sponsoring Goldstone at the request of the United States, can anyone expect it to compromise on territory, security measures, an end to the conflict, and the settlement of all Palestinian refugees in Palestine? Think about that one for five minutes please.

This is at least the fourth time in its short nine-month history where the Palestinians and Arab states did this to Obama:

--PA leader Mahmoud Abbas arrived in Washington for his first trip and said he had no intention of compromising on anything but would just wait until the United States delivered an Israel which had to give up everything.

--Abbas refused to negotiate with Israel unless he had a total freeze of construction on all settlements with no exceptions despite Obama’s desperate efforts to get talks going.

--Arab states asked to make small confidence-building steps toward Israel to help the president said “No!”

So much for Obama’s apologies, his Cairo and UN speeches, strong words of support for the Palestinians (the people supposedly in an intolerable situation and desperate for a state), and his panegyrics for Islam. Flattery, Mr. President, will get you nowhere.

Can you get it, Mr. President: All this merely feeds the fires of radicalism. Like, in a real sense, the peace process of the 1990s and the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, more concessions breed more violence; more apologies give birth to more demands.

Remember that the peace process of the 1990s ended when PA leader Yasir Arafat refused a state along with more than $23 billion in aid both at Camp David and in the Clinton plan.

Remember that the Palestinians, handed all of the Gaza Strip, instead of making it a model for launching peace made it a launching pad for rockets aimed at Israel.

Remember that when the previous Bush Administration was trying to be supportive, the PA made a deal through Hizballah with Iran to bring in massive amounts of arms on a ship. Discovering how the PA had lied turned that administration against them.

Remember that in 1989 when the United States had initiated a dialogue with the PLO on the basis of its stopping terrorism, the organization refused to keep that pledge and instead dispatched a terrorist unit to machinegun civilians on the Tel Aviv beach. This action led to the end of the dialogue.

Wake up, people. Peace would be preferable if possible. Peace is a beautiful dream. But that dream keeps getting interrupted by nightmares, one after the other.

Those who run nations and are responsible for the lives and welfare of their people, those whose duty is to inform the people, and those who speak out publicly have a duty to cast aside wishful thinking and face the truth, as demonstrated by numerous examples and historical experience:

--Israeli-Palestinian peace is still very distant.

--The PA is unwilling and incapable of making peace.

--Weakness in dealing with this issue breeds contempt; concessions create more violence and extremism.

--A responsible policy is one that maximizes stability by keeping Hamas from taking over the West Bank and brings down its rule in the Gaza Strip; minimizes violence by supporting Israel’s right to self-defense; and does the most possible to raise the living standards of Palestinians.

As for Obama and the European leaders, you’ve had the experience now learn the lessons.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books: <>. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports, <>.

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