Mahmoud Abbas – “the president of the state of Palestine,” chairman of the Palestinian Authority, leader of the PLO, and head of Fatah – must recognize that he is not a serious partner for negotiating with Israel because he does not have the authority to make decisions for the Palestinian people.
The practical significance of his stated political positions in the negotiations with Israel is his rejection of any authority to make historic decisions regarding a political compromise, which closes the door to any stable, lasting solution for two states to live in peace next to each other.
In a meeting with “a popular delegation from Al-Quds” (Jerusalem) at the presidential office in Ramallah on January 10, 2014, Abbas said:1
Occupied Jerusalem is the capital of the state of Palestine, and without it there will be no solution, and no one is authorized to sign [on an agreement regarding it]….Without eastern Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine there will be no peace between us and Israel….Jerusalem is not Abu Dis [a town bordering eastern Jerusalem], but Abu Dis is part of Jerusalem….The capital [of the future state of Palestine will be] in Jerusalem and the [surrounding] area, the capital [will be] in Jerusalem that was conquered in 1967.
We are telling the world that the Palestinians will not surrender and these are not empty words when we say that we will never surrender. We will stand strong and persevere, and the world will eventually have to agree to what we want. What our people want is that our flowers [young girls] and our youth stand strong and persevere as they perform their wonderful deeds in Jerusalem and other places.
This is not about stubbornness but rather steadfastness and standing strong on principles. We have rights even though we are weak in the world. We will continue to demand our rights and we will achieve our rights….We stand strong here in Jerusalem, in the West Bank, in Gaza, in the diaspora, and in every place we will achieve these rights due to our steadfastness and that of our youth.
When we agree on a solution, the Palestinian land, the skies, and the borders will be under full Palestinian sovereignty. We will control the borders and will not give up any part of them, and no one will laugh at us.
The request to recognize Israel as a Jewish state
is an issue that we did not hear before except in the last two years [and accordingly] if [you Palestinians] don’t recognize the existence of a Jewish state there won’t be a solution. We will never recognize this and will not agree to this. It is our right not to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. We have many arguments and many reasons that prevent us from doing so and we presented them to Israel. Their problem with us is that we know many things about them, we know their history and geography, and what we know, we say. We will protect everything and we will not agree to the [definition of] state [of Israel] as Jewish. We want the 1967 borders.
The right of return is a personal option. No authority, [Palestinian] state, the PLO, Abu Mazen [Abbas], or [other Palestinian] leaders have the right to take away a person’s right of return. Let there be [various] options and let the refugee choose. There is compensation and other possibilities. Even a father, if he should request it, cannot wave the right of his children, since the matter is an individual right.
Abbas’ words express a clear message that the Palestinians see the negotiations as simply a tool to achieve Palestinian rights according to the Palestinian viewpoint, and they are not seeking a way to compromise with Israel on essential issues. This follows the Palestinian approach regarding “a peace based on justice” as compared with the Israeli approach of “a peace based on compromise.”
Abbas demands full sovereignty in all the territory conquered by Israel from the Kingdom of Jordan and Egypt in the defensive war it fought in 1967 (“the ’67 lands”), and especially in the area called “eastern Jerusalem,” which includes the Old City, the Temple Mount, the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall, and other Jewish historical sites.
An Israeli withdrawal from eastern Jerusalem and all the Jewish holy sites located there, in the eyes of Abbas, is an important prerequisite for a political solution, and without this there is no Palestinian leader who has the authority to sign a political agreement with Israel. In the past Abbas presented similar prerequisites regarding other issues under discussion in the negotiations including borders, sovereignty, refugees, and the freeing of Palestinians serving prison sentences in Israel for involvement in terror attacks.
Abbas is determined in his rejection of the request to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and his position is directly connected to the Palestinian position toward the refugees, regarding which he has distanced himself and all the Palestinian institutions from any authority to reach any decisions involving what the Palestinians call “the right of return.”
In his claim that “the right of return” is a “personal right” of every refugee and his descendants for all generations, Abbas is undermining a basic assumption of Israel and the U.S. regarding the political negotiations, according to which he can represent the Palestinian people on the issues at the heart of the conflict and take historic decisions in their name.
This position conforms with the law approved by Abbas in 2008 in his role as “chairman of the PLO Executive Committee” and “president of the Palestinian National Authority.” The law, called “the Law of the Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees,”2 was approved by the Palestinian parliament and determines, among other things, that:
Para. 2 – The right of return of the Palestinian refugees to their homes and their property and their receipt of compensation for their suffering is a basic, holy right and is not subject to buying and selling, and is not subject to personal judgment [to make major changes], interpretation, or referendum.
Para. 3 – The right of return is a natural right that is personal, collective, civilian, and political, that is transferred from father to son and is not cancelled over time or through the signing of any agreement, and it cannot be cancelled or given up for any reason.
Para. 5 – It is forbidden to settle the Palestinian refugees or remove them [from their current places] as an alternative to the right of return.
Para. 6 – Anyone who acts in contradiction to this law will be considered as one who has committed serious criminal treason, and will be subject to every criminal and civil punishment that this crime deserves.
The Palestinian strategy has been revealed in full. The current political negotiations, or any future negotiations, cannot bring about a signed, stable, and lasting political agreement that will bring an end to the conflict and all claims. The first Palestinian objective in their order of priorities is to receive full sovereignty on the territory of 1967 – while leaving the conflict wide open.
The problem of the refugees is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and this is seen from the Palestinian perspective as a winning strategic card, through which the Palestinians will be able to wear down the power of the state of Israel even after the establishment of a Palestinian state, and to overcome Israel demographically and turn it over the long term into a part of a single Palestinian state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
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1. Abbas’ speech in Ramallah, January 10, 2014, http://wafa.ps/arabic/index.php?action=detail&id=166593
2. Law of the Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees (2008), https://www.jcpa.org.il
The Palestinian Refugees on the Day After “Independence” – Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi