Former deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams has just returned from London, where he traveled for a series of speeches and meetings. He provides his thoughts on Israeli-Palestinian developments:
No one, official or “expert,” had a solid answer to what comes after September’s folly at the U.N. Abbas will be forced by public opinion, or at least by Hamas and other extremist pressure, immediately to use any new options a U.N. reference to Palestinian statehood gives him — such as seeking International Criminal Court indictments of Israeli officials. The only effect will be to embitter relations between Israel and the PA and make cooperation more difficult even when it is in the interests of both sides. The refusal to see all of this is a great failure of leadership by Abbas, whose public opinion is not forcing him into this posture. Recent polls suggest that most Palestinians prefer negotiations and see the U.N. as a sideshow, so Abbas could have taken that view and faced down the extremists. He did not, and there is no evidence he will now, so we can expect the U.N. action to be the start of a nasty autumn. His declarations about non-violence are not going to stop large demonstrations from becoming violent if Hamas and others decide to provoke it. And Israeli officials are unlikely to go beyond the call of duty in cooperating with the PA if they are fighting both “lawfare” attacks and street violence.
In fact, on this point the Obama administration agrees. The Wall Street Journal reports: “On Thursday, Mr. Abbas recommitted to his plan to pursue the U.N. vote this month, following a meeting in the West Bank the previous day with two senior Obama administration officials. These officials explicitly warned the Palestinian leader that his relations with the U.S. could sour if he followed through on his initiative, according to diplomats briefed on the meeting. The two American diplomats, the White House’s Dennis Ross and special Middle East peace envoy David Hale, specifically pointed to threats made by the U.S. Congress to cut American financial assistance to the Palestinian Authority. . . . Messers. Ross and Hale also told the Palestinian leader that the U.N. vote would undermine security in the Palestinian territories and potentially derail long-term hopes for Middle East peace.”
But the president’s plea is being rebuffed. It is a bracing rejection of his leadership and signals just how misguided his efforts have been.
But let’s be frank: the bigger issue is that the notion of a two-state solution is a farce so long as the Palestinians retain the dream of the ”right of return.”
The demand for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is a new Israeli precondition for negotiations, they said, and is blocking talks. That’s false, Israeli officials replied; that recognition is our goal and our demand in negotiations, not a precondition to sitting down. This clear statement did not prevent PA/PLO officials from repeating their false claim over and over, including on the BBC.
Worse yet was the argument that the “right of return” is an individual right that the PA/PLO cannot waive in a peace treaty. If that is the firm Palestinian position when talks come — if they ever do — there is quite simply no chance for an agreement. For that position means the Palestinians would be insisting that each individual “refugee,” a category they define to include those born in Israel before 1948 plus all their descendants no matter where or when they were born, has the right to move to Israel and each must decide for himself. No Israeli government will ever agree to this, and this demand constitutes a Palestinian refusal to accept the Jewish state — in fact, an intention to make its continued existence impossible.
For decades the U.S. and Israel have been play-acting, in essence pretending that we are so very close to peace and only trivial matters (e.g., houses in Ariel) stand between the current situation and a permanent era of goodwill. This is false. The Palestinians for over 60 years have refused to give up the hope of eradicating, by war or by demography, a Jewish state from the region. Now the jig is up; the Palestinians’ recalcitrance is obvious even to the Obama team and the president, who foolishly invested so much credibility in the “peace process,” is ignored and humiliated by the likes of Mahmoud Abbas.
The “peace process” is dead. Oslo is in tatters. Violence and “lawfare” aimed at discrediting the Jewish state are likely to follow. It’s quite a coda to the careers of Messers. Ross and Hale. But mostly, it’s a display of the dangers that flow from the gross ineptitude of the Obama team.