The Palestinian Authority has hurt its ostensible cause by consistently rejecting legitimate Israeli positions
U.S. President Donald Trump reportedly confirmed Tuesday night in a phone conversation with Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas that he intends to relocate the American Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; this, despite a concerted campaign by Arab and European countries warning that such a move would cause “catastrophe” in the Middle East.
The uproar is largely the result of a diplomatic frenzy by Abbas, who reportedly called King Abdullah II of Jordan; Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi; Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman; Tunisian President Beji Caid Sibsi; the emirs of both Qatar and Kuwait; Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan; and French President Emmanuel Macron—imploring them to advise President Trump of his plan’s dire consequences. His message, according to a PA spokesman, was that changing the status of Jerusalem “would lead to the destruction of the peace process and would bring the region into an uncontrollable situation.”
Many observers argue that the subsequent onslaught of threats levied by Arab leaders—”provocative,” “dangerous circumstances,” “kiss of death”—were intended as much for the consumption of the president of the world’s lone superpower, who presumably took their considerations into account, as they were meant to whip up the anger of their own publics. Numerous examples in history suggest this often results in the (self-)fulfillment of the prophecy, a point underscored by the fact that no such brouhaha preceded, nor did any violence break out in the wake of, Russia’s own recognition this past April of the western part of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
“Arab countries are simply trying to frighten the United States by inciting to violence in order to prevent the move,” Alan Baker, Director of the Institute for Contemporary Affairs at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, contended to The Media Line. “Because anything that points to an acknowledgement of Israel’s rights to [or sovereignty over] Jerusalem is vehemently opposed by them, as evidenced, for example, by the manipulation of UNESCO to pass resolutions negating any Jewish historical ties to the city.”
Baker, formerly a member of the Israeli team that negotiated and drafted numerous interim agreements with the Palestinians, does not believe a change in Jerusalem’s status should have any bearing on the immediate or future prospects for peace. “It won’t make one iota of a difference in terms of reaching an agreement, as the U.S. position has consistently been that it will respect any ultimate decisions made between the parties.”
Rather, he cautioned, had Trump caved in to the pressure “it would have set a horrible precedent, opening the floodgates to future threats. He would have lost credibility among everyone, including the Israelis, American Jewry and his domestic evangelical base.”
While conceding that there are elements in the White House and the State Department that oppose the initiative, Baker suggested that the negative “PR campaign” may, in fact, have had the opposite of the intended effect on President Trump, who is not known for backing down and whose promise to relocate the embassy had “nothing to do with peace, but rather has always been about correcting a historical error.”
As such, the PA finds itself in unchartered waters, with the White House also in the process of devising a proposal which, according to most accounts, disregards many of the Palestinians’ longstanding positions. Additionally, Riyadh is believed to be on-side with the U.S. administration and is reportedly willing to work towards unseating Abbas should he reject the Trump peace parameters.
Increasingly, Israelis are of the mindset that decades of pandering to the PA—whether by browbeating Israel into making concessions, by providing the Palestinian leadership with a continuous and unconditional flow of foreign aid despite its history of supporting terrorism or simply through day-to-day appeasement—has reduced the chances of peace. Specifically, many assert, doing so has fostered extremism, as evidenced by the gradual hardening of PA’s positions, which, coupled with rampant incitement against Israel, has radicalized the Palestinian public.
By contrast, sequential Israeli leaders, although not immune to fault or ideological obstinacy, have come a long way since “peace icon” Yitzhak Rabin recognized Yassir Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization and agreed, in principle, to the creation of a semi-autonomous Palestinian “entity” that would constitute less than a state.
Yariv Oppenheimer, founder and past director of Peace Now, described to The Media Line President Trump’s decision as “unconstructive,” as it will make jump-starting negotiations that much more difficult. “Moving the American Embassy to Jerusalem will have a major negative impact on the region,” he elaborated, “as the city is one of the most sensitive issues—politically and religiously—between Israel and Arab-Islamic countries.
“And to have Washington make this unilateral move without declaring at the same time east Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state is dangerous. It will also produce a feeling that the U.S. and Israel are working together to create facts on the ground. The Americans should be an ‘honest broker’ as mediator between the two sides,” Oppenheimer concluded.
It appears as though the Palestinians, and perhaps the entire world, are in for a reality check. And while the timing of the White House’s move has much to do with the convergence of American, Israeli and Saudi interests—foremost the shared desire to curb Iran’s hegemonic ambitions—the American president’s action stands to reveal how overstated longstanding Palestinian “red lines” may have been all along, or, equally important, bring into stark focus the cavernous gap that remains between both parties, thereby revealing as a fantasy claims that a comprehensive deal is currently possible.
Few believe there is a chance that any Israeli government—Right or Left—would ever countenance the so-called right of return, which would effectively destroy the Jewish state by inundating it with millions of fifth-generation Palestinian “refugees.” Nor do many envision an Israeli government fully withdrawing militarily from the West Bank, in particular from the Jordan Valley, given that previous pullouts from southern Lebanon in 2000 and subsequently from the Gaza Strip in 2005 gave rise to Hizbullah and Hamas, respectively. Moreover, an Israeli government would likely require an explicit end-of-all claims clause on the Palestinians’ part before finalizing a pact, which is why recognition of Israel, and, by extension, recognition of its capital city, is paramount to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
Be that as it may, the U.S. move could, unfortunately, lead to rocks being thrown, civilians stabbed and rockets launched. Although superficially directed at Israel, the violence—promoted by the PA and other irresponsible regional leaders—will, in fact, be aimed at postponing the inevitable.
Because, ultimately, there is no escaping the clutches of cold, hard reality.