Editorial: The Stalled Peace Process Falls on Abbas’ Shoulders

For decades, the United States has emphasized the need for a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Washington has supported efforts to achieve such an agreement via direct negotiations between the parties, a process which both parties committed to as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords. The pursuit of an agreement has continued under President Obama. Since coming to office in 2009, the president has redoubled the American efforts to achieve a lasting peace agreement that results in two states—a Jewish state of Israel existing in peace and security next to a Palestinian state.

But the president’s pursuit has been met with two diametrically opposite positions: a willing Israel and a rejectionist Palestinian Authority (PA). Prime Minister Netanyahu told Congress on May 24, 2011, that he is “willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace.” And on September 23, 2011, President Abbas responded by saying, “They talk to us about the Jewish state, but I respond to them with a final answer: We shall not recognize a Jewish state.” President Abbas refuses to this very moment to sit down to talks, which are the prerequisite of any agreement.

These positions are nothing new. Less than five months into the Obama presidency, and less than three months into his own premiership, Prime Minister Netanyahu gave a bold foreign policy speech that outlined his desire to negotiate peace,

I turn to all Arab leaders tonight and I say: ‘Let us meet. Let us speak of peace and let us make peace. I am ready to meet with you at any time. I am willing to go to Damascus, to Riyadh, to Beirut, to any place – including Jerusalem.’

Five months later, Netanyahu took the unprecedented step of halting settlement construction for 10 months. However, Abbas refused to negotiate and disregarded Netanyahu’s bold move until August 2010—one month prior to the end of the freeze—only to pull out of the talks when the 10-month initiative expired. During the tenure of U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell, the PA agreed to sit to direct negotiations with the Israelis for a mere three weeks.

Mitchell recently articulated his frustration with the PA.

… The Israeli leaders agreed to halt new housing in the West Bank for 10 months. It was much less than what we asked for but more than anyone else had done. The Palestinians rejected it as worse than useless. They were strongly opposed to it. Then nine months on, there were negotiations for a couple of weeks that were discontinued by the Palestinians on the grounds that Israel wouldn’t continue the settlement freeze. What had been less than worthless a few months earlier became indispensable to continue negotiations.

Abbas has maintained his refusal to enter talks with Israel and has expanded on his baseless preconditions. Adding to the demand that Israel cease settlement construction and commit to the 1967 borders, in October the PA President insisted that the Jewish state release convicted Palestinian prisoners and terrorists in order to resume talks. In doing so, he has snubbed repeated calls from the Quartet to “resume direct bilateral negotiations without delay or preconditions.”

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister has echoed President Obama’s calls for direct talks. The prime minister has repeatedly recognized the need for a Palestinian state and has expressed his openness to negotiate anytime and anywhere. Speaking at the United Nations on September 23, 2011, Netanyahu said:

In the last few weeks, American officials have put forward ideas to restart peace talks. There were things in those ideas about borders that I didn’t like. There were things there about the Jewish state that I’m sure the Palestinians didn’t like. But with all my reservations, I was willing to move forward on these American ideas.

President Abbas, why don’t you join me? We have to stop negotiating about the negotiations. Let’s just get on with it. Let’s negotiate peace.

President Abbas, I extend my hand, the hand of Israel, in peace. I hope that you will grasp that hand.

But Netanyahu has not found a willing partner. On the same day that the prime minister extended his hand, Abbas took to the podium where he called the Palestinians “victims of [the catastrophe] that occurred in 1948,” in reference to Israel’s founding, and formally submitted a bid for U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood in blatant violation of the Oslo Accords and in defiance of American policy.

President Obama has rightly remained firm in his commitment that only a negotiated agreement will resolve this conflict. “Peace cannot be imposed on the parties,” said the president. “It’s going to have to be negotiated. One side’s actions in the United Nations will achieve neither statehood nor self-determination for the Palestinians.”

And yet, the Palestinians have continued to ignore President Obama. In order to advance the peace process, the United States must stand firm against Abbas’ U.N. actions, call on the PA to immediately return to direct talks and tell the world who is responsible for the hold-up in negotiations. BACK TO TOP