By Bassam Tawil
March 12, 2014
The Palestinians aspire to control all the holy sites in the Old City of Jerusalem, not only those holy to Islam, but those holy to Christianity and Judaism as well.
They understand that [in a peace agreement] they would have to declare the end of the conflict. That is not a situation the Palestinians are ripe for yet.
The next Palestinian leader will simply say that any agreement was Abbas's, not his, and does not commit them or the Palestinian people. Both Palestinian society and public policy are based on the rejection of peace with Israel, and the Palestinian street is bombarded daily with propaganda from the Palestinian establishment advocating war, the return of refugees and the destruction of Israel.
American Secretary of State John Kerry recently asked Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas about the possibly of locating the capital of Palestine in Beit Hanina, the eastern neighborhood of west Jerusalem. That would allow the Palestinians, for the first time in annals of the emerging Palestinian people, to have a capital in Jerusalem, in the eastern section known as Al-Quds. The proposal was ostensibly an achievement for the Palestinians, but actually it was a bad omen. It would end the Palestinian dream of controlling the holy sites of Islam and Christianity in Jerusalem, and the Palestinians would no longer be able to demand the Old City of Jerusalem as the capital of their country.
The Palestinians aspire to control all the holy sites in the Old City, not only those holy to Islam but those holy to Christianity and Judaism as well. Needless to say, that is to be accomplished at the expense of both Israel and Jordan, which manages the Islamic holy sites as part of its peace agreement with Israel.
Secretary Kerry's question was the reason Jordan reacted badly to suggestions in the Israeli parliament from the Israeli right to give sovereignty over the Temple Mount – managed by the Jordanian Waqf – to Israel. Kerry told Abbas that, as part of the agreement being formulated, the Palestinians would have to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Mahmoud Abbas and his close associates understand that this request would force them to accept that they will no longer be able to claim the "right of return" of the Palestinians refugees to the State of Israel or destroy it by changing its demography. They understand that the refugees would have to settle in the future state of Palestine and that the Palestinians would have to declare the end of the conflict. That is not a situation the Palestinians are ripe for yet.
Kerry also told Abbas that the Palestinians would have to waive security control of the Jordan Valley corridor along the border with the Kingdom of Jordan. The Americans have therefore foiled the Palestinian plan of "stages," Yasser Arafat's original plot, never abandoned by the Palestinians, of dismantling Israel one slice at a time like a roasted lamb. The initial plan of "stages" was for Islamists to cross the Jordan river, join the Palestinian Authority's armed security forces (or those of Hamas, if it managed to take over the West Bank), and attack Israel's cities with missiles, cross its borders and slaughter its citizens.
If Israel were to waive security control, first the Palestinians would reap the political and territorial fruits of the agreement, and then soon they would violate it by flooding the West Bank with mujahidin from all over the world.
In rejecting the American proposal, the Palestinians now accuse Kerry of being a foil for the Israelis, and have told him that Abbas is the one rational man with whom Israel can make peace. Some Palestinian leaders threaten that if no agreement is reached, a third intifada may break out. For Israel, that clearly means the entire peace process depends on one man alone, not on the will of the Palestinian people. The result of such a deal will be that the conflict will not have been resolved even after Abbas's eventual departure from the political scene: the next Palestinian leader will simply say that any agreement was Abbas's, not his. Thus, according to Palestinian reasoning, Israel's one chance for peace depends on one rational man, and will evaporate when he quits, is ousted or dies. The enterprise is not only fragile; it is doomed to failure from the outset.
The Israeli demand for the end of incitement and threats against Israel is directly related to its demand to construct a foundation for the Palestinian people which includes a real peace that will continue even after Mahmoud Abbas is no longer the Palestinian leader.
It is therefore obvious why Israel hesitates to sign a peace agreement in which all its political and territorial concessions are liable to fall into the lap of Hamas or the other subversives waiting to oust Abbas. This highly collapsible situation is also the reason Israel insists on dealing with the fate of the agreement should Abbas's successors suddenly change their minds and claim that whatever Abbas signs does not commit them or the Palestinian people.
Israel has good reason to be suspicious, especially in view of the amateur and irresponsible policies of the current Obama administration, which now has a pattern of abandoning friends in need. Kerry's proposal reflects an understanding of historical truth: the need for both a Palestinian state and Israel's security needs -- but what will happen if Arab or European pressure forces the Americans to alter their policies, as they have done so often before?
