Acting President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas has long argued that he needed many preconditions satisfied before he would sit down with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for peace talks. Those requirements included settlement freezes and releasing Palestinian Arab prisoners from Israeli jails. Netanyahu begrudgingly did both of those things, and Abbas slowly showed up to talks, but didn’t actively engage to negotiate a solution.
Instead, during the last talks in 2014, Abbas shuttered the talks by forming a unity government with the terrorist group Hamas. Within a week, Hamas loyalists kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teenagers, leading to the 2014 Gaza War.
More recently, Abbas argued for a new set of preconditions, including that peace talks must continue for at least one year, and that Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would be concluded by 2017. His preconditions seemingly now include demanding that his end goals (a new Palestinian State without Jews) be met before he even sits at the table.
Abbas sounds like a very serious man seeking peace.
For his part, Netanyahu continues to state that he is willing to sit down with Abbas without any preconditions and that he is open to discuss any matter. In doing so, he hoped to start bilateral talks and resolve the Israeli-Palestinian Arab conflict.
Netanyahu is wrong too.
GOALS and PRECONDITIONS
There is nothing wrong with the parties stating the goals they hope to achieve in the talks, whether they be the establishment of an independent Palestinian State with every Jew evicted from the land (PA position), or that such Palestinian state needs to officially recognize Israel as a Jewish State (Israeli position). The desires may be non-starters for the counter-parties, and whether those goals are ultimately achieved will be a matter of negotiations and compromise. However, they are not, nor should they be treated as, preconditions.
Preconditions had historically been viewed as items which the parties required to initiate and sustain the peace talks. In the past, Abbas argued that he needed those tangible results to gain popular support for the talks, and Netanyahu gave in (due to pressure from the USA) with a settlement freeze and releasing prisoners. More recently, Netanyahu banned any member of the Israeli parliament from going to the Temple Mount, to calm the killing spree launched by Palestinian Arabs against Jews in the Holy Land.
Asking for and satisfying these preconditions is flawed and counter-productive.
If peace talks will ultimately put both parties on a path to a better course, why beg the parties to show up? The Palestinians demand preconditions and use the complaint “show me that you’re serious” to obtain slices of their ultimate goal, while never publicly making a single concession. They continue to extract items from the Israelis while conceding nothing, as they wait to see what the French proposal will produce for them, before taking any steps towards the Israelis.
The French, while likely well-meaning, have destroyed the basic parameters for peace talks: they have pushed aside bilateral negotiations. In doing so, there is no chance of bringing the Palestinians to the table.
For the Israelis, satisfying slices of Palestinian goals without any mutual action by the Palestinians before talks commence has two negative consequences: it continues to demonstrate to the Palestinians that they can forever delay publicly stating any compromise position, undermining the Israeli public’s confidence in the talks; and it obfuscates the vital parameter of the peace process, which is not whether the parties can sustain the talks, but whether they have the ability to deliver on the outcome.
THE ONLY PRECONDITION
If the parties negotiating the peace talks have no legitimacy, and no ability to deliver on whatever is negotiated, the talks are a complete waste of time and effort.
Which leads to the only real practical precondition to peace talks: the Palestinians must hold elections.
The Palestinians last voted for president in 2005, and for parliament in 2006. They have held no elections for either president or parliament since that time.
Acting President of the PA Abbas’s term expired in January 2009. He has continued in that post for many years, but has neither mandate nor support of the Palestinian people. The March 2016 Palestinian poll concluded “If new presidential elections are held today in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, Hamas’ candidate Ismail Haniyeh would win against Mahmud Abbas with a margin of 11 percentage points.” Further, “a majority in both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip continues to demand his [Abbas’s] resignation.”
Hamas won 58% of the seats of parliament in the 2006 elections and subsequently routed the rival Fatah party out of Gaza. Abbas and his Fatah party have almost zero influence in the coastal strip. That coastal strip has launched three wars against Israel since Abbas took power, in 2008, 2012 and 2014.
So Abbas has no legitimate authority, no popular support, and no ability to deliver peace.
Yet the world wants the Israelis to negotiate with a straw man. Why should they? For photo ops?
The only precondition for peace talks are for the Palestinian to hold new elections and for that winner to control both Palestinian Authority territories in Gaza and Area A in Judea and Samaria.
PALESTINIAN ELECTIONS AND RAMIFICATIONS
One of the fears in the global community about holding Palestinian elections is that Hamas would win the presidential contest. Almost every poll of Palestinian Arabs over the past ten years shows Hamas winning, particularly against Abbas. As such, world leaders have been reluctant to force an election as a Hamas victory would destroy any peace process, as Hamas states clearly in its charter (Article 13), “so-called peaceful solutions and international conferences, are in contradiction to the principles of the Islamic Resistance Movement…There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors.”
As such, the world must be clear about the elections: Hamas, in its current configuration, with its current charter cannot participate in the elections. Should the Palestinians allow Hamas to run, the world will view such action as a rejection of any peace with the Jewish State. The ramifications would be severe:
- Nations would begin to cut off all Palestinian aid
- From the United Nations perspective, the UNRWA relief agency which was initially designed as a short-term agency almost 70 years ago, will cut its staff and funding in half (and move those resources to help actual refugees at the UNHCR)
- The global community would not put forward any international peace process, nor consider permitting a Palestinian admission into any UN agency for a decade
However, should the Palestinians have elections which exclude the Hamas terrorist group, the Palestinians would be represented by a leadership with a mandate, authority and capability of delivering on peace. Such a leadership would be an actual counterparty that could deliver on the necessary compromises with Israel.
It is well past time to stop calling international conferences that exclude the Palestinians and Israelis, and forcing Israelis to negotiate with a straw man. Begin the process of holding genuine Palestinian elections now.
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