Abbas denies his authority to make cardinal decisions for a lasting peace agreement
By Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi
Mahmoud Abbas – "the president of the state of Palestine," chairman of the Palestinian Authority, leader of the PLO, and head of Fatah – must recognize that he is not a serious partner for negotiating with Israel because he does not have the authority to make decisions for the Palestinian people.
The practical significance of his stated political positions in the negotiations with Israel is his rejection of any authority to make historic decisions regarding a political compromise, which closes the door to any stable, lasting solution for two states to live in peace next to each other.
In a meeting with "a popular delegation from Al-Quds" (Jerusalem) at the presidential office in Ramallah on January 10, 2014, Abbas said:1
The request to recognize Israel as a Jewish state
Abbas' words express a clear message that the Palestinians see the negotiations as simply a tool to achieve Palestinian rights according to the Palestinian viewpoint, and they are not seeking a way to compromise with Israel on essential issues. This follows the Palestinian approach regarding "a peace based on justice" as compared with the Israeli approach of "a peace based on compromise."
Abbas demands full sovereignty in all the territory conquered by Israel from the Kingdom of Jordan and Egypt in the defensive war it fought in 1967 ("the '67 lands"), and especially in the area called "eastern Jerusalem," which includes the Old City, the Temple Mount, the Jewish Quarter, the Western Wall, and other Jewish historical sites.
An Israeli withdrawal from eastern Jerusalem and all the Jewish holy sites located there, in the eyes of Abbas, is an important prerequisite for a political solution, and without this there is no Palestinian leader who has the authority to sign a political agreement with Israel. In the past Abbas presented similar prerequisites regarding other issues under discussion in the negotiations including borders, sovereignty, refugees, and the freeing of Palestinians serving prison sentences in Israel for involvement in terror attacks.
Abbas is determined in his rejection of the request to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and his position is directly connected to the Palestinian position toward the refugees, regarding which he has distanced himself and all the Palestinian institutions from any authority to reach any decisions involving what the Palestinians call "the right of return."
In his claim that "the right of return" is a "personal right" of every refugee and his descendants for all generations, Abbas is undermining a basic assumption of Israel and the U.S. regarding the political negotiations, according to which he can represent the Palestinian people on the issues at the heart of the conflict and take historic decisions in their name.
This position conforms with the law approved by Abbas in 2008 in his role as "chairman of the PLO Executive Committee" and "president of the Palestinian National Authority." The law, called "the Law of the Right of Return of the Palestinian Refugees,"2 was approved by the Palestinian parliament and determines, among other things, that:
The Palestinian strategy has been revealed in full. The current political negotiations, or any future negotiations, cannot bring about a signed, stable, and lasting political agreement that will bring an end to the conflict and all claims. The first Palestinian objective in their order of priorities is to receive full sovereignty on the territory of 1967 – while leaving the conflict wide open.
The problem of the refugees is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and this is seen from the Palestinian perspective as a winning strategic card, through which the Palestinians will be able to wear down the power of the state of Israel even after the establishment of a Palestinian state, and to overcome Israel demographically and turn it over the long term into a part of a single Palestinian state from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.
Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. He is a co-founder of the Orient Research Group Ltd. and is a former advisor to the Policy Planning Division of the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs.