October 23, 2017
On the path to peace and Palestinian statehood, Mahmoud Abbas remains stuck at a crossroads.
The question confronting the octogenarian Palestinian Authority president is whether he will find a way to achieve peace through negotiations with Israel, or remain in a diplomatic roundabout, endlessly circling with neither the capacity nor the will to exit. Tragically, it is now clear that the latter is his chosen legacy for the Palestinian people.
Abbas is not ready to admit this.
“I am optimistic that the time will come in which we get an independent Palestinian state, but not any time soon,” Abbas said in an Egyptian TV interview. “We are building the Palestinian state, brick by brick.” One brick, he noted, was laid when UNESCO admitted the “State of Palestine” as a full member in 2011. The newest brick was laid when Interpol accepted Palestine as a member this month.
Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyadh Mansour was more direct.
“We are acting as a state, we are accepted as a state and we will continue on this path,” declared Mansour in his address to the annual International Media Seminar on Peace in the Middle East, in Vienna.
The UN General Assembly validated the myth of a Palestinian state when, in November 2012, by a vote of 138 to 9, with 41 abstentions, the Palestinian representation at the world body was upgraded from observer mission to a non-member observer state. Only the Security Council can make it a full UN member, and the last attempt, in December 2014, narrowly failed to garner the requisite nine votes in favor.
Remarkably, many nations have accepted the myth. In January, the Vatican became the latest of the 136 countries the Palestinians claim have recognized the State of Palestine, and 75 of them host Palestine embassies in their capitals.
Others who aspire to achieve independent states of their own, notably the Kurds, who most recently held a referendum in the Kurdish area of northern Iraq, can only wonder why the Palestinians and not them. After all, based on geography, history and current political realities, the Kurds have a much stronger case for self-determination.
Abbas himself has been feted as a bona fide head of state on international travels and at the annual opening of the UN General Assembly, where he is listed as president of the State of Palestine.
“I do not understand how recognizing the State of Palestine harms the chances of peace,” said Abbas at the UN podium in September. “I urge those states that have not recognized the State of Palestine yet to do so, in fulfillment of the principle of equality, which can enhance the chances of peace.”
Historically, sustainable peace has been achieved through direct negotiations between the parties to a conflict. That approach led to the Egypt-Israel and Jordan-Israel peace treaties, as well as to the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians.
The promise of a negotiated two-state solution envisioned in the Oslo Accords did not materialize, and Abbas abandoned that approach long ago, aided and abetted by much of the world. Rather than press Abbas to engage in serious talk with Israel, an expanding list of countries have buoyed his strategy to use the UN and other international bodies to impose a solution recognizing Palestine.
At the UN General Assembly in September, Abbas appealed again for recognition of his non-existent state.
“We look to the Security Council to approve our application for full membership of the State of Palestine to the United Nations. All those who support a two-state solution should recognize the other state, the State of Palestine.”
But Abbas has turned down proposals to resolve the conflict based on a two-state solution. While appearing to negotiate in good faith, he spurned a groundbreaking offer from prime minister Ehud Olmert in 2008. He walked away from the last round of direct peace talks, that ended in 2014, and has since refused to return to the negotiating table with Israel, or even to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This pattern continues the rejectionist approach taken by his mentor and predecessor Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000, and Taba in 2001.
At age 82, Abbas should ponder what he has accomplished for his people. They are not any closer to a comprehensive peace with Israel. Furthermore, they are deeply divided, with Hamas firmly in control of Gaza more than a decade after the terrorist group violently ousted Abbas and his Fatah Party government from the coastal territory. The latest reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah faces the same obstacles of conflicting missions and goals that wrecked previous attempts.
By committing to create a roster of countries and international governmental organizations that recognize Palestine, Abbas has unwisely ignored the one diplomatic channel that counts the most – Israel – without which there can be no comprehensive, sustainable peace.
At this stage, fundamental change in Abbas’s thinking is unlikely, and so circling the roundabout is destined to be his chosen legacy.
The writer is the American Jewish Committee’s director of media relations.
Image: [CC BY 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)], via Wikimedia Commons