Meeting in besieged Cairo with the Arab League, 78-year-old Palestinian Authority and PLO President Mahmoud Abbas signaled that he would not extend the April 29, 2014 deadline with Israel on a final status agreement for an independent state. “We turn down any extension,” Palestinian chief negotiator and former Yasser Arafat aid 58-year-old Saeb Erekat told Voice of Palestine Radio, clarifying comments about extensions. “I said that if we reach an agreement on all final status issues, we could continue to discus the details,” giving some wiggle-room between now and next April. Renewed peace talks started July 29 when President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry convinced Palestinians that it was in their best interest to reopen peace talks. Instead of pressuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Palestinians should talk with Gaza’s Hamas leader 50-year-old Ismail Haniyeh.
Founded in 1987 by Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, Hamas is committed to Israel’s destruction, not willing to compromise with Israel on any grounds, unless Israel permits Palestinians to reclaim Israel’s current borders as a future Palestinian state. Abbas and Erekat currently seek to claim Israeli spoils of the 1967 Six-Day War, namely, Jordan’s West Bank, for a future state. Among Abbas’ West Bank government’s biggest complaints are Israel’s settlement construction in what the Palestinians refer to as “occupied territories.” Since the end of the 1967 War, Israel controlled Egypt’s Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, Jordan’s West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights. Since the earliest days to peace talks with Israel, Palestinians always promised “land-for-peace,” despite the ongoing guerrilla war. U.N. Security Council’s1967 Resolution 242 promised Israel land-for-peace.
When Israel returned the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt in 1979, negotiated in 1978 by former President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat, known as the “Camp David Accords,” it won all parties Nobel Peace Prizes but not peace. Land-for-peace didn’t stop the armed conflict when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon handed Egypt’s Gaza Strip to Palestinians in 1995. It didn’t take long for Hamas to seize the territoryin 1997 from the PLO, creating the current Palestinian factions, dividing 3 million Palestinians between Gaza and the West Bank. Kerry’s current peace efforts between Ramallah-based PLO and Israel are only between the West Bank and Tel Aviv, not Hamas-controlled Gaza. Neither Hamas’ Haniyeh nor its 57-year-old exiled leader Khalid Meshaal accept peace deal without an end to the Israeli state.
No matter what consensus emerges in Cairo with the Arab League, Palestinians have no real backing from any Arab state other than lip service. Only Israel offers Palestinians real estate in the West Bank. Before the 1967 war, despite a history of living in-or-around the British Mandate of Palestine, Palestinians had no claim of sovereign territory. Egypt claimed the Gaza Strip and Sinai Peninsula, Jordan claimed the West Bank and Syria claimed the Golan Heights. No Arab state offered Palestinians one inch of sovereign land before or after the Six-Day War. No matter how Hamas continues to bluster about destroying Israel or how much sympathy they get at the Arab League, only Israel offers Palestinians any sovereign land. Instead of pressuring Netanyahu in Cairo, Abbas and Erekat should meet with Netanyahu, Yitzhak Molcho and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni to hammer out a deal.
Talking tough in Cairo doesn’t help the Palestinian cause of establishing an independent Palestinian state. Arafat learned the hard way going to his grave without his dream of an independent state. He came a razor’s edge away in 2000 with former President Bill Clinton to cutting a deal, only to end with another so-called Intifada or uprising. Thirteen-years later Palestinians are a divided people, with more suffering and poverty than ever. Threatening to break off peace talks and resume more violence unless Israelis make more concessions or cave into Palestinian demands makes no sense. Since Abbas and Erekat negotiate only for their Ramallah-based government, they don’t have the leverage to pressure Netanyahu into a deal that compromises Israeli national security. Outgoing Palestinian negotiator Mohammad Shtayyeh said negotiations “are not going to take us anywhere.”
Going back to threats of violence won’t win Palestinians more concessions with Netanyahu. Nor will Arab League pronouncements that offer nothing other than lip service. “The Israelis want to replace occupation by force with occupation by invitation, with our signature, and it will never happen,” said Shtayyeh, calling on the international community to pressure Netanyahu into accepting Palestinian demands. Savvy negotiators like Erekat know that more threats and violence won’t win his Ramallah-based government more concessions. Abbas and Erekat know that real problems with Hamas will emerge once they cut a deal with Israel. Hamas won’t accept any peace deal with Israel, especially one that recognizes only Ramallah as the legitimate Palestinian state. No Arab state can guarantee a future Palestinian state. Only cutting a deal with Israel will work.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s director of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.