We are back in no-man’s land. At midnight on Tuesday of last week, we passed the deadline set by Secretary of State John Kerry for the nine months of make-or-break negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Kerry’s was a valiant effort to put forth an outline of a two-state agreement after three sterile years. Scores of east-west journeys, 34 meetings with the PA’s President Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu Mazen) and many more with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu produced only one affirmation: that the PA is not interested in a Palestinian state if it means recognizing the legitimacy of the state of Israel. How else, six days before the deadline, could Abu Mazen make a pact with Hamas and Islamic jihad, the Palestinian terror groups based in Gaza? Since the Oslo peace accord, they’ve murdered and injured countless Israeli civilians. Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the State Department, put it clearly: “It is hard to see how Israel will negotiate with a government that does not recognize its right to exist.”
Abu Mazen and his officials, photographed holding hands with Hamas leaders, know who and what their new partners are. They’re the people who executed his Fatah supporters in fighting in 2006-07 that claimed perhaps 600 Palestinian lives and ended with Fatah’s eviction. He knows Hamas will not change. Hassan Yousef, a senior Hamas official, has already said that the newly announced Palestinian government “will not recognize ‘Israel’ and will not give up the resistance” (i.e. terror attacks). Fatah’s military wing, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, is contemptuous of two-state efforts. It says it “will adhere to the option of armed resistance until the liberation of all of Palestine,” a euphemism for the destruction of Israel. This is horribly expressed in a video promising to “turn Tel Aviv into a ball of fire.” These are the same people who have said to the Israelis, “We love death more than you love life.” This is, as one Israeli put it, “a confirmed kill” of the peace process.
Let’s be clear about the mission of Hamas. It calls not just for Muslims to wage jihad against Israelis but also to kill Jews wherever they are. It has sent scores of suicide bombers into Israel and praised Osama bin Laden as a holy warrior, and refuses to respect past agreements. From the territory Israel yielded as a gesture for peace, Hamas has fired over 10,000 missiles and rockets aimed at Israeli civilians. Many countries categorize Hamas as a terrorist organization.
The Israelis believe Abu Mazen doomed any talks by his actions. Who can blame them? How can PA security forces operate effectively against their new partners? How can any shred of trust be put in Abu Mazen, a man of specious double-talk? Amid talks with the Israelis to agree on terms for a Palestinian state, he announced that he will seek accession to more than 60 international conventions and treaties for the “state of Palestine.” There isn’t one – and even as he spoke, he was planning to sabotage the best hope there has been for such a state. He knows that in 2011 the U.N. Security Council rejected a similar Palestinian bid (though he did achieve recognition for Palestine of nonmember state status at the General Assembly in late 2012). He knows that his move breaks Article IX of the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip of Sept. 28, 1995. That agreement, which set out the powers and responsibilities of the Palestinian Council, did not allow the exercise of power in the realm of foreign policy. To cap this catalog of bad faith, the Abu Mazen tactic also violates Article XXXI, according to which the PA agreed that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.”
Clearly the strategy has been to use diplomatic tricks to obtain international recognition, with the goal of a sovereign Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, without having to make concessions on fundamental issues of the conflict such as the Palestinian “right of return,” which would flood Israel with millions of Palestinians. The idea is to enhance diplomatic and economic pressures on Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank, as it withdrew from Gaza in 2005 – with horrible consequences.