With a new and serious diplomatic showdown between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in progress — PA President Abbas seeking to charge Israeli leaders with military crimes through the International Criminal Court (ICC) and Israel freezing $147 million in monthly tax revenue payments to the PA — one wonders who’s calling whose bluff and where it will all lead.
At the moment the prospects for peace are as distant as any time we can recall.
Both parties have a great deal to lose if Abbas makes good on his threat to continue to seek recognition for a Palestinian state through the sympathetic confines of the United Nations, and further isolate Israel internationally by harassing its political and military leaders in going the ICC route. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has already announced that he will “not stand idly by” as the Palestinians abandon the decades-long peace process based on resolving differences and creating a Palestinian state through direct negotiations, as the U.S. and other world powers have insisted. In addition to freezing the transfer of Palestinian tax revenues, which enables the PA to function, Israel may decide to bring charges in the ICC against the Palestinians for war crimes during this past summer’s conflict in Gaza when thousands of rockets were fired at Israeli civilians. (Keep in mind, though, that the ICC has taken on only a handful of cases in its 12 years of operation, winning two convictions. And its deliberations last up to seven years.)
The Obama administration is angry with the PA for ignoring its entreaties to pursue a negotiated peace and ratcheting up the risk of chaos, war or both, in the Mideast. The new Congress may well make good on its right to cancel $400 million in aid to the Palestinians for violating an agreement not to go the ICC. But the administration is not happy with Israel’s similar action, asserting that canceling the tax revenue payment “raises tensions.” Of course it is Abbas who has precipitated this new low point by eschewing direct negotiations, and the need to compromise. Instead, he is pursuing an end-around maneuver, hoping to gain statehood through the UN without dealing with Israel. That is ignoring reality, something the Palestinian leadership has perfected over decades. But the momentum in the international community is in the Palestinian’s favor, in large part signifying deep frustration with Israel.
It is true that Jerusalem has not helped its cause by preferring the status quo in its dealings with the Palestinians, always on the defensive rather than taking a proactive position in setting out its parameters for an agreement. With the current crisis coming during an Israeli national election campaign, Netanyahu will make the case to voters that the government has to be firm since it is clear the Palestinians are not interested in coming to the peace table. On his political left, Labor’s Isaac Herzog and his political partner Tzipi Livni will argue that the only way to avoid further descent into conflict with both the Palestinians and the White House is to elect them and they will be able to coax Abbas to negotiate.
That premise, though, is based on the notion that Abbas wants the Palestinian Authority to play a key role here. Recent facts indicate that he may well have determined that allowing the PA to collapse will strengthen his hand. That would explain his poking Israel and the U.S. in the eye, and would leave Israel to deal with caring for the economic and other needs of millions of hostile Palestinians on the West Bank and Gaza. Equally worrisome, a PA implosion surely would lead to a spike in violence should the PA security force, which has worked quietly and well with the IDF, disband.
For many years now, the Palestininan leadership has shown that it places victimhood over statehood. Time and again it has rejected or neglected every Israeli offer to cede land and risk security to accommodate a Palestinian state. Reasoned, rational voices like Ambassador Dennis Ross, who has made a career out of the Mideast peace process, are now saying it is time to insist on Palestinian accountability. “Stop Giving Palestinians A Pass” was the headline of Ross’s welcome op-ed in The New York Times on Monday.
He and so many other U.S. diplomats are guilty of not coming to that conclusion years ago. But it may not be too late to put the political and economic squeeze on the Palestinian leadership and see if they are ready to be statesmen — seekers, rather than saboteurs, of peace.