Alan Edelstein

Tragic Comedy, Palestinian Style

The situation would be comic if it wasn’t all so hopeless and tragic. You’ve got a statehood bid by an entity that has two sub-entities. One is controlled by a terrorist group, Hamas, sworn to the destruction of Israel and the elimination of Jews. (Read its charter if you want a nightmare.)

Hamas claims it cannot control even more extreme groups in its midst. It is an oppressive, undemocratic, and increasingly corrupt regime. Its leadership is split over the statehood bid: one leader asserts that Abbas should be prosecuted as a traitor if he ever sets foot in Gaza, while the other says he supports the bid as long as it does nothing to limit the right of the“resistance” to continue to try to eliminate Israel and does not infringe on the “right” of the descendants of people who previously lived in Israel to“return” to a country they never lived in.

The other sub-entity is headed by President Abbas, who is spearheading the UN bid. That entity is thoroughly corrupt, undemocratic, and often oppressive. The President is in his seventh or eight year of a four year term. His sons are millionaires as a result of his “service.” Virtually no one respects him. He was irrelevant in the latest war that half of his proposed nation engaged in and in the negotiations that led to the ceasefire.

President Abbas has refused to negotiate for four years, despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s declaration of support for a two-state solution, an unprecedented nine month halt in settlement construction , and other quiet concessions and gestures, and despite continued requests by the Obama Administration, which is at least partly to blame for him not being willing to negotiate .

Dennis Ross has stated that Abbas would have resisted negotiating at almost any cost because he is not prepared to make the hard concessions involved in the quid pro quo of negotiations, e.g. border concessions, Israeli security, sharing Jerusalem, no “right of return,” etc. If he had been willing to make those decisions he would never have walked away from Olmert’s negotiations.

So now Abbas goes to the UN General Assembly for a resolution, not unlike one of about 25 or 30 years ago that recognized a Palestinian state. What does it get the Palestinian people? Possibly the right to participate in other UN bodies, and possibly the right to take Israel to the International Criminal Court. But does it tackle the issues of Jerusalem, descendants of refugees, borders, Israeli security?

An example of how insane it is to recognize a state without negotiating over the issues first: would Jerusalem be divided again as it was from 1948-67, the only time in its thousands- year history long that it was ever divided? Does that mean that there will again be a no-man’s land, that I won’t be able to walk the kilometer from the old ceasefire line over to the Western Wall and the Rockefeller Museum, and that all of the East Jerusalem Arabs that are out strolling on the Mamilla Mall just outside Jaffa Gate on Saturday night won’t be able to?

Trivial questions that can be worked out later because somehow this unilateral action will contribute to a feeling of good faith and reciprocity? I doubt it. If these questions were so easy and involved no risk, Abbas would have come to the table and worked them out.

All passage of this resolution will do is raise Abbas’ profile at a time when he has become disrespected and largely irrelevant, and increase unrealistic expectations amongst the Palestinians. It will make them feel that they do not need to make concessions, do not need to come to terms with the existence of a Jewish state, and do not need to stop the hating of Jews that is endemic in their popular culture and politics.

On the Israeli side, this will strengthen the far right that believes that negotiations and compromises get Israelis nothing but violence and more demands. They point to Oslo and the later Intifada, to the pullout from Gaza and the later rockets and terrorism, to the 1980 Camp David Accords, to the Barak/Clinton Camp David offers, the Taba offer, the Olmert offer, and they say offering and talking and conceding get you nowhere. The guy won’t even talk to you. Now he goes to the UN. They will also say, rightfully, that this is a material breach of the Oslo Accords and, therefore, we are now free to take unilateral actions.

So this is a sad, sad joke. Having said that, I question Israel’s position in just outright opposing it. I would have loudly and clearly said: “Mr. Abbas, We will support this resolution if the following conditions are explicitly included: 1. Final borders are not 1967; they are to be negotiated; 2. The Palestinian people, including Gazans, recognize the right of the Jewish people to their country, Israel, as we recognize your right to the state of Palestine (in addition to the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan whose population is two-thirds Palestinian). 3. We pledge that there will be no more violence against Israel. 4. We agree to a demilitarized state until such time as both parties agree that it is not necessary. 5. We agree that Jews have the right to live in Palestine just as Arabs/Palestinians live as full citizens of Israel. 6. We agree that Jews also have a history in and a legitimate claim to Jerusalem and we agree to negotiate a sharing or division of Jerusalem with free access to all. 7.We agree that“refugees” and their descendants will be settled in Palestine, not Israel.

Abbas would never have agreed to anything close to those conditions. Never. That’s why he will not negotiate. At least if Israel had said yes, with these conditions, its willingness to accept a Palestinian state (or three, if you count Jordan and understand that Hamas is not going to agree to control by Fatah) would be clear.
Even if Abbas then went forward, at least to those who care it would be clear that the Palestinians would rather live in a fantasy world in which they do not have to give anything up to get their state. The truth would be clear for those that wish to see it: for many Palestinians it is more important that Jews not be here and not have a state than for the Palestinians to have another state.

If the U.S. were now to support this effort, it would reinforce the belief of many in the Palestinian camp that they need not negotiate. It would make life much harder for Israelis who still support negotiations. Even now, the Administration, while publicly opposing the resolution, has said that it may not reduce support to the Palestinians if they go forward, while pointing out that Congress might. Not exactly a firm admonition.

The Administration has also pressed Israel not to “overreact..” It seems that the Administration spends a lot of effort trying to minimize Israel’s efforts against Iran and Israel’s opposition to this resolution. Perhaps it should spend as much effort on Iran and opposing the resolution.

In any event, Israel has agreed not to react aggressively and quickly but, rather, to see what the ramifications in the aftermath of the passage of the resolution are. I have very mixed feelings about that. One of the reasons we are where we are is that the Palestinians are treated like children in the world community rather than like responsible adults that have to live with the consequences of their actions. On the other hand, I would like to believe that somehow some good can come out of this mess, though I doubt it will.

This does not even discuss whether the new Palestine will be democratic (doubtful), economically viable (a long shot), united (no), and peaceful (extremely doubtful). But, then again, if we have Sudan, Nigeria, Somalia, and the like, the standards for nationhood are pretty damn low.



An irony: has it occurred to President Abbas that if a Palestinian state was recognized, that he and his associates would be subject to international standards regarding imprisonment of opposition, the use of torture, attacks on civilians, aggression against neighbors, International Criminal Court Jurisdiction, and treatment and forced movement of other nationals within the Palestinian borders?  Perhaps it has occurred to leaders of Hamas and that is why, in addition to their hatred of the mere idea of Jews having a sovereign nation in the Middle East, they oppose the resolution or “support” it with unacceptable conditions. 






About the Author
Alan Edelstein made Aliyah in 2011 and lives in Jerusalem. He was the founding partner of a well-respected California government affairs firm and was involved in California government and politics as a lobbyist and consultant for 30 years. He blogs at He can be reached at