RubinReports | By Barry Rubin
If the Israel-Palestinian situation were to be considered to be like a hand grenade, the “international community” has just pulled the pin and thrown it away. Or, to put it another way, it has just taken a sledgehammer to two decades of fragile diplomacy and smashed all the diplomatic options to bits.
Even though almost nobody in the West recognizes it yet absolutely everything about the Israel-Palestinian conflict has changed. Or at least everything from the material realities which leaves Israel still stronger, in possession of part of the West Bank, and with the ability to act as needed to defend its security.
But any talk of Israel-Palestinian negotiations, peace process activity, compromise diplomacy, and all that stuff is meaningless now and here’s why:
The UN General Assembly made the Palestinian Authority (PA)-ruled entity a non-member state. Many in the West rationalized providing supporting votes or abstentions by saying this would do no harm and make Palestinians feel good.
While the United States voted against the resolution, the Obama Administration wasted the better part of two years not battling it, certainly not fighting against it effectively, and absolutely failing to convince European allies who supposedly love Obama to vote against it.
Those of us who opposed this change explained that it means destruction of the 1993 Oslo agreement and the “peace process,” as moribund as it was, by handing the Palestinian Authority (at least on paper) everything it wanted without a single compromise on its part, not even living up to previous commitments.
Ironically, the more the PA gets in theory the less it gains in practice. Only by making a deal with Israel can the PA get full possession of territory on the West Bank and define such a state’s borders and security arrangements. By refusing to negotiate with Israel or compromise, the PA guarantees failure.
Moreover, the PA has shown itself unable to get a deal with Hamas, which governs the Gaza Strip, without which a single Palestinian entity, much less a state, does not exist. Historically, international law has required that a state must have a single government in control of a clearly defined territory. That situation does not exist regarding any Palestinian state.
Even more serious, however, was the fact that the UN General Assembly action took the extraordinary step of blowing up an internationally recognized and sponsored series of agreements that only an Israel-Palestinian peace accord would determine the outcome.
In addition, we pointed out that the management of this whole enterprise was feeding the PA’s notion that the “international community” was recognizing its claim to every inch of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and east Jerusalem. And since they were entitled to all of this land, they didn’t have to compromise on anything and didn’t need to reach any agreement with Israel. This assumption, of course, guarantees there won’t be any negotiated peace agreement at all.
In a May 2011 New York Times op-ed piece, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas laid out precisely what he has now done: “Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one. It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.” Palestine was not admitted as a member but the recognition of it as a state was the important part.
In other words, the UN General Assembly’s action was the single most effective sabotage to a two-state solution since the Palestine Arab leadership’s rejection of a two-state solution based on partition in 1947. Much of the media, “experts,” and Western politicians will no doubt blame Israel and especially the Netanyahu government for the absence of a diplomatic miracle. In fact, though, Israel’s stances have now been rendered irrelevant in this regard.
During the next four years there will not be any serious Israel-Palestinian peace negotiations and it won’t be Israel’s fault. In real terms, whatever they say publicly, the U.S. and European governments seem to have recognized this fact; President Barack Obama clearly understands it, too. What they fail to understand is their own responsibility for this outcome
This is a very important point to understand. The ridiculousness of claims by believers in “linkage” — that the Arab-Israeli or Israeli-Palestinian conflicts are the core issue in the region — are increasingly obvious. With revolutions and civil wars everywhere; Islamists fighting nationalists and democrats; Sunnis versus Shias; the conflicts involving Israel are clearly secondary at most.
Thus, telling the Palestinians that they now have a state is a way of escaping this dilemma. You’ve got what you want, goes the message, so go away and leave us alone to deal with the important stuff. In short, this step kills the peace process but those who did it no longer care. And it is one more case where — despite damage done to Israel — Palestinian leaders rejoice over a “victory” which ensures they are worse off than before.
We also argued that this step would lead to constant Palestinian law suits in the world court against Israel as being the aggressor against another state and intoxicating the Palestinian side with the belief that it could do whatever it wanted to do.
Now comes an official statement from PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to that effect. From his regime’s official news agency comes the following:
“PRESIDENTIAL DIRECTIVES TO THE FOREIGN MINISTRY TO REQUEST THE WORLD STATES TO USE THE ‘STATE OF PALESTINE’ INSTEAD OF THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY
“President Mahmoud Abbas issued directives to the PA foreign ministry to circulate to the Palestinian embassies worldwide directives according to which they should use the `state of Palestine’ instead of the ‘Palestinian National Authority’ in compliance with the UNGA [General Assembly] resolution on upgrading the status of the state of Palestine to a non-member observer state, and to seek recognition of the statehood from states that have not yet done that.”
On top of this the PA’s legal advisor has now declared that the PA no longer exists and has been replaced by the state of Palestine. He says that Israeli “occupation” — of areas that the PA previously agreed that Israel would continue to control until a peace agreement was reached — must immediately end. And while it is not stated directly, since the new argument is that Israel is illegally occupying the territory of another state, the demand is for Israel to withdraw unconditionally from east Jerusalem and those areas of the West Bank it still holds to get nothing in return.
Hence, the official Palestinian position: There is no need to negotiate with Israel now or in future, nor is there any need to recognize Israel’s future existence to get a Palestinian state with the pre-1967 (Egyptian and Jordanian) boundaries. At last, they have implemented the plan proposed by Amin al-Husaini to Yasir Arafat in 1968 and adopted by Arafat a few years later: Get a state without being bound by any commitments for peace with Israel; then use that state to destroy Israel.
That’s of course the Fatah position, the Hamas stance is a one-step genocide.
So while the “peace process” that began in 1993 and was torpedoed by Arafat in 2000 has long been dead in practice, it is now officially and fully dead. And any talk of reviving it, promoting talks, coming up with gimmicks, blaming Israel for not giving more, etc., etc., is now thoroughly and completely obsolete. Of course, the conflict isn’t over. It’s just the diplomatic process that’s totally finished.
We have thus entered a new era of history in this regard. This doesn’t mean a return to the high-conflict, conventional or terrorist war period of the 1967-1992 period but rather something new. That most likely will be a time in which there is much hand-wringing, attempts to revive hope, continued talk of missed opportunities, and placing of blame. In fact, though, nothing much is really going to happen.
Both Israelis and Palestinians are now largely spectators watching the great battle for power within the Arabic-speaking world, a situation in which Iran and Turkey are also increasingly irrelevant. Here is the central question, whose answer we won’t know for several years but whose scenarios we better prepare for:
Will Islamist regimes in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, and Tunisia, put the main priority on direct battle with Israel or will they place a long-term focus on the relatively lower-cost efforts to consolidate power at home, repress their own people, transform their own societies, and try to subvert the remaining non-Islamist regimes?
Their ideology and rhetoric indicate they will come after Israel, but that is not in itself an answer. How soon will they make this switch or will their aggression remain mere talk? How much risk will they take and resources will they spend? How effectively will they work together? And how much, if any, effort will they put into helping Hamas take over the PA?
As for the PA itself, it might well remember the words of Bob Dylan explaining, “There’s no success like failure/And failure’s no success at all.”
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest book, “Israel: An Introduction“, has just been published by Yale University Press. Other recent books include “The Israel-Arab Reader” (seventh edition), “The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East” (Wiley), and “The Truth About Syria” (Palgrave-Macmillan). The website of the GLORIA Center and of his blog, Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.