In any negotiation process, the simplest of steps is a basic willingness to sit down at the negotiation table. If the events of the past few months are any indication, there is no reason to believe that the Palestinians have even reached this most elementary stage in the effort to achieve a peaceful, negotiated solution to their conflict with Israel.
Barely two months have passed since we heard their last excuse for not engaging in direct talks with Israel: the settlements. Oddly enough, settlement construction had been frozen for the previous nine and a half months. If the settlements truly were the obstacle to even talking with Israel, one would have thought that the Palestinians would have considered taking that window of opportunity to resume negotiations. Of course, that is assuming that they are truly interested in seeking a peace agreement. Raising the issue as a precondition for talks right at the end of the settlement moratorium, however, proved that it was nothing more than another red herring designed to divert attention away from the fundamental Palestinian refusal to embrace the path of negotiation.
During their mid-December meetings with US envoy George Mitchell, the Palestinian leadership brought up yet another precondition for negotiations with Israel: a demand that talks be based on the 1967 borders. This, like many other issues brought up by the Palestinians is a misnomer. No ‘borders’ were created in 1967. There was a boundary created in 1949 by an armistice agreement between Israel and Jordan demarcating the final positions of the two armies after the War of Independence, but at the Arabs insistence, no borders.
The questions of borders and settlements are issues that both parties had explicitly committed to resolving through negotiation as a final status issue. The Palestinian demand to make their own positions a precondition for talks is not only a violation of their commitments but also proof that they are seeking every possible excuse not to engage in direct talks.
The Palestinians have not only been conspicuously absent from the negotiating table, but have also been actively campaigning for international backing for their unilateral, evasive and maximalist approach. This can be clearly seen in the upgrading of a number of Palestinian missions to full-scale embassies of an “occupied state with defined borders” – as the chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat, defines it. He went on to disingenuously imply that “salvaging the two-state solution” could be achieved by international recognition of “a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders.”
The Palestinian demand for statehood based on the “1967 borders” completely apart from a negotiated settlement has unfortunately garnered the support of a number of Latin American countries in recent weeks. Their recognition of a Palestinian state within these predetermined boundaries will only encourage the Palestinians in their refusal to resolve these core issues through negotiation and will embolden them in their unwillingness to engage in dialogue with Israel.
These nations no doubt see themselves as friends of the Palestinian people. Tragically, their support for the unilateral Palestinian approach is fostering false hope on the part of the Palestinians: the hope that their aspirations for statehood can be realized without a negotiated settlement with Israel. The cultivation of this sort of expectation – even with the best of intentions – is destined to only deepen the despair of the Palestinians upon their realization that negotiation is indeed the only viable option.
Unfortunately, the Palestinians have been surrounded by friends who refrain from telling them the truth. Time after time, the Palestinians have engaged in a futile campaign to achieve their goals without negotiations. Another classic example is their tireless effort to delegitimize Israel’s very right to exist. Delegitimizing Israel has become more than a cynical tool in the attempt to avoid negotiation; it has itself become the cornerstone of Palestinian policy to deny the legitimacy of the Jewish state.
Here, once again, the ostensible friends of the Palestinian people have done them no service. The worldwide delegitimization of the right of the Jewish people to a national homeland has had an effect similar to that of supporting their pursuit of statehood without negotiations, in that it allows the Palestinians to deceive themselves into thinking that conducting talks with Israel is merely an option.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the Palestinians are seeking every possible excuse to avoid sitting down at the negotiation table. This approach belies any claim on their part of desiring a lasting peace agreement – a goal which can only be achieved through negotiations. It is time for the nations of the world to show true friendship towards the Palestinian people by refusing to foster the false hopes found in unilateral diplomatic measures and in the delegitimization of Israel.
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