After three years of refusing to talk to Israeli officials, Jordan's King Abdullah persuaded the Palestinians to meet with Israeli negotiators in Amman, raising hopes that, at last, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was dropping his demand that Israel freeze all settlements before agreeing to enter peace talks. Israelis also were cautiously optimistic that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's longstanding invitation to discuss all outstanding issues would be accepted and that progress could be made toward achieving a two-state solution.
Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat threw cold water on those hopes immediately, saying the Amman meeting was not a resumption of negotiations. He continued to insist that "Netanyahu needs to freeze construction of settlements and accept the '67 outline for a two-state solution before we return to the negotiating table." This was never a precondition for talks in the past; in fact, Abbas held 35 meetings with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert while settlement construction continued. When Netanyahu did agree to a 10-month freeze under pressure from the Obama Administration, Abbas still refused to negotiate until the last month of the freeze, when he nixed continuing the negotiations on the grounds that Israel would not extend the settlement freeze.
Palestinians and their supporters claim that Israeli settlement construction undermines confidence in Israel's commitment to peace; however, they have no one to blame but themselves for the growth of settlements. The moment they sign a peace agreement, the settlement construction will cease, but there is no reason to expect that to happen in advance of negotiations.
The Palestinians operate under the impression that Israel must make concessions, prisoner releases, settlement freezes, dismantling of checkpoints, just to get them to the bargaining table. Compromise, however, is supposed to be part of peace talks, not the price for the talks themselves. In its desire for peace with the Palestinians, Israel has nevertheless made such concessions in the past, but there is no reason to do so now.
While the Palestinians complain about the impact of settlements on their confidence, they are doing everything in their power to undermine Israeli confidence in their sincerity about peace. First, Fatah has been working to reconcile with Hamas, which condemned the Amman talks, vows to destroy Israel and declared itself the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. Besides reiterating its unwillingness to recognize Israel, let alone make peace with it, Hamas continues to engage in terror attacks against Israel, firing a total of 633 rockets and 400 mortar shells into Israel from the Gaza Strip in the last three years.
Second, rather than express a desire to peacefully end the conflict with Israel, the Palestinians have threatened a lengthy diplomatic offensive against Israel aimed at winning recognition from the international community for their demands without having to compromise through direct talks with Israel, isolating Israel and seeking international sanctions to try to force Israel to capitulate to their demands. “[The year 2012] will be the start of an unprecedented diplomatic campaign on the part of the Palestinian leadership, and a year of pressure on Israel that will put it under a real international siege [through a] campaign similar to the one waged against apartheid in South Africa,” Fatah Central Committee member Nabil Sha’ath said.
The Palestinian campaign is expected to include:
• Requesting that the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) pass a resolution condemning settlement construction and imposing international sanctions on Israel.
• Urging the International Criminal Court in The Hague to try Israel for war crimes for Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-2009.
• Persuading Palestinian citizens to file lawsuits against Israel in Western courts.
• Seeking implementation of the Fourth Geneva Convention, which Palestinians falsely claim would prohibit settlement construction.
• Encouraging the UN General Assembly (GA) or UN Human Rights Council to send a fact-finding commission to investigate the settlement issue.
• Renewing the effort to secure full-membership status for Palestine in the UNSC or asking the GA for nonmember status.
• Orchestrating mass rallies against Israel in the West Bank to draw attention to the Israeli occupation, according to Hamas.
Third, Palestinian incitement continues. In a particularly bold gesture of defiance, Abbas appointed a convicted terrorist, responsible for shootings and bombings against Israelis, and released as part of the Shalit exchange deal, as an advisor in his Ramallah office.
These are not words or actions of leaders interested in serious negotiations to make peace. Rather than seeking to resolve differences, the Palestinians seem committed to intensifying the conflict. This reckless policy is being pursued against the backdrop of the region’s turmoil and the growing likelihood that radical Islamists will take power throughout the region. This is a time when Israelis need reassurance that their most immediate neighbors are interested in coexistence if they are to be expected to make risky territorial concessions.
Hopefully, the two sides will continue direct talks, but those negotiations can only succeed if there is a dramatic change in the Palestinian position and they drop their preconditions and discuss the difficult compromises both sides must make to achieve a two-state solution.
Mitchell Bard is the Executive Director of the nonprofit American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise (AICE). This article was reprinted from AICE's Myths and Facts project.