Monday, April 12, 2010

Palestinian Leaders Do It Again! Throw Away Opportunity Obama is Giving Them and Poke Him in the Eye

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By Barry Rubin

With their unerring skill at erring, Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders are throwing away still another opportunity President Barack Obama is giving them. If Obama is the most pro-Palestinian president in history, his counterparts don't seem to appreciate it very much. It is the Palestinian leadership, not Israel, that will ultimately make Obama look like and be a failure in all of his peace process efforts.

Brief history:

--Last spring, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas in his first visit to Washington made it clear he wasn't interested in a negotiated solution but just planned to wait for the West to force Israel to give him everything he wanted.

--In September, Abbas stood nearby as Obama said he wanted serious final negotiations within two months, then refused while Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was ready to talk right away.

--Shortly thereafter, Obama asked Abbas not to push the Goldstone report as a sponsor in the UN. Abbas agreed, then broke his word within 48 hours under internal pressure.

--At the end of last October, Obama's Administration made a deal in which Israel would stop all construction on West Bank settlements though it could continue in east Jerusalem. While Obama hoped this would get talks going, Abbas demanded an end to construction in Jerusalem, too, which he knew Israel would not accept. Indeed, he demanded it precisely because he knew Israel wouldn't accept it.

--Finally, Abbas agreed to indirect talks but was "saved" when suddenly the U.S. government accepted the PA's position on Jerusalem construction. Yet even that has not been enough to make the PA support Obama's policy despite the fact that it was so slanted in their favor.

Of course, the U.S. criticism of Israel and the crisis following the announcement of some future Jerusalem construction have been the main news. But that's because the Obama Administration is ready (sometimes it seems, eager) to criticize Israel but did not ever criticize the PA during its own first fifteen months in office. This last point--which I have repeatedly pointed out--has become so embarassingly obvious that finally the State Department made a small peep. [See note at end of article.]

So it is easy to miss the fact that by their behavior the Palestinian leadership has lost any possible material gain from the administration's attitude.

Now, here we are in the biggest crisis of U.S.-Israel relations in more than a quarter-century, arguably the biggest crisis in a half-century, since the Eisenhower Administration pressured Israel to withdraw from Sinai in 1957. Not only is the administration really angry at Israel, but it is considering a plan--though this might never happen--to try to impose a solution.

So what's the PA stance? To denounce the idea of an imposed solution! Such a plan according to press reports would give them a lot of what they want--1967 borders, a quick state, minimal conditions, all of pre-1967 Jordanian-controlled Jerusalem. Not bad, eh? But the Palestinians would have to make some concessions, like settling refugees in the state of Palestine rather than flooding Israel with Palestinian Arabs in an effort to paralyze and destroy its society.

On the PA's radio, chief negotiator Saib Arikat (choose your transliteration) said--what a delicious Freudian slip this is--that the Palestinians "don't want new ideas." His proposal is that the United States just recognizes Palestine as a state immediately and urges the UN to accept it as such, followed no doubt by huge international pressure for an immediate unconditional Israeli withdrawal from everywhere in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

This isn't going to happen, of course. But once again it signals U.S. officials, if they bothered to look, that they will get no cooperation, not even the tiniest concession, and the barest minimum of kind words from the PA. This also makes clear why a solution is impossible and why it would not solve all U.S. problems in the Middle East.

Because even if--this is just for the sake of explanation--the Obama Administration were to give the Palestinian leadership 99 percent of what it wants, it would still have to force it to concede 1 percent. Also it would forecolose--at least in theory--wiping Israel off the map.  That would lead to the political settlement being denounced by all Islamists, all militant Arab nationalists, and many Arab governments. 

I'm not even sure if the Egyptian and Jordanian media would applaud Obama. The latest Palestinian poll (Palestinian Public Opinion Poll no. 40, Center for Opinion Polls and Survey Studies at An-Najah National University, pril 8-10, 2010) asked:

"Do you accept the creation of a Palestinian state on the area of the 1967 borders as a final solution for the Palestinian problem?"

Of those polled, 44.7 percent (and this is after 17 years of supposed moderate policies by the PLO following the Oslo agreement) said "no." While 51.7 percent said "yes," remember that they were almost certainly assuming the Palestinians would get the precise pre-1967 borders plus the right to move to Israel for almost anyone who wanted to do so.

And so if Obama were to implement any conceivable negotiated solution--even an extremely pro-Palestinian one by Western standards--he'd be labelled as the man who sold out the Palestinians and go down in history as a betrayer and Zionist imperialist. I'd bet money on being able to collect a considerably large set of clippings denouncing him as worse--more "anti-Muslim" and "anti-Arab"--than George W. Bush! And if you think that isn't likely then, forgive me for saying so, you don't really understand how Middle East politics work.

The United States would not be portrayed as a hero because it created Palestine but a villain because it robbed the Arabs of getting everything some day. Terrorism against American targets would go up, as it would argued that the Americans had forever destroyed the chance of wiping Israel off the map. Of course, terrorism against any Palestinian leaders who agreed to such terms would also break out. Abbas's knowing this is one of the reasons he will say "no" to everything.

And don't ever forget that little detail: If Palestine is proclaimed a state, presumably Hamas is the legal government of about half of it, despite the fact that it is a terrorist, antisemitic, genocide-seeking client of Iran which won't even accept the agreement that makes Palestine a state. Here's one example of the ridiculous situation that would prevail: If the Hamas government wanted to import long-range missiles from Iran and Israel tried to stop it by intercepting them with its navy, would the UN then be able to accuse Israel of an act of aggression against a sovereign state?

Again, nothing is going to happen, not because of Israel but because the PA will torpedo any U.S. effort to solve the issue no matter how bad the terms seem for Israel. Meanwhile U.S. policymakers will pretend this isn't happening, that the United States isn't constantly being insulted by the PA.

Unless you understand the above, the whole story of the Arab-Israeli and Israel-Palestinian conflict makes no sense.

Question 1: During the four years of the Obama Administration's term in office, will his officials ever publicly criticize the PA for anything it does, including honoring terrorists who killed Americans? Prediction: No it won't.

Question 2:  During the four years of the Obama Administration's term in office, will the Palestinians make any material gain due to his being so supportive of them? Prediction: No they won't because the extremist goals and intransigence of their leadership will prevent thus.

Note: At last the State Department issues a very mild criticism of the PA, after ignoring for almost two weeks the issue in question. On April 8, it made the following statement:

"Regarding the Middle East, we are disturbed by comments of Palestinian Authority officials regarding reconstruction and refurbishing of Jewish sites in the Jewish quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City. Remarks by the Palestinian ministry of information denying Jewish heritage in and links to Jerusalem undermine the trust and confidence needed for substantive and productive Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. We also strongly condemn the glorification of terrorists honoring terrorists who have murdered innocent civilians either by official statements or by the dedication of public places hurts peace efforts and must end. We will continue to hold Palestinian leaders accountable for incitement. "

But this isolated statement seems to have been made for form's sake and when compared to the administration's outrage at Israel looks quite limited. I predict we won't be hearing about any follow-up to these issues.

What makes this particularly ridiculous is that the PA named a square in honor of a terrorist who murdered both Israelis and Americans--for more on this issue see HERE--during Vice-President Joe Biden's visit yet there was no talk about the United States being insulted nor was there any major crisis with the PA declared by the U.S. government. Indeed, well after the affair happened, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was insisting that the deed had been done by Hamas, an absurd error which--to my knowledge--has never been formally corrected by her office.

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). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. 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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