Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The West Thinks Palestinian Leaders Do It a Favor By Putting Conditions on Getting a State?

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By Barry Rubin

Reportedly, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has just made two itty-bitty requests (or should I say, demands?) in order to return to direct negotiations.

First, Israel must agree in advance that the Palestinian state must get roughly all the land that before 1967 was part of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Second, that no matter what happens in the talks, and whether or not Israel and the Palestinians reach an agreement, there will be a Palestinian state within 24 months.

Let's take a moment and consider what this means. Most remarkable is the way the whole back-and-forth over direct negotiations disproves the central tenet of the mainstream narrative accepted in the West on this issue.

We are to believe that the Palestinians passionately yearn for a state, are suffering from violence and occupation and misery etc. etc. Yet if this is true, wouldn't the PA be pushing for successful negotiations as hard as possible? Wouldn't they have been insisting on direct negotiations in 2009?

In short, why if the Palestinians are so motivated to get a state aren't they in a hurry to get one?
The answer turns the usual narrative on its head: because the leadership is weak in moderation, because most of Fatah wants total victory, because they'd rather wait for decades in order to get everything, or at least insist on getting a state without giving up anything in terms of concessions, and because they are afraid of Hamas and are not so unhappy with the status quo. Because by denying a solution they can make Israel look bad which hopefully will bring more Western support for their side.

In other words, Israel wants peace; the Palestinians don't.

This conclusion fits the facts, the opposite conclusion doesn't. Perhaps people should draw this conclusion.

The second point is that basically borders and the creation of a state are the only two bits of leverage Israel has. The PA wants to change the old dovish Israeli slogan of territory for peace into territory for something to be determined later maybe. If the borders are preset and independence is inevitable, regardless of Israel's wishes, the Palestinians hold all the cards.

Israel obviously would never accept such an outcome. Ah, but that's the point since Israel could then be blamed for the failure of negotiations, or the failure even to arrive at direct talks. The PA gets all it wants: No talks and Israel blamed.

The other demand, an automatic timetable for a Palestinian state, is even worse. Such a stipulation would give the PA every incentive to sabotage talks since it would still get the prize of independence even if it didn't make a single compromise. Any negotiator would be crazy to agree that one side gains total victory by making sure the two sides fail to reach agreement.

Even if one favors a negotiated settlement based on the 1967 borders with relatively minor changes or territorial swaps or both, this proposal is still disastrous. For in order to agree to 1967 boundaries, Israel wants to see some of its demands met on: end of conflict, recognition of Jewish state, the precise boundaries, the status of eastern Jerusalem, security guarantees, limits on Palestinian state militarization, and settlement of Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state.

Once again, Abbas’s strategy shows he isn’t interested in making peace. Why should the West and world act as if the Palestinian leadership is doing them a favor by agreeing to accept a state on its own terms? Such a solution even if achieved, which is unlikely, is a formula for more violence and instability.

Incidentally, in writing this piece I'm reminded of an appropriate story told to me by a reader (and paralleled in both my shopping and political experience many times):

During a tour of Istanbul, a group stopped at a carpet shop. The owner served them tea, then ordered his employee to bring out some rugs to show them. He explained that each was of the highest quality and merited an expensive price. But one of the tourists happened to know a lot about carpets. He started asking questions, pointing out the rugs were poorly made and over-priced. Without missing a beat, the owner studied one prayer rug closely, like a bad actor put on a shocked expression, and slapped his employee across the face with the rug, yelling: "You dog, bring out the good pieces!"

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, at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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