The Arabs regard Israel as a well-oiled, state-of-the-art war machine, but in reality it is vulnerable, fragile and easily blackmailed, unable fully to implement its forces to counteract the Islamic terrorism deliberately hidden within the Palestinian population in the territories. In the meantime, Hamas continues to use human shields and the Palestinian Authority continues its anti-Israeli incitement, especially via Qatar's Al-Jazeera TV channel in Arabic. Qatar funds Hamas and supports Islamic terrorist organizations all over the Arab world. *
In addition, the permanent support the Arabs and the Europeans give the Palestinians -- such as the Europeans' demand for "proportional" force and the expectation that Israel will compromise its own security by sacrificing its territorial assets -- only serves to encourage terrorism, makes the Palestinians less flexible and leads them to believe that between pressure from the Arabs and the sanctions and boycotts they expect to be imposed by the Europeans, they will eventually be able to defeat Israel.
The Arabs seem to have forgotten that Israel already overcame Arab and Palestinians boycotts. During the last two intifadas, when there was a Palestinian boycott of Israeli-made products and Palestinians were forbidden to work in Israel, Israel began using automated industrial building techniques, thereby leaving the tens of thousands of Palestinians who had previously worked in construction permanently without jobs.
Now the EU is trying to impose a boycott on goods manufactured in the Israeli settlements, but ignoring that most of the workers there are Palestinians. The result will be that Palestinian workers will again be let go and again find themselves unemployed. Palestinians were also always the ones who were harmed.
The Palestinian leadership might do well to understand that the consequences of a third intifada will be even more destructive, with no chance of success. It can be assumed that Abbas understands the situation, but unfortunately the Palestinian people still think they will be able to destroy Israel and install a Palestinian state on the ruins.
When it comes to changing their situation, the Palestinians still refuse to ask the right questions. Is there a single Palestinian, for example, who really thinks Israel will sign an agreement that would settle millions of Palestinians into its territory? Would Israel agree to have its future depend on a leader like Mahmoud Abbas, who does not enjoy either a consensus or a legal Palestinian constitutional status? Can Israel ignore that both Palestinian society and public policy are based on the rejection of peace with Israel, and that the Palestinian street is bombarded daily with propaganda from the Palestinian establishment advocating war, the return of refugees and the destruction of Israel?
And is there really a single Palestinian who thinks Israel will rush to sign an agreement while the Palestinian Authority works unceasingly in international forums to delegitimize it, boycott it and manoeuvre to achieve unilateral international recognition without a gesture towards Israel?
There are other questions the Palestinians refuse to ask themselves: for instance, is there a single Palestinian who really believes that Israel places faith in the upper echelons of the Palestinian Authority who are now planning to have Israel's leaders tried as war criminals in the International Criminal Court in The Hague and threatening of a third intifada? Can Israel make concessions to the Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and ignore what happened after the Israeli army withdrew from south Lebanon, which it saw it turn into a vipers' nest of Hezbollah-instigated terrorism? Will Israel ignore the lessons of the past, especially after Hamas's border with Egypt turned into a highway for smuggling arms and the Gaza Strip itself became a regional and global stronghold of Islamism?
The Palestinians fool only themselves as they waste their time theorizing, inventing excuses and plotting, while the Jews engage in practical matters, and do not plan their future based on the unattainable. Do the Palestinians not understand that once the murderers terrorizing the civilian population of Syria in the name of jihad have finished there, they will turn their attention to the Palestinian Authority and do the same to the Palestinian population there? The Palestinians, who expect the jihad fighters in Syria to liberate "Palestine" for them, do not understand that the men who went to fight the Assad regime in Syria have nothing to lose. Their own families are far from the confrontation and when they enter the Palestinian Authority, Palestinian women will be their first victims.
The peace process is not simple; it requires time and the building of trust. Israel has territories the Palestinians want and holds the key to the international recognition of "Palestine." The Palestinians have the resources of trust necessary to win over the hearts of the Israelis. The more that time passes, the more the Palestinians waste that precious resource. The Israelis dig in their heels and the Western world is gradually coming around to their way of thinking. If the Palestinians really want to establish a Palestinian state, they might start by asking themselves the right questions.
Bassem Tawil is based in the Middle East.