By Rafael L. Bardají
If Abu Mazen, also known as Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, really wanted to have a state, he didn’t need to go all the way to the United Nations to get it – it’d have been enough to accept Israel’s call to dialogue and sit with the Israeli Administration in order to try to resolve the disputed issues. But, Abbas didn’t want to do it that way. Now, by rejecting Netanyahu’s proposal, by looking down on Obama’s suggestions, and by disregarding Sarkozy’s plan, Abbas has made very clear that he’s unaffected by what others suggest, yet he’s still without a state. What he’s accomplished with his attitude is to turn all sides into losers. America lost, unable to dissuade the Palestinians and showing its increasing loss of influence in the region; Israel lost, becoming the target of all sorts of criticism; and Abbas himself lost, returning home empty-handed. The only winners are his mortal enemies – the Palestinians belonging to Hamas who will use this failure to destroy whatever authority Abbas had left.
How to explain the Palestinian leader’s suicidal stubbornness? One can only do it by turning to history. In November 1947, the United Nations approved the partition of the British Mandate for Palestine into two states: Israel for the Jewish people and Palestine for the Arabs (in those days, there was no Palestinian identity yet – a much later invention of Yasser Arafat) . Israel would be the 58th UN member and Palestine would be the 59th. The Israelis willingly accepted the partition, but the Arabs didn’t. The then secretary general of the Arab League, Egyptian Pasha Azzan, said; “The Arab world sees the Jews as invaders. There can be no compromise. War is inevitable.” Sure enough, six months later, in the New York Times of May 15, 1948, one could read on the front page; “Zionists Proclaim the State of Israel; Truman Recognizes It and Hopes for Peace, Tel Aviv Is Bombed. Egypt Orders Invasion.” No respite.
As we know, the six attacking Arab countries were incapable of crystallizing their dream of eradicating the newly declared State of Israel and suffered a resounding military defeat. But, one thing became clear: They weren’t interested at all in having a Palestinian State. What they couldn’t accept was one Jewish people’s State. And such was their repulse that they returned, unrepentant, to their old tricks again —yet with the same results— in the 1950s, 1967 and 1973. Militarily humiliated, the Arab countries abandoned their goal to wipe out the tiny State of Israel with their tanks, troops and aircraft, but they never quit rejecting its existence. Attesting to it: Two intifadas, hundreds of terrorist attacks and Hamas and Fatah’s Charters, still in effect – they want Israel to cease to exist.
Just like famous Spaniard Javier Solana does, it’s easy to blame Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for the current Palestinian despair. But easy doesn’t make it accurate. In 2000, Solana’s ideological coreligionist, socialist Ehud Barak, made the largest peace offer possible, but Arafat rejected it because he knew that, without a conflict, he was nobody; eight years later, centrist Ehud Olmert went even further, offering 98 percent of the disputed territories, the partition of Jerusalem, and lucrative financial compensation for the refugees. Abbas rejected that, too. The Israelis have tried everything: land for peace, dialogue, unilateral disengagement… but, they have always obtained the same answer – suicide bombers and thousands of rockets over their heads. For Palestinian leaders, actually, have always preferred war to peace with Israel and, thus, they go against having their own state.
People like Solana, Miguel Ángel Moratinos, and Trinidad Jiménez denounce the provocation of the settlement expansion by the current administration in Jerusalem and, according to these people’s opinion, that undermines the possibility of any dialogue. One can only blame them for being ignorant – unless one ends up believing it’s not ignorance, but ill will. For starters, the issue of settlements was never an important point in the negotiations, as the Oslo accords clearly highlight. However, they are important now because Obama made them so by granting them a disproportionate role a year and a half ago. And, in any case, there’s a process of silencing the fact that, with Netanyahu, no building permits have been granted to establish new settlements – not one, zero, zilch. He’s only allowed the construction of 2,830 homes in certain settlements due to population growth and it’s always been within their existing geographical boundaries. Is that a lot? Well, it’s much less than, for example, the 5,126 permits granted by Ehud Olmert. One detail also forgotten in the fray is Israel’s 10-month building moratorium so that the Palestinians would return to the negotiating table – to no avail.
In short, the process –Abbas’s mistaken appeal to the United Nations— has been much criticized these days because it’d complicate any possible short-term agreement. But, in addition, Abbas’s plan must be rejected on the grounds of substance. Today, Abbas –just like Arafat before– is walking away from peace under the excuse of a rhetorical recognition of a state that doesn’t exist and that cannot exist against Israel – the Jewish state that he remains unwilling to recognize. The problem is that Abbas wants more that Israel ceases to exist than the birth of his Palestinian State.
This article was published in La Gaceta, and translated by Miryam Lindberg