Those interested in the peace process as it stands today should read my piece “Palestinian Leverage” followed by my article on the Wikileaks and the Arab perspective both written in November.Â Â The combination of factors that I note in those articles puts the Palestinians in a negotiating position that is terrible and impossible to improve any time soon, if at all. This is why the PA’s leadership is hoping that the UN will be allowed by the United States to simply make that terrible negotiation position irrelevant by granting the Palestinians the pre-1967 border without negotiations. Should the US once again veto any resolution brought forth, as will most likely be the case,Â the PA will be weakened for having tried this path and failed. Â The PA’s negotiating position vis-a-vis Israel is in fact so bad that Abbas has spoken of a worse case scenario of turning control of the West Bank back over to Israel. But even that won’t work.
Why? Israel wouldn’t accept it and Abbas knows that.
The alternatives to PA control of the West Bank are Hamas control of the West Bank which would be worse for Abbas and the PA than they wouldÂ be for Israel (that’s really bad)Â or anarchy which would endanger even Hamas. In either situation, Israel would be much more likely to engage militarily and then withdraw than it would to remain in full occupation. In other words, Abbas is stuck in power while lacking even the power to abdicate. He has one real choice which he is doing everything in his power to avoid making, namely to concede enough to Israel in the peace process that Israel can help him and the Palestinian people as a whole out ofÂ the current predicament. No one else can help. The process is stuck not because of Israeli refusal to make concessions, but because of Abbas’s refusal to make the concessions that must be made.
This isn’t rocket science. There is an obvious need for a paradigm shift in the thought process of the Palestinian Leadership from one of “How do we achieve what we failed to achieve in 1948?” namely to eliminate Israel or even “How do we achieve what we allÂ rejected in 1949?” namely a state based upon the pre-1967 borders to “How do we create something resembling a state today based upon the changes that have occurred since 1948, 1967, 1973, 1993, 2000, 2005 and 2009?” which is what must be done.
The following are basic realities that have been rejected by the Palestinians thus far and will need to be taken into account for a state for the Palestinians to have a chance to come to fruition.
1. The “Right of Return” to Israel for Palestinians to Israel isn’t an option. It isn’t an act of peace, but is an act of war. Restitution is the only option for those refugees. In fact, restitution is the only option for the vast majority of refugees who would theoretically be able to return to a Palestinian state, but not to Israel (refugees from the 1967 war). Any future Palestinian state could not possibly support a dramatic increase in population for decades, if ever, so even a “return” to a Palestinian state post negotiations isn’t a viable option. To be honest, Israel couldn’t supportÂ such a bump in populationÂ either, even if it didn’t result in an immediate civil war, which it would. There will be no substantial return of refugees to either Israel or to a future Palestinian state.
2. The western, northern, and southern borders of the West Bank are not really issues, as they could be solved easily with territorial exchanges, with the exception of two issues. First, Jerusalem and second, other large Arab population centers currently within Israel. I’ll address those in a moment.
3. There is no chance that Israel could or would concede a large portion of the Old City to the Palestinians and there is little doubt that most of the residents of the Old City would NOT wish to become citizens of a Palestinian state. They are far better off as citizens of Israel and have said as much. A UN vote granting the pre-1967 border would go against their wishes. Yes, they want a Palestinian state to be created, but they do not want to live in it. This is much like those American Jews who are strong advocates for Israel but have no desire to make aliyah any time soon.
4. There is no chance that Israel could concede free and secure access to the Western Wall and the City of David for Jews which essentially means that it must maintain control overÂ the vicinity ofÂ Temple Mount and Silwan as well as maintaining security control over the Mount of Olives to the East of the Temple Mount.
5. Israel is not going to allow the Mount Scopus Campus of Hebrew University to once again become cut off from Jews, which means that Israel will maintain a contiguous territory connecting an area North and East of the Old City with West Jerusalem, no matter what other areas it might consider allowing to become part of a future Palestinian state.
6. Places such as Um-al-Fahem, the large Arab village in the Galilee on the Israeli side of the Green Line would make some sense to place on the Palestinian side of the border after a peace agreement, but just as in #3 above, most of its residents would rather maintain Israeli citizenship than to become Palestinian citizens even though they might advocate for the creation of a Palestinian state. The PA might want this village, a prosperous Arab center, as part of the Palestinian state and no few Israeli Jews would be happy to oblige, but if the residents’ opinions matter, it will remain an Israeli city.
7. There will be significant shifts of populations after any peace agreement as settlements in the midst of a future Palestinian state will likely be abandoned. Compensation will need to be made in these cases as well. Restitution for Jews from Arab lands will be a consideration, but unless the discussions expand and become one between Israel and the Arab world, this issue would not be relevant as the Palestinians as such would have no responsibility to offer compensation to those refugees.
8. Israel cannot possibly allow either the Palestinians or an international force to control the Eastern border with Jordan. International forces have proven grossly and dangerously ineffective at stopping weapons smuggling in Lebanon, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, etc…. No Arab forces could be trusted to prevent the importation of weaponry to those whom they would almost certainly consider their allies. Hence, Israel will need to maintain supervision over the Eastern border of the West Bank indefinitely or it will not be able to make any other concessions.
9. There is no desire on the part of the Arab world to increase its Jihad, its struggle, against Israel and in fact there is significant impetus to improve relations with Israel without itÂ resolving the conflict with the Palestinians. This is demonstrable from the Wikileaks documents.
10. Gaza cannot be a part of discussions until Hamas is removed from power because the Palestinian Authority does not speak for the people of Gaza. Current discussions should involve the West Bank alone.
11. The 1967 border was considered â€œnoticeably insecureâ€ and all previous discussions of UNSC Resolution 242 indicate that whatever border results from a settlement of that conflict must be secure. The understanding from the Western perspective, notably not from the Arab perspective, is that UNSCR 242 meant that Israel would not be asked to turn over all of the land captured in the 1967 war. The Arab world has always interpretedÂ UNSCR 242Â to mean exactly that Israel must turn over all of that land. The US does not believe Israel must do so, but also does not wish to define the border because to do so would undoubtedly upset the Arab world or Jewish and many Christian voters in America depending upon which side the administration chose to support. An abstention is the same as a vote in favor of the Arab side on this issue. Hence, the US has no choice but to veto and to demand that borders be settled by the two sides through negotiations. This is exactly what the US is currently doing.
12. While they may make pronouncements in the United Nations, in Arab League meetings, or to the press in general to the contrary, a final settlement of the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians is not in the interest of the United States or that of many of the Arab League nations either because of positions they would need to take at that stage or because of consequences that would almost certainly follow such as turning hundreds of thousands of refugees into citizens of their states.
There are certainly more considerations that could be listed here. I simply came up with twelve significant ones. Any discussion of peace or of the creation of a Palestinian state that does not take these factors into account, if not many others as well, is not realistic.