The Palestinian Authority is under heavy international pressure, mostly American, aimed at facilitating the transition from proximity talks to direct negotiations with Israel.
The written message recently sent by President Obama to Palestinian Chairman Mahmud Abbas indicated that the American administration is not content, to say the least, with the Palestinian foot-dragging in the peace process, or with what is perceived to be a lack of appreciation for American pressure on Israel (which led PM Netanyahu to accept the two-state solution and to temporarily freeze settlement activity in the West Bank and Jerusalem.)
However, there is no obvious fundamental change in the Palestinian stance. The PA hesitates and refrains from explicit commitment to direct negotiations without any pre-conditions. Instead, it tries to weather the American demands by raising a new proposal to convene a three-way meeting of Palestine, Israel, and America to discuss the agenda of the negotiations, its legitimacy, and the settlement cessation.
While briefing the Egyptian media in Cairo, Abbas divulged last week his version of the failure of the peace talks with former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and his positions regarding the political settlement of the conflict. Abbas noted that he almost reached an agreement with Olmert, but the negotiations failed at the final stretch because of disagreement on the discussed land swap.
Olmert proposed 6.5% but Abbas accepted to no more than 1.9%. Abbas said that he demanded to divide Jerusalem, with the city’s eastern section handed over to the Palestinians and the western part remaining in Israeli hands, and insisted that the refugee problem must be settled in accordance with an Arab peace initiative from March 2002, and UN resolution 194. He also stressed that he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
"I'm willing to agree to a third party that would supervise the agreement, such as NATO forces, but I would not agree to having Jews among the NATO forces, or that there will live among us even a single Israeli on Palestinian land,” he was quoted by Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency.
A state without Jews
The Palestinians intend to demand the implementation of the UN resolution regarding refugees, from a Palestinian perspective, which gives the 5.5 million refugees and their descendants the right of return and to settle in the State of Israel. In his briefing to the Egyptian media, Abbas presented this strategy and denied the Jewish character of Israel. He maintains that Israel should, in fact, become a bi-national state, but on the other hand that Palestine must become a state “clean” of Jews.
The term “Israeli” used by Abbas means “Jew,” as the PA sees Israeli Arabs, Muslims and Christians alike as an integral part of the Palestinian people. The future State of Palestine, according Abbas, must resist any Jewish presence in its territory. In other words, the PA embraces a racist policy – Palestinian apartheid – directed at Jews, based on denial of Jewish history and the cultural and religious linkage of the Jewish people to the land.
The anti-Semitism embodied in Abbas’ words refers also to his position towards the NATO observers’ force that may be deployed in the West Bank to monitor the implementation of the peace agreement with Israel. He is opposed to Jews being included in this force; meaning, he will ask Germany and all other partner countries in NATO to use their own forces in the West Bank, in an effort to the exclude any Jewish soldiers.
He didn’t explain how these countries would determine who is a Jew, whether according to orthodox Jewish laws or just if one of the parents or grandparents was a Jew. But even Saudi Arabia didn’t dare oppose the deployment of American Jewish soldiers on its land during operation Desert Storm (1990-1), and no one in Israel ever demanded to disqualify Muslim soldiers from serving in the international observers’ forces in Lebanon, the Golan Heights and Sinai.
The racist language used by Abbas is particularly despicable as it doubts the loyalty of the Jews to their country. It is for this reason that his comments call for a firm Israeli and European response.
Note: Wafa, the official Palestinian news agency published on July 28 its version of Abbas’ briefing to the Egyptian media, quoting him as saying: “I'm willing to agree to a third party that would supervise the agreement, such as NATO forces, but I would not agree to having Jews among the NATO forces, or that there will live among us even a single Israeli on Palestinian land”. This version was reprinted by Palestinian newspapers al-Quds and al-Hayat al-Jadida on July 30 and by other Arab newspapers.
A few days later Wafa published a new version of Abbas’ interview to the Egyptian media, where he was quoted as saying: “We have no objection to the presence of a third party after the (Palestinian) state is established, and we don’t oppose that the third party will be NATO or any other force. However, I will not agree that an Israeli, even if he is a Muslim, will be present on my land, but I’ll agree only (to the presence) of a third party. The reason for that is stemmed in the fact that the Israeli is the heir of the occupation, while the presence of the third party is temporary as are the Multinational Forces in your country (Egypt) and UNIFIL in Lebanon.”
Jonathan Dahoah Halevi is a senior researcher and fellow at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and Director of Research at the Orient Research Group