(Published previously on The Jerusalem Post)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas is currently playing a dangerous game of incitement that could ignite a third intifada.
American recognition of a Palestinian state by the Obama administration will be the death knell of the two-state solution. Long-term existential Israeli security interests and the possibility of a lasting cease-fire likely will be severely compromised. Palestinian intransigence would be rewarded by unilateral recognition. It would also ignore the core issue of the conflict – the Arabs’ failure to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Somehow, the reality of the Palestinian Authority as a corrupt and failed state has eluded this administration. Since the signing of the Oslo Accords 20 years ago, the PA has chosen not to build the foundational institutions necessary for a stable and transparent government. Instead, the PA has remained at its core a revolutionary anti-Western entity. As Ambassador Aaron David Miller questioned rhetorically: “Can a national liberation organization make the jump from terrorist organization… to a bureaucracy, and a functioning one at that?” America has unsuccessfully tried to broker a resolution of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict for the past 47 years. The State Department has justified the time expended with the idea that resolution of this conflict would resolve the Middle East’s most pressing problem, while eliminating the primary reason America is abhorred in the region.
One can easily imagine a scenario in the next two years where President Obama, senior White House advisor Valerie Jarrett, and Secretary of State John Kerry become even more outraged and frustrated with the current Israeli government. This administration is unlikely to change its attitude toward Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition, or come to any conclusion other than that the Palestinians are the aggrieved party and the Israelis the occupiers.
In about a month, President Obama may sign a nuclear deal with Iran, leaving the Islamic Republic a dangerous threshold nuclear power and undermining American and Israeli security interests. The president can exercise executive authority to completely collapse economic sanctions against Iran, which Congress will be unable to stop.
While nations around the world will flock to Iran for lucrative economic deals, Iranian anti-Israel rhetoric will increase, and will be met with either silence or rationalizations by President Obama, the UN, EU, and J Street.
Will the son of iconic Revisionist Zionist Benzion Netanyahu come to the conclusion that Israeli existential interests force it to set back the Iranian program with some type of military action? The world reaction would be harsh and unforgiving.
Israel will be a pariah state, with the American president leading the charge. This confluence of events can easily set the stage for a UN Security Council vote not only to condemn and sanction Israel, but to recognize a Palestinian state as punishment for Israel’s actions against Iran.
The idea of an Israeli strike leading to a Palestinian state is not far-fetched. The Palestinian violence that inevitably would follow will be excused, and the International Criminal Court will transform into a full-time Israel Inquisitor Court, much like today’s Human Rights Council, but with more muscle and no American objections.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas is currently playing a dangerous game of incitement that could ignite a third intifada. He finds a receptive audience among the vast majority of UN member states when he says that Israel steals his people’s land, that Israel is Judaizing Jerusalem, that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, and that Israel is engaging in an ethnic cleansing of his people from their ancestral homeland.
In a little over two years from now, there will be a new American administration. It needs to choose a fresh approach, and unfetter itself from the shackles of decades of counterproductive premises about the conflict.
Hopefully, the next administration will also find it unwise to call the prime minister of America’s only reliable ally in the region a coward.
The next administration needs to look at the conflict through fresh eyes, so the next American president would be well served to task independent experts to look at long-standing policies, some of which are based on inaccurate assumptions. If the American goal is two states for two peoples, its policies must be based on an accurate reading of international law. The next administration should recognize that previously held truths are sometimes misunderstood or in error.
Here is a policy prescription for the next American administration.
- Re-evaluate international law: A non-politicized reading of international law shows that the territories are disputed, not occupied.
That does not mean Israel will keep a significant amount of land in a future deal. In fact, Israel has already offered to give 98 percent of the disputed land to the Palestinians in land swaps, only to be rebuffed several times.
What it does mean is that unless Israel’s legal rights over the Green Line (1949 armistice line) are acknowledged, it will always be considered a thief returning stolen territory. The next president should realize that the consequence would be that the Palestinians would not respect any deal, which would thus be built on a foundation of quicksand.
- Consequences cannot be a one-way street. America must publicly denounce PA maps that show no Israel or that repeatedly refer to Tel Aviv and Haifa as “settlements.” Consequences must have teeth. Unless the next American administration can impose financial and diplomatic consequences on the PA for incitement, the cycle of hate will continue.
- Incitement: Unless incitement ends from every facet of Palestinian society which delegitimizes Israel’s right to exist, America’s role as an intermediary in the next negotiation will lead to only two possible outcomes: stagnation or violence against Israeli civilians.
- Right of return, demilitarization, end of conflict agreement: the next president must make it clear to the international community that America will not re-enter negotiations unless, 1) The PA acknowledges that the right of return is a non-starter, 2) Demilitarization of the territories is essential, 3) The end result is an “end of conflict” agreement.
This does not mean America has to abandon involvement, but the next president can send his/ her secretary of state to negotiate “quiet” and Palestinian “state building,” not an unrealistic peace treaty.
- Recognizing the rights of the other: the delegitimization of Jewish history is part of the daily discourse of the PA. The Obama administration continually asks of Israel tangible territorial goodwill gestures to the PA.
The next administration needs to recognize that it takes two to tango. It must insist that the PA (as a goodwill gesture) acknowledge Jewish history in the land.
- The Temple Mount: current PA policy is to refer to the Noble Sanctuary, i.e. Temple Mount, as holy to only Muslims and Christians.
This flash point must be extinguished, or it will be a catalyst for violence with the continued false charges of desecration and Judization of the Temple Mount. Israel also has responsibility to keep the fringe extremists from incitement.
Assuming the next American president is a Christian, it would be instructive for him or her to first privately make the point to Palestinians and our Arab friends that it is offensive to Christians to state that the Jewish Temple did not exist. It would make the stories of Jesus fabrications, and the Old and New Testament forgeries.
- Settlements are not the core impediment: this administration sees settlements as the key impediment to peace. The next administration’s policy should focus on the question of how settlements can be the core issue when Arabs have rejected Israel’s offers to give up all or most of them in 1947, 1967, 2000 and 2007? A more reasonable American approach going forward is to allow Israel to build in areas of Jerusalem that are Jewish, and in areas of Judea and Samaria that all agree would be part of land swaps, i.e. Gush Etzion, Ma’aleh Adumim, Ariel.
- Jerusalem as the capital: despite overwhelming Congressional and American support to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, every US administration has used executive privilege to deny this possibility. Since the western part of Jerusalem has never been in dispute, recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in this area should not be controversial to anyone except those who want to end the Jewish state.
In a final deal, the two parties can negotiate the boundaries of Jerusalem over the Green Line.
The next president should realize that this does not prejudge a final settlement, but lays the groundwork on what should be a non-controversial issue, while fleshing out true Palestinian intentions.
- Unity government: the idea that a corrupt PA government in partnership with a terrorist organization like Hamas is considered a possible path toward peace for the Obama administration defies the logic of even the most naïve and optimistic.
American law is clear: no money to the PA if it is in partnership with Hamas.
The next administration needs to distance itself from the failed policies of the last half-century.
The next American president needs to place some red lines in this conflict before reengaging, if America is to be respected in the region and set the stage for progress. The Obama administration’s philosophy of finding no red line it is unwilling to cross with Islamic states has been a prescription for failure in the Middle East. The next president needs to veto this, if it is already not too late.
The author is the director of MEPIN™ (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.