Will Netanyahu take the bait?
On April 17, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA), delivered to Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, a letter listing the PA’s demands in anticipation of peace negotiations, demands with which Israel must comply or Abbas will eschew further negotiations and instead “seek the full and complete implementation of international law as it pertains to the powers and responsibilities of Israel as occupying power in all of the occupied Palestinian territory.” In other words, Abbas will go back to the UN and the International Criminal Court to seek redress against Israel’s putative criminal activities. Much like an obstreperous child on the playground, Abbas tells Netanyahu that either he play the game according to Abbas’ rules or Abbas will tell the teacher what a bad boy Israel has been. It would be a comical farce were not so many lives at stake.
Abbas goes on to threaten, albeit obliquely, that because Israel has not played the game according to Abbas’ demands, he might just go ahead and dissolve the PA, throwing back upon Israel all of the responsibilities for administration in the West Bank: “For the Palestinian Authority—now stripped of all meaningful authority—cannot continue to honor agreements while Israel refuses to even acknowledge its commitments. The P.A. is no longer as was agreed and this situation cannot continue.” So in addition to tattling to the teacher, he will also take his ball and go home.
Hopefully, Netanyahu will not be moved by such puerile posturing.
None of this is new. After being rebuffed at the UN last year, Abbas floated informal threats about dismantling the PA, and even took the idea to the Fatah Central Committee (FCC). The FCC supported the idea but no decision was taken. When questioned while in Japan about Yossi Beilin’s open letter in Foreign Policy magazine on April 4, in which Beilin urged Abbas to carry out his threat to dissolve the PA as a way to express his exasperation with Netanyahu’s “intransigence,” Abbas quickly back-tracked and told journalists that “The PA is an achievement and we must not dissolve it but strengthen it.” But if that were true, why would the FCC support the idea? Perhaps because they know that Abbas has no intention of dissolving the PA.
In order to understand what is going on here, we must recognize the perils to Israel that are implied in both of Abbas’ threats.
Abbas knows that unlike former U.S. Presidents, Obama has already threatened to withhold a US veto in the UN if a Security Council resolution could create an existential threat to Israel. Abbas’ second try at the UN might work, especially if this timethe PA demand is pared down to recognition with the status of a non-member state (a big step above the “observer status” that the PA now has, but below full membership), and especially if Obama wins a second term and no longer needs to worry about losing some of his Jewish vote. Moreover, although the PA’s attempt to bring war-crime accusations against Israel at the International Criminal Court ended in failure with the decision that the court had no jurisdiction, as the present writer noted earlier, the chief prosecutor outlined for the PA the directions it could take if it wanted to appeal at a later date. By requesting that the UN petition the court to hear the PA case, or by convincing state members of the court to agree to bring the case to the docket, Abbas could do an end-run around the jurisdiction issue. If the PA’s attorneys have the brains that God gave a napkin, they are working on both of these issues now.
So the peril to Israel in Abbas’ first threat is that Israel may be pilloried in the ICC with a re-run of the Goldstone report, especially if Obama wins a second term.
The other threat may imply even greater danger. Following Israel’s victory over the 2nd Intifada, PA security forces in the West Bank have for the most part cooperated with the IDF in preventing terrorism, even collaborating at times in the hunt for secret Hamas cells. But if those PA forces were to suddenly cease to exist, if all government apparatus for social services and financial controls were to suddenly disappear, the Palestinian organization most primed and ready to take over would be Hamas; and Hamas would jump at the opportunity. It is perhaps not coincidental that Abbas met late last year with Khaled Mesha’al, the political leader of Hamas, to “…discuss…the present situation and the prospects of getting out of it and working out a national strategy for the future.”
So what Abbas is really trying to tell Netanyahu is that the terms of his letter are the best deal that Israel can hope to get; and if Netanyahu does not play ball, Abbas will step aside and let Hamas mount the 3rd Intifada from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip at the same time. It would take only a bit of stalling by Abbas to interfere with Israel’s assumption of these responsibilities, during which time Hamas steps in.
It is likely that Hamas would jump at the opportunity to rule all of “Palestine” and to launch a multi-front terror war-on-steroids against Israel, precisely because it has been weakened by the loss of its Syrian base due to the Muslim Brotherhood’s support of the revolution in Syria, it has lost Iran’s financial support to competing terror groups in the West Bank and Gaza Strip (such asHizb ut-Tahrir) as punishment for Hamas’ refusal to support Syria’s Assad, and its popularity is in severe decline with its rank-and-file in the Gaza Strip and West Bank due to its lack of sufficient qassam rocket attacks on Israel. So expanded political power and greater latitude to attack Israel is just what Hamas needs to get itself back to its position of primus inter pares amongMuslim terrorist groups.
So what are the real options?
The letter itself is obvious bluster and a postured pretense at peace-making. Some have critiqued it noting that it is full of errors, omissions and outright lies; and it is really nothing more than a rehash of PA demands to which the PA knows Israel cannot accede. As Israeli officials have said in the past, if one agrees to all of the other side’s demands in advance of negotiations, then what does one negotiate about? PA officials know this just as well as do Israeli leaders. The letter is not an opening to peace negotiations. In fact, it is, in all probability, not even addressed to Netanyahu.
Israeli media sources received leaks from Palestinian leaders about the content of the letter almost a week in advance of the meeting. Yet the Israeli side wanted to keep details of the meeting secret even up to the day of the meeting. For what audienceswere those leaks, obviously in violation of Israel’s desire for secrecy, intended?
The same question was asked about Abbas’ op-ed in the New York Times before his UN bid for recognition. He stated clearly and unabashedly that the entry of “Palestine” into the family of nations and its acquisition of UN status as a bona fide state would not end the conflict. Rather such status would enable the PA to ratchet up the conflict to a higher level of political warfare by giving the new state of “Palestine” access to the ICC and ICJ (International Court of Justice) wherein Abbas and complicit partners in evil could support the Palestinian attempts to delegitimize Israel, condemn it as the world’s worst violator of human rights and perpetrator of war crimes, and then pressure Israel’s allies, especially those in the EU, to disassociate from Israel.
Did Abbas think that such threats endeared him to the EU or reduced the likelihood of American pressure against his bid? More likely, his audience for these comments was not those to whom he spoke, but rather those in the Arab world and their collaborators elsewhere who do not want to see the conflict end until Israel is destroyed. For that audience, Abbas’ anti-Israel credentials have been eroded by his cooperation with Israel, by his PA security forces’ collaboration with Israel, and by the relatively terror-free calm of the West Bank since Israel’s defeat of the 2nd Intifada. His statement to the world of Israel-haters was clear: He is still at it, working with lawfare and BDS and delegitimization and accusations of war crimes, rather than with qassams and suicide bombers; but the end game is the same -- Palestine from the river to the sea.
And this is probably the case with the letter to Netanyahu. By leaking its contents prematurely, he told his constituency and financial supporters and other partners in evil that he is still in a better position than Hamas to bring about Israel’s demise, despite his temporary setbacks at the UN and ICC.
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