Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Palestinians Tell the World Their Strategy: Why Make Peace with Israel When We Can Get Everything from You Instead?

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By Barry Rubin

If you want to understand what’s really going on in the alleged Israel-Palestinian peace process—beyond the babble that progress is being made, it’s all Israel’s fault, and everyone is working hard on it—here’s what you need to know.

For the present, the Palestinian leadership isn’t interested in pursuing negotiations with Israel because it has a different strategy: get everything it wants from others without making any concessions.

First, the Palestinian Authority (PA) came very close to obtaining a European Union (EU) resolution which made it sound like the Palestinian state with its capital in east Jerusalem is an accomplished fact. The rejection of the Swedish-sponsored proposal by more moderate European states staved this off, along with a U.S. reminder that this kind of issue was supposed to be resolved by a negotiated agreement between the PA and Israel.

Nevertheless, the PA no doubt drew hope—albeit erroneously so--from this experience that with a little more time the EU will back its position completely and give it a state on a silver platter.

The other front is the UN. On December 15, a meeting of the Fatah leadership will discuss and probably endorse a plan to seek UN recognition of their state, with no preconditions.

In the words of one Council member, Munib Masri:

“We will ask the UN Security Council to endorse a two-state solution with east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, to compensate Palestinian refugees and affirm their right to return to their homeland.”

There is a very interesting phrase at the end of that statement. Masri was referring to the Palestinian demand that all refugees and their descendants can go live in Israel if they want, a formula for massive violence, chaos, and civil war in Israel. Of course, that's precisely what the PA wants--and will never get. The idea is that the "two-state solution"  it is thinking about is merely a transitional step toward wiping Israel off the map, the real goal and the reason why there isn't any peace.

By defining Israel as the Palestinian homeland, or at least a part of it, Masri shows the two-state solution is not a serious Palestinian goal. If it were, a West Bank-Gaza Strip-east Jerusalem state would be defined as the homeland.

Of course, he adds:

“If Israel remains steadfast in building settlements, then we will seek a one-state solution that is based on a timetable.”

Masri and others in the PA don't give any credit for Israel's settlement freeze. Like all Israeli concessions, it is pocketed and then denounced as insufficient, certainly not as warranting any reciprocal Palestinian gesture.

What Masri himself represents is the friends-of-Yasir-Arafat faction which still dominates both Fatah and the PA. This is the mainstream of both institutions and the base on which PA leader Mahmoud Abbas depends to stay in power.

The attractiveness of unilateralism is understandable. Why make a deal with Israel that might require recognizing it as a Jewish state, taking a bit less territory on the West Bank or having to swap some pieces of land with Israel, providing Israel with security guarantees, giving up the dream of total victory and Israel's elimination, and accepting limits on your military forces when you can just demand, and possibly get, everything you want from the United States, Europe, the UN, or the international community in general?

This is also an ideal strategy in domestic terms since any concessions are unpopular. If Fatah and the PA want to make up with Hamas, avoiding any concessions is vital. And if they don't want Hamas to make political capital out of their "treasonous moderation" the same point applies.

Of course, that means the conflict will continue, people will die, Palestinians will continue to be (or at least will be perceived as) suffering, and everything can be blamed on Israeli intransigence. There would be no peace and no Palestinian state, but that better suits the PA's current strategy and again would largely be blamed on Israel.

Is it really so hard to understand that this is what is really happening? The PA is not desperately eager for a deal. The construction of apartments is not the roadblock. The PA and Fatah have very good reasons from their standpoint for not wanting to make peace with Israel.

Nevertheless, the illusion is maintained: If only one more concession is made to the Palestinians. If they are only reassured and flattered. If they are only promised east Jerusalem as their capital. If Israel freezes construction on West Bank settlements. And stops finishing up 3000 apartments. And stops any building in Jerusalem. And does this or that action and give such and such a concession then the kingdom of peace will be upon us.

And when this strategy fails over and over again--as it did throughout the 1990s, instead of learning the lesson there will be found one more fault of Israel which explains why things didn't work out.

Of course, this also means that the rest of the world is functioning as enablers--to use the current term for those who help someone maintain a harmful addiction--permitting the continued illusion that there is some solution other than either the status quo or a fair, negotiated deal.

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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