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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Is There a Palestinian Partner?

Filed under: Hamas, Israel, Palestinians

Is There a Palestinian Partner?

There are two problems with the Ha’aretz editorial of May 10, 2017, which declares that there is a Palestinian partner. One is that the “facts” on which the argument is based are simply incorrect, and it simply ignores other inconvenient facts that contradict its central argument. The second problem lies in the question: is there or is there not a Palestinian partner and for what? For negotiations? For an agreement? For both?

Let us begin with the first problem. The central argument on which the entire editorial is based claims that since he was elected president in 2005, Mahmoud Abbas has persisted in his call for the realization of the two-states for two peoples solution according to the 1967 lines. The truth is that Abbas supports a “two-state solution,” but firmly opposes “two states for two peoples.” His opposition stems from the fact that the heart of the Palestinian narrative asserts that the Jews are not a people or a nationality, but members of a religion, and therefore they have no right to self-determination or to their own nation-state, certainly not in Palestine, for which they have no basis to claim sovereignty.

True, when Abbas is pushed into a corner, he is willing to use the phrase “two states for two peoples,” but Abbas means a state for the Palestinian people (on the 1967 lines with limited land swaps, including a capital in east Jerusalem), and a country without an ethnic identity – a state for the “Israeli people,” i.e., a state of all its citizens. In fact, he uses the expression “the Israeli people” quite often. Unlike Abbas, many Israelis support a two-state solution within whose framework the Palestinians will recognize Israel as the (democratic) nation-state of the Jewish people.

For both Abbas and Hamas (according to Hamas’ new political document), a Palestinian state within the 1967 lines is a step towards realizing the Palestinian vision of correcting the injustice inherent in Zionism, by establishing a Palestinian state over the entire territory of the British Mandate for Palestine. This is the “phased plan” of 1974, which the Palestinians never abandoned. It is clear to them that the realization of this vision will not be possible in the near future, but their commitment to it is uncompromising. It is part of the education that they give to their children. It also explains the words of Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to Turkish President Erdogan this week that Palestinians have been suffering from the occupation for 69 years (since Israel was established).

The reference to the maps and boundaries issue in the Ha’aretz editorial was also misleading. In part, it is intended to create the false impression that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is essentially a real estate dispute, rather than dealing with the fact that the Palestinians deny the very right of the Jewish people to statehood within any boundaries in the land of their forefathers. For some reason, the author forgot that Abbas did not accept Ehud Olmert’s far-reaching proposal – whose borders were not far from the Palestinian position on borders – primarily because of differences of opinion on the issue of refugees (as Condoleezza Rice describes in her book).

The editorial writer also forgot to relate to the fact that the Palestinians presented Trump with the original map of partition proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937 (which allotted 85 percent of the country to the Arabs), in order to illustrate the size of the area they had lost since then. The problem is that it was the Palestinians who rejected any partition proposal that meant the establishment of a Jewish nation-state on a single grain of soil of Palestine. They continue to reject it even today. Upon Abbas’ return to Ramallah in 2014, after his fateful meeting with President Obama, at which he was presented with Kerry’s blueprint, Abbas told a crowd of supporters, “We are sticking to the promise and continue to hold true to our covenant and there will be no concession of our deposit” – meaning that we will never agree to a Jewish nation-state on a grain of Palestinian soil. He has said the same thing explicitly many times.

If we add to this Abbas’ support for the ongoing struggle against Zionism – including paying salaries to terrorists imprisoned in Israel, as dictated under Palestinian law, which sees terrorists as the fighters of the Palestinian people; the commitment to the political campaign of delegitimization against Israel (for example, at UNESCO); and his continual slandering of Israel – we will understand that Ha’aretz’s editorial is not connected to reality.

Even if we ignore these facts for a moment – as well as the fact that Abbas’ ability is limited because he heads a failing government with a low level of functioning and high level of corruption – and we assume that Abbas can be a partner for certain negotiations, the question remains about a partner to what? At the most, to a discussion about Judea and Samaria (the West Bank). Clearly, he cannot be a partner for talks on Gaza.

In the end, however, the bottom line is that it is not clear whether Abbas even wants to be a partner for negotiations, which would require addressing his position on recognizing Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people. That appears to be the reason that he insists on preconditions and prefers to act on the international stage.

How will Donald Trump affect Abbas’ positions? It is difficult at this stage to answer, but past experience shows that he will make an effort to fool the American president and Israeli public opinion (the editorial certainly serves this effort), in order that they will view Abbas as a partner, without requiring that he change his positions.

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This article originally appeared in Ha’aretz in Hebrew on May 13, 2017.