Sunday, October 11, 2009

Palestinians Choose the Illusion of "Victory" Over Negotiated Peace

By Barry Rubin

This may be a very big development, a turning point. Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders are now openly complaining about President Barack Obama, saying he has hurt the Palestinian cause, by accepting less than a complete freeze of construction on settlements from Israel, pressuring PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to stand next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the president's UN photo opportunity, and pushing the Palestinian Authority to ease off on demanding the UN put sanctions against Israel over the Goldstone Commission issue.

Obama is now going to discover what gratitude is worth in the Middle East. All his pro-Palestinian, pro-Muslim pronouncements, all his criticism of Israel, and everything else he's tried to do to show his warm support for that side have availed him nothing. In the eyes of the Palestinian leadership it isn't enough. It can never be enough.

I predict that within a month or two, Obama is going to be denounced in the Palestinian media--with the Syrians and others picking this up--that he is just another George W. Bush. Will he get angry or just keep pretending this isn't happening?

Here's how one Palestinian activist puts it, "We had more than a little hope that things would change with an Obama administration. Now the almost universal feeling among Palestinians is one of disappointment." This view isn't just coming from high-level officials but also has broad popular appeal.

Once again, the Palestinians have made clear choice. They can seek a mythical victory or real negotiations and a solution. They are choosing the illusion of victory over the reality of getting peace and a Palestinian state through negotiations.


Fight on for decades, shed rivers of blood, try either to defeat and destroy Israel or to force it militarily or through international pressure to withdraw to the 1967 borders and give the Palestinians everything they want without concession on their part.

It is always tempting to try to get everything and give up nothing. It is also a good stance for a politician to tell his constituency that if they support him they can have all they want at no real cost.

But it doesn’t work.

Now Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has made a major public speech in which he calls for the UN Human Rights Commission to hold a special session on the ridiculous Goldstone report. The goal is that the Commission will condemn Israel and call for sanctions against it, the UN will endorse the sanctions, and Israel will face massive sanctions.

The next step, unless the U.S. government vetoes this camaign, would be the passage of sanctions condemning Israel for committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip that never happened, rubberstamping the claims of Hamas, an antisemitic terrorist group which preaches genocide against Jews.

Feeling that it is winning, the PA won't be interested in negotiations. Feeling, understandably, that the world is against it, neither will Israel.

In short, the PA’s strategy would wreck President Barack Obama’s policy of trying to negotiate peace.

Or, there would be a U.S. veto of sanctions, which would make Obama and his administration angry and make them look bad in the world and to the very Muslims they’ve been trying to court.

In short, the PA’s strategy could wreck Obama’s international policy generally, undermining the popularity of someone who is obsessed with being popular.

Either way, the Palestinians would lose, assuming they really wanted peace and a state.


The PA could actually try to compromise and get an independent state, the withdrawal of all Jewish settlements on its territory, more than $20 billion in aid, and the ability to return all refugees who so wished to live in Palestine.

So here’s the problem: the West and especially Obama wants to act as if the Palestinians are desperate to end the occupation and get a state and have peace.

But they show that they want victory, even if it sacrifices all those things, damages the Obama administration, and destroys its policy of supporting them.

This is what Bill Clinton and George W. Bush learned through experience. Now it’s Obama’s turn to discover that the Palestinian Authority isn’t some poor suffering force that he will rescue but rather a problem, the barrier to peace, and an enemy to U.S. interests.

Don't underestimate the importance of what's unfolding here. One thing politicians can't forgive is someone making them look foolish. Yasir Arafat and the PA did that to Clinton by rejecting his plan for negotiations offered at the Camp David meeting in 2000. Mahmoud Abbas and the PA did that to George W. Bush by lying to him about their arms deal with Hizballah and Iran to smuggle a huge arms shipment that, if not intercepted by Israel, would have led to a bloodbath.

Now the PA is doing the same thing to Obama. Will he be any more forgiving than his two predecessors?

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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