Last week, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas rejected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s secret offer to establish a temporary Palestinian state on about 60% of Judea and Samaria land. Those in the know noted that according to Netanyahu’s pragmatic plan, the talks on final-status issues will continue after the temporary state was to be formed.
Abbas argued that this was an attempt to drag him into lengthy negotiations that would reinforce the temporary state’s borders and turn them into final-status borders. He preferred to keep on dreaming instead of realizing the dream. Meanwhile, he reprimanded the Palestinian project manager who works towards establishing the Palestinian State, Salam Fayyad.
Fayyad’s declaration about establishing a state in about two years was misunderstood, Abbas said. While Fayyad is indeed working towards forming such state, he did not commit himself to declaring the state’s establishment.
What prevents the Palestinians from deciding that half a loaf is better than none? Why does Abbas insist on discussing all the issues that may thwart the talks all at once – Jerusalem, borders, refugees, settlements, and territorial contiguity? Did the Americans promise him to realize all his demands? Why doesn’t he choose to be the first president in the history of the first Palestinian state, regardless of how small it is?
One reason for this is that the Palestinians had not yet renounced their plan to establish the “Greater Palestine.” Secondly, they appear to feel that Western public opinion and Western governments support them to a greater extent than ever before.
Palestinians haven’t moved an inch
While Israel, under Netanyahu’s leadership, adopted several steps – endorsing the two-state discourse, removing roadblocks, freezing settlement construction, and imposing a de facto freeze in east Jerusalem – the Palestinians have not moved an inch forward. This should worry Netanyahu.
The Palestinians have no intention of recognizing Israel as the Jewish State because they have not abandoned their old dream: Returning to Jaffa, Haifa and Ashkelon. To be honest, why should they? The mass of Arabs in the Galilee, Negev, and Triangle area constitutes a potential for an irredenta. Moreover, Israel’s Arab leadership stresses its Palestinian identity at this time. While most Arabs in Israel prefer to remain citizens of the country, many feel they are more Palestinian than in the past.
While Fayyad represents the pragmatic leadership of Arabs in the territories who wish to make the dream come true and finally establish a national home, Abbas is chained to the Palestinian pathos. As a refugee born in the Arab Safed he cannot renounce his people’s legitimate right – as he perceives it – to regain Palestinian areas within the mandatory Palestine. As moderate as he may be, he too failed to realize the opportunity to form a Palestinian state during the moderate Olmert’s term in office.
Since the days of Haj Amin al-Husseini and to this day, not even one Palestinian leader truly wanted to end the conflict. Hamas took over Gaza and Abbas has no intention of letting go of the West Bank. He views himself as the president of all Palestinians – in the West Bank, in Gaza, in Lebanon, in Jordan, in Syria, and also in Israel. For him, Israel constitutes future potential for a return and should not be renounced quickly.
The question that remains is as follows: Will there be someone who declares this state, and will a responsible leadership emerge?
Yechiel Shabi is an expert on Mideast affairs and specializes in the Arab-Israeli conflict