When will the Europeans give the Palestinians some tough love—and hard facts—on what it will take to achieve their own state?
Dear Friend of FLAME:
Despite---or because of---their hapless flailings, the West Bank Palestinians look more pathetic by the day. Where should we begin?
How about internal political disarray? After their last Prime Minister, Sayam Fayyad, resigned a few months ago, (acting) President Mahmoud Abbas appointed a new guy, Rami Hamdallah, to the post. Hamdallah was appointed as a yes-man to Abbas and to provide cover to Western donors for Palestinian waste and corruption, which Fayyad had managed to tame somewhat. Now, three weeks later, Hamdallah has resigned, because, presumably, even yes-men have their limits. Hamdallah's Facebook page complained of "outside interferences in his powers and duties."
Of course, the other Palestinian government, in Gaza, run by the terrorist organization Hamas, has its own prime minister, so they're not overly concerned about Hamdallah.
How about the West Bank Palestinians' "tough new line" on peace talks with Israel? Abbas has refused to enter negotiations unless Israel accepts the so-called 1967 lines---before the capture of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem by Israel in the 1967 war against invading Arab armies---as the new Palestinian border. As another precondition to peace talks, Abbas also demands that Israel cease all settlement building in Jerusalem, its capital, and in Judea and Samaria, also known as the West Bank.
Of course, these preconditions have no basis in law, United Nations resolutions or previous peace talks. They are just Abbas' latest way of avoiding discussions with Israel. (Israel has indicated its willingness to resume peace talks with no preconditions.) In Gaza, naturally, peace talks are beside the point: Hamas won't rest until it has defeated Israel and killed all the Jews.
All the while, Secretary of State John Kerry presses urgently for peace negotiations, and international Mideast envoy Tony Blair claims "the window of opportunity [for peace] will be open for only a short period of time . . . This is urgent. This is now."
Of course the Palestinians scoff at Western notions of time. Their struggle is eternal. They believe the Jews will be ejected sooner or later.
Nonetheless, peace negotiations can have virtues for Israel. They can keep the Palestinian street from boiling over. They can keep the Europeans from getting impatient and putting more pressure on the Jewish state. They can kill time until a new, more reasonable Palestinian leadership emerges in the West Bank (unlikely, but possible). They can get us through the next days and months without unnecessary death.
To this end, this week's FLAME Hotline article exhorts the European community to push the Palestinians to the negotiating table. Incisive commentator David Makovsky argues that just as President Obama has strong-armed Israel, it's time for the Europeans to give their favorite Arabs some tough love.
Take a few minutes to read Makovsky's simple, reasonable and powerful prescription for shaking the Palestinians into reality. (Note, however, that we disagree with Makovsky's swipe at Netanyahu for "expansion of settlements," since settlements have proceeded under every Israeli prime minister and since they are not a valid obstacle to peace.)
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Palestinians Need Tough Talk from Europe
The final communiqué of the G-8 summit meeting next week in Northern Ireland will invariably mention Middle East peace, perhaps supporting Secretary of State John Kerry's efforts to revive peace negotiations. In any case, any statement will be promptly forgotten when the summit ends. Nevertheless, Europe can help Kerry.
It's worth remembering that just before the G-8 meeting two years ago, President Obama delivered a landmark speech on the Middle East, one that included an important expression of tough love. Here was a president of the United States, the traditional patron of Israel, saying that the baseline for territorial negotiations should be land exchanges based on the boundaries that existed before the 1967 war — a call that was echoed earlier this year by an Arab League delegation.
Because it delineated territorial terms of a peace accord, Obama's speech was not popular with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Nor was it well-received in the United States, where a leading Republican, Mitt Romney, charged that Obama was "throwing Israel under the bus." Democrats weren't very supportive either.
Obama won initial plaudits from the Europeans, but then there was silence. Unfortunately, the quartet of Middle East peacemakers — the United States, the European Union, Russia and the secretary general of the U.N. — never adequately backed the president's speech. After many drafts over the summer of 2011, Moscow helped quash any quartet statement of support due to aspects of the speech that it felt was not sufficiently to the Palestinians' liking.
The quartet has never recovered. It is no longer a diplomatic force, although its special envoy, former Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, has been involved in favorable economic and governance actions supporting the Palestinians.
It's time for a unified European speech, one that would serve as an analogue to the Obama speech. If the U.S. president told the Israelis things that they didn't want to hear, the European Union, traditional patron of the Palestinians, needs to tell them what they need to hear. Such a speech would give Kerry a chance to succeed, albeit not a guarantee. It would tell the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, that he doesn't have a free pass from Europe, that E.U. patience with the Palestinians has its limits. It would also tell the Israelis that the deck isn't stacked against them in the international community.
It's hard for Europeans to argue that the Palestinians have exhausted negotiations, given that Abbas has agreed to only three weeks of talks in the last four years, and that an offer in September 2008 by Israel's then-prime minister, Ehud Olmert, never received a reply.
Of course, Netanyahu is not blameless: Consider the expansion of Israeli settlements. But the negotiating track has not been tried in many years, despite the myth to the contrary. The parties only agreed to deal with the final status or core issues one other time apart from 2008 — in 1999 and 2000, during Bill Clinton's final years in the White House.
In order to give Middle East peace talks a new chance, here are some things that a European speech needs to say:
In private conversations, many European diplomats agree with many of these points. But no European leader has shown Obama's courage in endorsing them publicly. Perhaps it is time for the Europeans to stop complaining about the lack of American success in the Middle East. The point is not the identity of the messenger, but rather that there be a unified message.
Europe can and must have an impact. President Obama told the Israelis that they should have no illusions about the territorial price to be paid to end this conflict. The Europeans, no less a supporter of the Palestinians than the United States has been of Israel, need to do the same with the Palestinians. The Europeans need to tell them that E.U. support will no longer be unconditional.
Leadership is not about telling your friends what they want to hear; it's about telling them what they need to hear. Europe needs to reciprocate the Obama speech with one of its own.
David Makovsky is a senior fellow and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
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