If the Palestinians Declare a State Unilaterally

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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Kenneth Levin, a clinical instructor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a Princeton-trained historian, and a commentator on Israeli politics. He is the author of The Oslo Syndrome: Delusions of a People Under Siege.

FP: Kenneth Levin, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

I would like to talk to you today about the Palestinian Authority’s efforts of seeking recognition as an independent state via the UN and on a nation by nation basis.

The PA has pursued United Nations Security Council condemnation of Israeli settlements, is threatening to go now to the General Assembly with an anti-settlement resolution, and is threatening as well to seek recognition from the UN of Palestinian statehood along the pre-1967 cease-fire lines. It has also sought and received such recognition from various nations around the world, particularly in South America but elsewhere as well.

What is your understanding of this PA strategy?

Levin: Thanks Jamie.

It has always been the goal of the Palestinian leadership to gain recognition, and territory, without acknowledging Israel’s right to exist as the national homeland of the Jewish people and without giving up Palestinian pursuit of additional claims against Israel; its goal, ultimately, is Israel’s dissolution.

At the time of the initiation of the Oslo accords, on the evening of the famous signing and handshake on the White House lawn in September, 1993, Yasir Arafat appeared on Jordanian television and explained to his constituency and his wider Arab audience that they should understand Oslo as the first phase of his 1974 plan. In 1974, he had elaborated a plan according to which the Palestinians would take any land they could acquire by negotiations and use that land as a base from which they would pursue Israel’s annihilation. Arafat repeated this understanding of Oslo many times thereafter.

When Arafat, Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Clinton held their talks at Camp David in 2000, Arafat rejected all the concessions offered by Barak and Clinton and refused to put forward counter-proposals. He was unwilling to agree to any accord, whatever the territorial and other concessions made by Israel, because an “end-of-conflict” agreement was demanded from him in return and he was not interested in ending the conflict and foregoing future, additional Palestinian demands.

Around the same time, Arafat spoke of declaring a state unilaterally, as a way, again, of establishing “Palestine” without signing away future claims against Israel. President Clinton made clear that the U.S. would not support such a unilateral move and, not least because of U.S. pressure, European states conveyed the same message.

When, after Camp David, Arafat launched his terror war against Israel, he did so once more with the intention of establishing a de facto state without signing a final peace accord. He had some hope of seizing additional territory via his terror campaign, but he also expressed the hope that the carnage he triggered, particularly if it led to an incident which entailed significant loss of civilian lives on the Palestinian side, would lead to international intervention and the introduction of an international force in the territories to “protect” the Palestinians. Such a force would inevitably provide a shield behind which Arafat could continue to pursue his terror attacks, would severely compromise Israel’s ability to respond to the terror, and would in effect give Arafat his de facto state without his having signed a final status agreement.

PA president Mahmoud Abbas, a longtime associate of Arafat and member of the Fatah and PLO leadership, has largely followed Arafat’s course. He has not actively pursued a terror campaign, and was critical of the terror war launched by Arafat, but he made clear at the time, and in statements since then, that his opposition to the manner in which Arafat used terror was purely tactical; he felt it did not serve to advance the Palestinians’ ultimate goals. Abbas has also made clear that those goals, for him, are the same as for Arafat.

FP: What has Abbas’ record been of dealing with Israel?

Levin: Abbas has refused to recognize Israel’s legitimacy as the Jewish state, the expression of that right of national self-determination accorded other peoples, even though the original UN resolution on the division of Mandate Palestine west of the Jordan called for establishment of a Jewish and an Arab state. He has refused to consider any compromise regarding Palestinian insistence on a so-called “right of return,” the right of Palestinians to settle en masse inside whatever remains of Israel rather than have Palestinians settle in the new state created for them – a swamping of Israel that would, in effect, entail the dissolution of the state. He has given no indication of any willingness to agree to a final status accord.

Some have argued that Abbas would be inclined to be more forthcoming than Arafat but is inhibited by his political weakness, by the fact that his Fatah cadres and the wider Palestinian public are unprepared for reconciliation with Israel and for any compromise of demands that serve the goal of Israel’s ultimate destruction. But Abbas has followed Arafat in using the mosques, media and schools under his control to militate against any peaceful resolution of the conflict. The message conveyed by all three is that Jews have no historical connection to any part of Palestine, that they are mere usurpers whose presence must be expunged, and that it is the duty of every Palestinian to pursue that goal. In addition, Abbas has personally praised terrorists who have killed Israelis as the ideal that all Palestinians should strive to emulate and has explicitly endorsed efforts to delegitimize Israel and its right to exist within any borders.

FP: Some documents have recently surfaced that have revealed some information about PA “concessions” in 2008. Tell us about them.

Levin: Media reports some weeks ago gave attention to newly revealed documents that showed  supposed “concessions” by the PA in negotiations in 2008 with the Olmert administration. But they do not change the reality I have discussed. The contents of the documents are actually consistent with longstanding, widely known statements by PA leaders hinting at a willingness to entertain some limited land swaps and offering virtually no concessions on the “right of return.” In addition, while the PA under Abbas has at times spoken of accepting such territorial positions, it has never actually signed off on any agreement with Israel. Arafat’s negotiators, too, at times made “conciliatory” sounds, and poured over maps as though seriously contemplating reaching compromises, but Arafat ultimately always balked and demanded more. In some instances, the conciliatory feints were primarily for Israeli consumption; in others they were aimed more at placating the Americans. (Secretary of State Rice was present at some of the discussions documented in the recently released materials). There is no reason to believe that these 2008 talks represented anything different from those earlier kabuki dances.

