Analysis: On Every Issue Important to the U.S., Abbas Was the Spoiler

In the days following PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ stunning declaration that he would turn to the UN, violating the premise of peace talks by unilaterally signing 15 treaties normally reserved for states (and most of which his Palestinian Authority is flagrantly violating), it has emerged just how overarching his rejectionist approach was pretty much from the get-go. The details suggest a premeditated effort to participate in talks without the intention of compromising on any issue of significance to the U.S.–and thereby to reap the benefits of negotiating without allowing any deal to emerge.

This was most evident in his reaction to the overall framework agreement, which Abbas dismissed as “insanity.” According to reports, Abbas “exploded in rage” when pressed on the subject by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. On the issue of the Jordan Valley — a swath of deserty land along the border with Jordan, which has extremely few Palestinian residents but is of obvious strategic importance to Israel, the U.S. had suggested a compromise in which Israeli troops remained for 10 years before withdrawing, Abbas said:

Whoever proposes 10-15 years for a transition period does not want to withdraw…We said that a transitional period cannot exceed three years, during which Israel can withdraw gradually. We are willing to allow a third party take Israel’s place during and after withdrawal to soothe our concerns and Israel’s, and ensure both sides that things will continue as normal.

On Jerusalem, Kerry had offered the establishment of the Palestinian capital in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Beit Hanina. Abbas’ response was to insist that the Palestinian state include all of post-1967 “eastern” Jerusalem–the majority of the city’s geography, which itself is today about half Jewish in population. As his office insisted, Abbas’ goal was to “achieve peace based on the principle of a two-state solution and the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital.”

On recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, here Kerry too accepted the principle that in order for peace to be achieved, there had to be a fundamental mutual recognition of each side’s inherent legitimacy. Yet here too Abbas was adamant: there was “no way” the Palestinians would ever recognize Israel as the Jewish national homeland.

Finally, on the Palestinian “right of return” that would grant millions of people of Palestinian descent the right to immigrate into Israel, effectively destroying the Jewish state, Abbas is equally adamant that he would never budge on what strikes both Israelis and Americans as the most obvious deal-breaker in the entire package:

Let me put it simply: the right of return is a personal decision. What does this mean? That neither the PA, nor the state, nor the PLO, nor Abu-Mazen [Abbas], nor any Palestinian or Arab leader has the right to deprive someone from his right to return…The choice is yours. You want to return? You will return. You don’t? You’re free to remain; there is compensation and other details … I just wanted to remark on this point, that the right of return is a personal right. Even a father cannot forgo his children’s right.

Though it is often harder to see patterns emerging during the intensive efforts to keep the peace talks moving forward, today it is extremely difficult to avoid the conclusion that Abbas was at no point actually embarking on a process that would include significant compromise or result in a peace agreement with Israel. Certainly he will be praised as a hero by extremist elements among the Palestinians and the Arab world for standing up to the West. But whether his rejectionism will bring peace or prosperity to millions of Palestinians under his rule is another question altogether.

[Photo: U.S. Department of State / WikiCommons ]