Alex Ryvchin

Abbas says “No” to peace – thrice

The British Academic Alan Johnson observed that only by reducing the Palestinians to “pure victims” of the “Nazi-Israelis” can the activist achieve the desired sense of moral superiority. Johnson spoke of a sense of quest, meaning, purity, even a transcendence of sorts that comes from creating a victim without fault and defending it from a brute beyond redemption. As the peace process falters we can expect Israel’s critics to revert to this familiar form of binary, black-and-white thinking, in spite of the facts.

Most recently, the Palestinians have accused Israel of acting in bad faith over its announcement of plans to construct 700 units beyond the Green Line even though a freeze in settlement construction was expressly not made a pre-condition of the current talks. Instead, Israel agreed to release in stages several hundred Palestinian prisoners, many of whom have large quantities of civilian blood on their hands. Israel has now released three groups of them as agreed. It is also significant that the construction was planned not in a West Bank settlement but in the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo, which, is widely expected to remain part of Israel in any future deal.

The Palestinians undermined their own argument when their chief negotiator Saeb Erekat revealed that they had entered negotiations merely to secure the release of convicted terrorists and would then merrily return to a path of unilateralism.

Erekat was quoted in an interview as saying that he was “putting pressure on Abbas to leave [the negotiations],” to which the Palestinian President responded that he will wait until “Israel finishes releasing prisoners for the fourth time, at the end of March.”

More importantly, at a meeting with President Obama in Washington mid-March, Abbas rejected John Kerry’s attempts to introduce a “framework agreement” between the parties as tangible evidence of progress in the absence of a comprehensive deal. He reportedly presented Kerry with a three-fold refusal.

The first was a refusal to recognise Israel’s legitimacy as the Jewish homeland, a measure that Israel seeks as a token of Palestinian good faith to test whether the Palestinians are genuinely committed to the principle endorsed by the UN since 1947 – two states for two peoples.

Abbas also refused to concede the so-called Palestinian “right” of return for descendants of Palestinians displaced during the 1948 War of Independence, which was initiated by Israel’s Arab neighbours in response to the UN Partition vote. Crucially, this “right of return” to Israel is claimed not for the 30,000 actual refugees alive today by for some 6 million of their descendants. The notion of refugee status being inherited and passed down in perpetuity is without parallel in international law. It is not applied to nor is it claimed by any other people and has long been seen as a calculated attempt to transform Israel demographically into a majority Arab state.

Writing in 1952, Sir Alexander Galway, the then head of UNRWA, the UN agency dedicated to Palestinian refugees observed:

“The Arab States do not want to solve the refugee problem. They want to keep it as an open sore, as an affront to the United Nations and as a weapon against Israel. Arab leaders don’t give a damn whether the refugees live or die.”

Abbas’s third refusal was the most astounding. He rejected a clause in the framework agreement that stipulated that any final status agreement between the parties would be just that – final. Abbas was effectively saying that, for the Palestinians, the establishment of a Palestinian State will not mark the end of the Israel-Palestinian conflict but will instead herald the beginning of yet another round of the conflict.

It was in the wake of these sweeping rejections, and the tabling of a new Palestinian demand – that the fourth tranche of the prisoner release must now include Israeli citizens of Arab descent – that Israel had had enough and halted the final release.

Abbas’s actions are in keeping with a long history of Palestinian rejectionism. Prior to Israel’s creation in 1948, the Palestinians rejected two international partition plans which, had they been adopted, would have for the first time in history resulted in the creation of a sovereign Palestinian State and over a territory far larger than the combined West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Palestinian rejection of offers made at Camp David and Taba in 2000 and at Annapolis in 2008 by former Israeli Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert respectively, if accepted, would also have led to a Palestinian State being established over more than 90% of the West Bank with land swaps to make up the balance. The whole of Gaza would have been included, and there would have been shared control over east Jerusalem.

The three ‘no’s’ delivered by Abbas in March show how little the Palestinian position has advanced since the notorious “Three No’s” contained in the Khartoum Declaration in the wake of the failed Arab war of 1967 – “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with Israel.”

In fact, nothing much has changed since Sir Alexander Galway revealed how the Palestinian people had become political currency in the hands of their supposed protectors. One can’t help but see the same spirit in the anti-Israel lobby today, whose concern for the Palestinians seemingly applies only insofar as they can be used as a weapon against Israel. Their activism rarely if ever extends to Palestinians starving in Syrian refugees camps or Palestinians thrown from roof-tops by Hamas militants.

It is the Palestinian people who have most to gain from the peace process and most to lose from its failure. The misguided absolutism of the anti-Israel lobby only reinforces the Palestinian leadership in its intransigence and the Palestinian people in their statelessness.

This op-ed was first published in Online Opinion. 

About the Author
Alex Ryvchin is Public Affairs Director for the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, the peak representative body of the Australian Jewish community. He is a former Israel Research Fellow at Jerusalem-based research institute, NGO Monitor, a lawyer and the founder of opinion website, The Jewish Thinker.