NEAR EAST REPORT AIPAC'S BIWEEKLY ON AMERICAN MIDDLE EAST POLICY

Editorial: Palestinian Stunts Undermine Peace Efforts

Over the past few months, the Palestinian Authority (PA) has been waging a campaign that has nothing to do with peacemaking. Instead, the PA is trying to isolate the Jewish state in the international arena. This campaign consists of a number of stunts that make a peace agreement less likely.

First, the PA has persisted in its refusal to engage in direct negotiations with Israel. If the PA wanted to make peace with Israel, it would talk to Israel, at a minimum. Despite PA President Mahmoud Abbas' refusal to sit down for face-to-face talks, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has taken far-reaching steps to demonstrate his commitment to negotiations. In the past two years, he has announced his support for a Palestinian state alongside Israel multiple times and reduced barriers to movement in the West Bank. Netanyahu also implemented a 10-month freeze on housing construction in the West Bank, which Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lauded as "unprecedented."

It's not just that Abbas refuses to talk. He has led an international campaign to bypass negotiations by winning support for U.N. recognition of a Palestinian state. These efforts focus on seeking a U.N. Security Council vote in September recommending that the U.N. General Assembly recognize Palestinian statehood and admit the Palestinian state as a full U.N. member state. In case the United States vetoes the motion at the Security Council, Abbas plans to seek General Assembly recognition of Palestinian statehood without full U.N. membership. (Under the U.N. charter, admission to full U.N. membership requires a Security Council recommendation prior to General Assembly approval.)

By seeking recognition in this manner, the Palestinians are violating commitments they undertook in past agreements with Israel that ban unilateral moves and say the conflict must be solved through direct negotiations between the parties. What would the parties have to negotiate if the Palestinians simply got everything they demanded through the United Nations?

Besides, Abbas has said that even after Palestine is recognized as a state, he will continue to use international institutions to pressure Israel. "Palestine's admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one," he wrote in a recent New York Times op-ed. In other words, this U.N. step is not part of a strategy to solve the conflict, but a way to perpetuate it.

If all of this wasn't bad enough, in late April, Abbas's Fatah faction signed a reconciliation agreement with the terrorist group Hamas. This agreement is meant to allow the Palestinians to form a "caretaker" government of unaffiliated technocrats backed by Fatah and Hamas. PA officials have stated that the government will meet the requirements of the Quartet (the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia)—namely, recognizing Israel, rejecting violence and endorsing previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements. Whether or not this happens is yet to be seen. In any case, Hamas itself has not accepted the Quartet requirements and has made clear it will not accept them in the future.

Indeed, Hamas has unambiguously stated that it will never seek peace with Israel. "Our plan does not involve negotiations with Israel or recognizing it," said Mahmoud Zahar, a top Hamas leader. Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal recently stated that "our common enemy is Israel. Israel must be fought through force and diplomacy."

In addition, just last month, Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas government in Gaza, denounced the U.S. killing of Osama bin Laden, describing the al-Qaeda leader as an "Arab holy warrior." With statements like these in mind, can anybody really think that Abbas' deal with Hamas makes peace more likely?

More Palestinian-inspired stunts are in the works. At the end of this month, hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists are scheduled to embark on a second flotilla intended to break the Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza. This effort comes a year after Israeli forces intercepted another flotilla off the Gaza coast and were brutally attacked upon boarding one of the ships sailing from Turkey.

The flotilla is meant to provoke a response from Israeli forces, with the goal of generating casualties and causing world condemnation of Israel. It thus complements perfectly the general Palestinian campaign to isolate and delegitimize Israel.

The United States has publicly criticized the Palestinian approach. President Obama called the Palestinian campaign at the U.N. a "mistake" and said that "no vote at the United Nations will ever create an independent Palestinian state." The administration has also been actively working to block this campaign and to facilitate direct peace talks between the two sides.

These American efforts should be intensified. The Obama administration should spell out concrete negative consequences of continued Palestinian attempts to isolate Israel and avoid direct talks. Furthermore, it is important to ensure that no Palestinian government backed by unreformed Hamas elements receives recognition or U.S. aid, in accordance with U.S. law.

Progress towards a comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will only be possible once the Palestinians realize the futility of their stunts and understand the need to return to the negotiating table without preconditions. BACK TO TOP