In addition, the 2008 talks took place against a background of increasing and incessant rocket and mortar attacks against Israel from Gaza, and it was clear that Israel would soon have to respond to this assault with an incursion into Gaza aimed at ending it. Abbas was very much interested in Israel’s destroying Hamas in Gaza and handing Gaza over to the PA. A further motive for hinting at possible compromises, at least on territorial issues, may well have been a wish to have Israel believe it had a “partner” in the PA and therefore be more willing to expend Israeli lives to install the PA in Gaza rather than engaging in a more limited operation to try and end Gazan rocket fire and other terror attacks.

Also noteworthy was the nature of Abbas’s outrage over the leaking of the documents. He not only argued that some claims of PA concessions were exaggerated, but tried to disown even the more modest hints at compromise actually contained in the documents. In fact, even though there have been suggestions of his entertaining such moves in the past, Abbas does not want to be seen by the Palestinian public as genuinely considering any compromises. This is consistent with his continuing the indoctrination of Palestinians, including Palestinian children, against accepting anything short of tactical steps that do not impinge on the ultimate objective of Israel’s destruction and its replacement by a Palestinian Muslim state from the Jordan to the Mediterranean.

In fact, Abbas clearly believes he’s in a much better position than was Arafat to realize Arafat’s dream of establishing a state on virtually all of the West Bank and Gaza and doing so without signing an agreement that would preclude the ongoing pursuit of Israel’s demise; that is, in taking a major step towards completing the Plan of Phases. His belief is grounded largely in his perception of President Obama as an ally in this program.

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  • crackerjack

    Israeli settlements are not in US interest. the establishmentof a Pali state is in US interest. The only question is how long the Israel Lobby can futher pressure the US to act against its own interests.

    • mommasvol

      God said i will bless them that bless thee and curse them that curse thee this is a promise to Israel so you want to be cursed crackerjack have at it

    • ziontruth

      "Israeli settlements are not in US interest. the establishmentof a Pali state is in US interest."

      Were it for the first sentence alone, I'd just shrug it off and say, "Very well then, leave off and solve your problems at home, it's both your right and duty."

      The second sentence, however, is blatant intervention in a sovereign state's affairs. Now calmness wears off, and I say: "Don't you dare appease the Muslim imperialists on Israel's expense! Back off, anti-Zionist scum! Back off, you hear that? Hands off Israel!"

      I do not demand any non-Jew support Israel. I do however demand they all cease from activities that are against her, or on her expense.

    • New Yorker

      The establishment of another backward islamic terrorist state of "palestine" is certainly not in U.S. interest. Only Chamberlain-acting (the author of the article is totally correct on this) clueless government officials in the U.S. as well as Europe can entertain such thoughts. But Chamberlain made a complete u-turn – however belatedly – from his foolish destructive policies. Will anyone in Europe or the U.S. follow his example before it's actually too late. European governments, devoid of any principles, embarked on the grand appeasement scheme directed at the muslim countres, sacrificing all left and right. Where is Europe at this point in time? Is it more secure or less? Were France and Britain more secure following their betrayal of Czechoslovakia? This comparison is more relevant than ever.

    • MixMChess

      "Israeli settlements are not in US interest."

      Settlements make up less than 2% of the land in the W. Bank. Over 85% of the settlements are suburbs of, or border, major Israeli cities (and are not adjacent to or interfere with Arab developments). Israel has already offered to dismantle settlements and give Israeli land to Palestinians as part of any final negotiated settlement.

      "the establishmentof a Pali state is in US interest."

      Really? Its in the US interest to create another illiberal, gay-bashing, racist, women-hating and xenophobic Islamic theocracy? Please explain how that will pay off American interests?

  • truthin

    It's funny how we suddenly hear about 'Israel's right as a Jewish state'. I thought FPM made the argument that Israel is an inclusive, modern democracy. Which is it??

    • ziontruth

      I can't speak for FPM, but I have long stopped wishing to see Israel as an "inclusive, modern democracy." I do not believe in "inclusive, modern democracy," which is just a nice-sounding way of saying "multiculuturalism," itself a nice-looking package for the bill of goods of Marxism, which wishes for all nation-states to be done away with.

      I believe in exclusive, self-defending democracy. The state as its nation's castle. The state has the duty of protecting its nation, and it fulfills this duty by giving exclusive political rights to the nation. If not for this, then there is no point in a state; it is nothing but an overgrown youth hostel.

      And I believe every other nation has that right as well. The Jews are entitled to be the masters of the Jewish State, the Dutch are entitled to be the masters of the Dutch state, the French are entitled to be the masters of the French state, and so on. I accept for myself the prospect of having no political rights in any state other than the Jewish State. The concept of the state as the safe haven for its nation, neither encroaching nor encroached upon, is crucial to getting out of the predicaments of our age.

      That is not to say every state must be on that model; even national suicide is a choice that has to be left open. However, in the case that someone protests that my vision of the exclusive Jewish Republic is unfair, I argue: No, it is not unfair, for I believe every other nation has the right to the same kind of state.

    • MixMChess

      You are ignorant, Israel is a secular democracy. However, it is informed by Jewish values and adheres to many Jewish religious customs (such as holidays), similar to the United States and other nations that are shaped by Judeo-Christian heritage/culture and also have expressly religious elements, for example Christmas and (sometimes) Good Friday are US holidays. That stated, Israel has no state religion, and all faiths enjoy freedom of worship.

      The Jewish people are a nation with a shared origin, religion, culture, language, and history. Zionism is the nationalist movement of the Jewish people.