The latest Quartet proposal to pressure Abbas? Going nowhere.
The Palestinian Authority move for recognition at the UN is designed to shake up the status quo. Proposals that change nothing just won't cut it.
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In the battle for popular support between Hamas and Abbas' Fatah, seeking UN recognition can help tip the balance, and Abbas knows this.Skip to next paragraph
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Where does this leave us? With direct negotiations looking less likely in the short term than ever before.
The Quartet 'proposal'
The Quartet's "proposal" amounts to a vague statement of a long-held desire – peace between the Israelis and Palestinians – with an ambitious timeline that hopes for a complete agreement between the two sides by December of next year. Its very weakness is a measure of how the Israelis and Palestinians have drifted further apart since the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. There simply isn't a breakthrough to be found without the bending of the Israelis, the Palestinians, or more probably, both.
There are no suggestions as to how, precisely, the 43-year-old questions of final borders, the return of Palestinian refugees, and how many Israeli settlements would be allowed to remain can be answered in the next 15 months. How to balance the Palestinian demand that East Jerusalem be its capital against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's insistence that an undivided Jerusalem will remain in Israel's hands, or Israel's desire to maintain a large military occupation on Palestinian territory after a deal again Palestine's desire for full sovereignty, are likewise not dealt with.
The Quartet merely calls for a return to talks "without delay or preconditions." That's been warmly welcomed by Israel. No surprise there. That's been their position all along. And unsurprisingly it's extremely unpopular with Abbas, since Israeli settlement expansion occurs every day, something he says makes good-faith negotiations on the future status of the West Bank impossible.
But the right-wing coalition that Netanyahu relies on is filled with members like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who favor rapid settlement expansion and appear interested in annexing much of the West Bank. Netanyahu is demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state before they get their own state – something that amounts from the Palestinian side to giving up the right of return of refugees for nothing concrete in return.
"The Palestinians cannot negotiate any proposal that is not based on 1967 borders and does not ensure a settlement freeze in the West Bank," Abbas said in an interview with the pan-Arab daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, adding that, "Netanyahu's ideological positions do not allow him to advance." Aides to Abbas have grown convinced that Netanyahu is committed to the idea of a greater Israel to encompass most of the West Bank – or Judea and Samaria, the biblical names which many Israelis use to refer to the land.
Netanyahu, in his speech to the UN after Abbas on Friday, repeatedly referred to this historic claim. "Jacob and his 12 sons roamed these same hills of Judea and Samaria 4,000 years ago, and there's been a continuous Jewish presence in the land ever since," he told the UN. Abbas, for his part, didn't utter the words "Jew" or "Jewish" once in his speech, something many Israeli politicians took as a slap in the face.