Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Two Key Indicators on Israel-Palestinian Developments

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By Barry Rubin

Here are two developments that are important indicators about the Israel-Palestinian situation.

First, the current Palestinian Authority (PA) strategy is to stall and avoid negotiations because making a deal with Israel requires giving concessions to get to a compromise peace. The leadership wants to make no concessions, both because they themselves don’t wish to do so and know that the pressure of their constituency and radical rivals won’t allow it.

At minimum, they can only make the kind of deal that leaves the door open to a Round Two in which Palestinians and their allies could seek to wipe Israel off the map.

But Israel would never make a deal like that.

So the way out for them is a unilateral declaration of independence and international recognition. This new status could then be used as leverage to ignore Israel's demands. And if Israel reacts to this situation--say, by hitting back against cross-border terror attacks--the “independent state” of Palestine can then turn to its allies, sympathizers, and the UN to charge Israel with international aggression and ask Arab states to provide military equipment.

Of course, this will probably never happen. It’s important to know that current U.S. policy opposes such a move. PA “president” Mahmoud Abbas, not the most reliable source, has claimed publicly that the U.S. government has promised to support the unilateral independence option if direct talks don’t work.

And with Abbas and the PA making sure the talks won’t work, believe me, they won’t work.The U.S. government has now officially denied Abbas’s claim. In the words of State Department spokesman Mark Toner:

“We remain convinced that ultimately the only way that we’re going to get a comprehensive peace is through direct negotiations, and anything that might affect those direct negotiations we feel is not helpful and not constructive.”

In other words, they know that the PA is using this method to sabotage the talks, negotiations which the United States wants to succeed (or at least continue), if for no other reason than that the U.S. president has put his prestige behind them.

Here’s the second point: The PA leadership also doesn’t want violence with Israel at this time and has a tremendous interest in keeping down Hamas in the West Bank. Thus, for the first time in ten years, Israel does not have a single terrorist in the northern West Bank (Samaria) it is chasing after and only a handful in the southern West Bank (Judea, mostly Hebron-based Hamas holdouts).

Six years ago there were hundreds of them.Israel-PA coordination helps a lot and is partly itself the product of Hamas’s seizure of the Gaza Strip, which scared the hummus out of PA leaders lest they themselves end up deep in the humus. (See note, below)

Yet another factor has been that Israeli counterterrorism is effective. (Yes, you can defeat terrorists, though they certainly may come back some day.) The security fence; arrests and interrogations; and killing the more incorrigible (including Fatah men the PA wouldn’t do anything about) have had an effect. There was also a largely successful program in which Israel promised that if wanted Fatah gunmen not involved in murder stopped violent activities Israel would stop trying to capture them.

By making it clear that the Western countries won't support a Palestinian unilateral declaration of independence, they can also continue a status quo in which the PA holds off a Hamas takeover, develops the West Bank economically, and maintains peace. Given the impossibility of a comprehensive solution leading to a stable two-state situation, that's the best option for now.

Note: Humus, as in soil or broken-down organic matter, i.e. dead.

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). The website of the GLORIA Center is at http://www.gloria-center.org/ and of his blog, Rubin Reports, http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com/.

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