A Mideast learning experience for Obama

Israeli PM Netanyahu’s speech on Sunday didn’t contain much that was new, although it may be the first time Mr. Netanyahu said in so many words that he would accept the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state (albeit a demilitarized one).

President Obama responded that there was a “positive movement” in Mr. Netanyahu’s statements which implied the possibility to restart serious negotiations.

But representatives of Israel’s ‘moderate peace partners’ of the Palestinian Authority (PA) disagreed, and were absolutely livid, suggesting that Netanyahu had destroyed all possibility of agreement and threatening — as always — violence:

“Netanyahu’s speech is a blow to Obama before it’s a blow to the Palestinians and Arabs,” an Abbas aide said. “It’s obvious, in the aftermath of this speech, that we are headed toward another round of violence and bloodshed.”

Abbas’s office issued a terse statement in which it accused Netanyahu of destroying efforts to achieve peace in the region.

“The speech has destroyed all initiatives and expectations,” the statement said. “It has also placed restrictions on all efforts to achieve peace and constitutes a clear challenge to the Palestinian, Arab and American positions…”

Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official closely associated with Abbas, launched a scathing attack on Netanyahu, calling him a “swindler and liar.”

PA negotiator Saeb Erekat said “Netanyahu will have to wait 1,000 years for someone to agree to talk to him.”

The parts that particularly infuriated them were Netanyahu’s insistence that a Palestinian state be demilitarized, his demand for “a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people”, and that “the Palestinian refugee problem be solved outside Israel’s borders”.

There are two interesting questions:

  • Why these issues?
  • Why are they risking exposure as being — shudder — ‘anti-peace’ and rejecting an offer of statehood out of hand?

The answers shed light on the true intentions of the ‘moderate peace partners’ and show how far we really are from meeting the aspirations of all groups in the region, as President Obama described it.

One might well ask why — if we are talking about a Palestinian state — they care so much about the nature of the Jewish one.  Why do they continue to argue that there is no Jewish provenance in the Land of Israel, and indeed that there is no Jewish people, if they simply want a state alongside Israel?

Of course the answer is that they don’t, which is why they demand to resettle hostile ‘refugees’ in Israel, to demographically overwhelm the Jews and destabilize the Israeli government — at which point, the presence of a Palestinian army in a non-demilitarized state next door will become highly relevant to the outcome.

In 1974 the PLO’s Palestinian National Council, of which Mahmoud Abbas was a member, adopted a program that has been called the “Phased Plan”.  It can be summarized as follows:

  1. Through the “armed struggle” (i.e., terrorism), to establish an “independent combatant national authority” over any territory that is “liberated” from Israeli rule. (Article 2)
  2. To continue the struggle against Israel, using the territory of the national authority as a base of operations. (Article 4)
  3. To provoke an all-out war in which Israel’s Arab neighbors destroy it entirely (“liberate all Palestinian territory”). (Article 8)

Shortly thereafter (1977), Abbas became one of the first PLO officials to call for a “two-state solution”.

His present behavior is explained well by the hypothesis that for Abbas, the “two-state solution” is the Phased Plan.

To answer the second question — why are they so out front about their anger — I think that they believed that Obama is handing Israel to them on a silver platter. I think they are (or were) convinced that he, too understands and accepts the ‘Phased Plan’ — why else, in their mind, would he be pressuring Israel so hard? So they think that there is nothing to lose by showing their hands.

In this I think they are mistaken. Immersed as they are in Mideast politics, it never crossed their mind that an American president would be so naive. Although I’m sure that some Obama advisors understand quite well what the consequences will be of forcing the creation of a Palestinian state under conditions acceptable to Abbas, I believe that Mr. Obama himself actually thinks that he can find a way to end the conflict peacefully and satisfy the aspirations of both sides.

Unfortunately he is mistaken. Possibly this affair will be a window into the minds of the  Palestinians — the kind of learning experience that Bill Clinton had to wait eight years to get.

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One Response to “A Mideast learning experience for Obama”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    Whether intending to do so or not what the Netanyahu speech revealed is the real nature of the Palestinian ‘peace-partner’. It is as Vic Rosenthal said a ‘phased plan’ for them. They are not ready for Peace with Israel in a real way.
    This situation is of course known to supporters of Israel. The true character of Abbas and company is something which anyone with a bit of discernment could understand.
    But Bush and Rice did not want to understand it. Will Obama and Clinton?
    Most likely not. There is apparently ‘truth one can bear’ and ‘truth one cannot bear’.
    If the U.S. or for that matter anyone else interested were honest they would see that the Netanyahu speech simply exposed the truth which is the basic truth of the conflict. This is the inability of the Palestinian Arabs and others to accept and live in peace with Israel.