The Palestinian Authority’s objections to the latest report issued by the Quartet—the foursome comprising the UN, EU, United States and Russia that tries to mediate peace talks—should serve as a wake-up call for the international community about the petulance of Palestinian diplomacy and the strong undercurrent of rejectionism that grounds it. The Palestinians are furious that the report, released last Friday, failed to meet their expectations, having allegedly sought “to equalize the responsibilities between a people under occupation and a foreign military occupier,” as Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat claimed. If the world intends to nudge the Palestinians along the road to statehood, it needs to take seriously their refusal to assume responsibility and the leadership’s violent allergy to criticism.
What was in the Quartet report that so enraged the Palestinians? The document is hardly a pro-Israel message sheet. It fingers Israeli settlement construction—by which it also means building homes in eastern Jerusalem—as one of the main trends “severely undermining hopes for peace,” accuses Israel at length of “denying Palestinian development,” and says Israel’s restrictions to prevent Hamas acquiring war materiel are contributing to “humanitarian aid dependency.” Moreover, the tone is hardly friendly: Whenever the Quartet notes a positive step by Israel, it is immediately followed by a reservation and further criticism.
But crucially, the report is also scathing on the matter of Palestinian violence and specifically the question of incitement to violence and hatred. The report notes that Palestinian terrorists are “often glorified publicly as ‘heroic martyrs,’” that images of them with slogans encouraging violence are in wide circulation, that “some members of Fatah” have vocally supported and encouraged violence, that Fatah’s official social media has depicted these attackers favorably, and that Palestinian Authority leaders have failed to “consistently and clearly condemn specific terrorist attacks”—even naming “streets, squares and schools” after the perpetrators of terrorist attacks.
This focus on Palestinian incitement—before the report even gets around to the traditional bugbear of settlement construction—is unprecedented. “A document undersigned by pretty much the entire international community has rarely, if ever, spoken so forthrightly about the subject,” wrote Raphael Ahren in the Times of Israel, noting that this is a victory for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in his campaign to force the world to pay attention to a hitherto neglected issue.
In effect, the Palestinians’ internationalization strategy has come back to bite them. Ever since the aircraft hijackings of the 1970s, the Palestinians have sought to win world sympathy in order to apply pressure on Israel to accede to their demands. Now that international focus placed their own behavior under a microscope, with an official call by the great powers for the Palestinians to do some own soul-searching.
If the great powers connect the dots regarding the Palestinian reaction, they should retire for a serious policy review. Only one of the ten recommendations in the Quartet report explicitly calls on the Palestinian Authority to undertake changes: Recommendation 3 urges it to “act decisively and take all steps within its capacity to cease incitement to violence and strengthen ongoing efforts to combat terrorism including by clearly condemning all acts of terrorism.” But this demand was clearly enough to provoke the Palestinians into throwing a tantrum. While Israel is being called on to concede powers in Area C and overhaul its policy on Gaza, Erekat plainly believes that the Palestinians are being asked to assume equal responsibility by stopping their officials and citizens from encouraging the mass murder of civilians.
This extreme reluctance to take responsibility goes to the core of the Palestinian political psyche. The Palestinian narrative is one of perpetual victimhood: In his most recent speech at the UN General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas described “the history of the question of Palestine” as one of a “historic injustice…inflicted upon a people…that had lived peacefully in their land.” This victimhood complex precludes the Palestinians from assuming responsibility for their own fate, short of totally throwing off Israeli domination: If the Palestinians are the victims of Israeli aggression, they cannot be expected to get their house in order and arrest a violent public discourse.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority is weak, and knows it. Some two-thirds of the Palestinian public wants Abbas to resign, according to a PCPSR poll. Abbas knows there is only so far he can swim against the tide of public opinion, which stands firmly behind the recent attacks, even if he wanted to. By demanding the Security Council chuck the report, Abbas is not merely objecting to a demand he regards as unreasonable, he is rejecting a demand on which he knows he could never deliver.
Palestinian rejectionism has been there in plain sight for all those willing to see it. Netanyahu has repeatedly called on Abbas to meet for direct, bilateral talks but Abbas has refused, agreeing to meet Netanyahu for only seven hours over the last seven years, according to the Prime Minister’s spokesman. Recently in Brussels, Abbas refused to meet Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, even changing his hotel reservation when he discovered they would be in the same hotel.
Yet despite this, the international community has hitherto been willing to give the Palestinians the benefit of the doubt. As we see with the European Union’s endorsement of the French Peace Initiative, the West continues to misguidedly treat Israel as the side that needs to be pressured to coming to the table, instead of simply urging Abbas to accept Netanyahu’s invitation.
Both the French and Arab peace plans call for immediate final-status negotiations for the establishment of a Palestinian state. If the leaders of that would-be state are unwilling or unable to assume responsibility for incitement and terrorism until the moment of independence, however, one should seriously doubt their ability to do so suddenly when that moment comes.
Eylon Aslan-Levy is an Israeli news anchor and political commentator. He is a graduate of Oxford, Cambridge and the IDF.
[Photo: Hadas Parush / Flash90]