Israel/Palestinian Authority negotiations stalled – What should be done now?
Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) has now concluded a reconciliation agreement with Hamas, the United States- and European Union-recognized terrorist organization that controls Gaza and calls for the destruction of Israel (Article 15) and the murder of Jews (Article 7) in its charter.
With this Fatah-Hamas agreement, Abbas has both ended negotiations with Israel and pushed the PA into flagrant violation of the Oslo Accords, which prohibits the PA from working or forming coalitions with terrorist groups. Even the State Department’s spokeswoman, Jen Psaki, responding to the news of the Hamas-Fatah reconciliation deal, observed, “It’s hard to see how Israel can be expected to negotiate with a government that does not believe in its right to exist.”
Given these developments, what should pro-Israel Americans be working toward?
First, this bleak development, exposing yet again the PA’s lack of interest in a genuine peace, makes it imperative to do now what should have been done years ago –– demand a complete cessation of U.S. aid to the PA until it actually fulfills its signed obligations under the Oslo agreements.
For 20 years, the PA has violated the Oslo Accords, which required the Palestinians to outlaw and dismantle terrorist groups; arrest, jail and extradite terrorists; confiscate illegal weaponry; end incitement to hatred and murder in the PA-controlled media, mosques and schools; and cease naming schools, streets and sports teams after terrorists.
Moreover, despite formal recognition of Israel by the PA, neither Fatah, which controls the PA, nor Hamas, which competes for control of it, has ever accepted Israel at all, let alone as a Jewish state –– the only sort of recognition that would have any meaning.
Abbas has said, “It is not required of Hamas, or of Fatah, or of the Popular Front [for the Liberation of Palestine] to recognize Israel.” Senior Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan stated, “We demand of the Hamas movement not to recognize Israel, because the Fatah movement does not recognize Israel, even today.” That’s why PA maps, stationery, atlases and textbooks label the entirety of Israel as “Palestine.”
This should have been a decisive issue from the beginning. Had it been, the PA would have had to choose then and there between U.S. aid –– over $600 million per year –– or being a terror-promoting regime. Instead, it got both.
The collapse of the Oslo talks in 2000, despite American diligence and Israeli concessions, was thus preordained. The PA rejected offers of statehood in 2000 and 2008, yet the Obama administration has refused to draw the obvious conclusion that matters cannot continue as they have if any hope of a genuine peace emerging is still on the table.
Second, unnamed U.S. officials are spreading the story that the recent talks failed not because Palestinians won’t accept Israel as a Jewish state, fight terrorist groups or cease incitement, but because Israel refused, among other things, to cease building homes in existing Jewish communities in the West Bank. Accordingly, this is the time for Israel’s supporters to mount a campaign to expose the lie, a lie based on a willful misreading of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention that these communities are illegal.
Article 49 prohibits forced deportations of civilians to and from sovereign territories. It also prohibits an “occupying power” from transferring “parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” But because the West Bank was earmarked for Jewish settlement by the 1920 San Remo Conference, because Israel has neither annexed nor reached a comprehensive peace treaty, and because the Israeli government hasn’t forcibly moved any of its citizens into the West Bank, it is unallocated territory under international law and not subject to Article 49. (Jordan illegally occupied the West Bank from 1948 to 1967 and relinquished its claim to it in 1988.)
The willful international misrepresentation of Article 49 permits the depiction of Israeli settlements as “illegal” and Israel as a serial abuser of human rights. This is the engine of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions strategy, which seeks to delegitimize and isolate Israel. The Obama administration cannot embrace the fiction of the illegality of Jews living in the West Bank without incurring uproar in Congress and from the American public, but has nonetheless flirted with it in recent public statements, calling these Jewish communities “illegitimate.” For pro-Israel Americans, now is the time to expose this unacceptable pretense.
Israel’s supporters can also point to the Australian government, which has publicly rejected the idea that Jewish communities in the West Bank are illegal. We should be working toward the U.S. Congress passing a resolution affirming the legality of Jewish life and development in the West Bank.
It is our job now to help shift the debate, away from blaming Israel for frustrating peacemaking efforts or indicting it for nonexistent crimes, and instead hold the Palestinians accountable for their refusal to recognize and make peace with the Jewish state. We must encourage American leaders to demand that the PA fulfill its Oslo obligations to end incitement, outlaw terrorists groups, arrest terrorists and recognize Israel, and threaten the cessation of U.S. aid if it does not. If America does that, perhaps the Palestinians can start transforming their regime and society toward peace.
Morton A. Klein is national president of the Zionist Organization of America.