By Jeremy Havardi, Author
So just as predicted last year, John Kerry’s mission to bring an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict is likely to end in failure and humiliation.
Talks between the sides have collapsed with frantic efforts now underway to salvage something amid the embarrassing diplomatic wreckage.
But if negotiations resume, they will scarcely moderate the Palestinian position while Israel will face yet another barrage of unwanted demands.
To appreciate why, one need only look at what has happened thus far in these negotiations. Israel agreed to Abbas’ price for restarting talks: the release of more than 100 terrorists from jail.
But far from benefiting from this unwise concession, Israel received a hardline response. During the talks, Abbas offered a trio of rejections: no to Israel as a Jewish state; no to an “end of conflict” clause in the framework agreement; and no to abandoning the “right of return”. In other words, he was ruling out in advance any viable basis for a peace settlement.
Aware that Abbas was not committed to continuing the talks beyond April, Israel delayed releasing the final batch of prisoners.
But instead of condemning the Palestinians for their exasperating intransigence and rejectionism, John Kerry offered more sweeteners. Under US pressure, a further deal was arranged whereby Israel would release 400 security prisoners, together with the remaining terrorists, in return for extending negotiations.
But shortly before the deal was put to him, Abbas submitted applications for the PA to sign 15 international treaties and conventions, defying a prior commitment not to seek such recognition without an agreement. This action, more than anything else, led to the current breakdown.
The decision to make these applications is a particularly egregious breach of faith. It contradicts the key premise of these talks, namely that Palestinian statehood must be a product of bilateral agreement, not unilateral gestures.
It is an attempt to achieve recognition of “Palestine” without having to make any significant concessions. It also allows the Palestinians to launch criminal prosecutions against Israel in international arenas.
Washington has downplayed the significance of Abbas’ slap in the face. In a fit of moral equivalence, US officials have blamed both sides for their “unhelpful steps”.
One of Israel’s “unhelpful steps” was to allow more than 700 housing tenders in the Jerusalem suburb of Gilo, despite the fact that this area will never become part of a Palestinian state. It is frankly an irrelevance.
Yet true to form, the Palestinians have simply upped their demands. Spurred on by Washington’s desperation to appease them, they have insisted that Israel release 1,200 prisoners, lift the “siege” of Gaza and accept the 1949 armistice lines if they are to resume talking. It is little wonder that Livni threw up her hands in despair.
Abbas’ tactics are clear enough. He intends to extort maximum concessions from the Jewish state while destroying any chance for compromise. This way, he retains credibility among the hardliners and keeps up the pretence that he is a legitimate leader.
But legitimacy is precisely what he lacks. He has no democratic mandate in the West Bank, given that his term of office expired five years ago, nor can he speak for Hamas ruled Gaza. When we add his unwillingness to budge on core issues, one can see why these talks are a farce.
But this is not just about Abbas the hardliner. He would be a forgotten man, a Middle East irrelevance, were it not for the delusions of western leaders. They view him as an indispensable moderate, a bulwark to Hamas and the best hope for peace in a generation.
As a result, vast sums of money pour into the corrupt PA, financing the salaries of convicted terrorists and funding incitement. The more obdurate Abbas’ leadership, the more that Ramallah’s coffers are replenished. It is an irrational reversal of how things should be.
The appeasement of the PA has done nothing to advance peace. As these talks demonstrate, it has simply hardened positions and encouraged a belligerent mentality.
But when we blame Palestinian leaders for this maddening impasse, we tell only half the story. The behaviour of western leaders is equally maddening.