Why Israel Has No Negotiating Partner

by Benjamin Weinthal

Secretary of State Kerry announced today the formal revival of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Coinciding with Kerry’s efforts to jumpstart the negotiating process, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas laid out part of his vision for a future Palestinian state, before a group of mainly Egyptian journalists in Cairo:.“In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli — civilian or soldier — on our lands,” the Palestinian leader said.

If Benjamin Netanyahu declared that the Jewish state plans to evict a minority religious group from its territories, there would be no shortage of outrage from the European Union and violence would likely emerge from pro-Palestinian quarters.  

Meanwhile, Abbas gets a free pass for bigotry.  

The incorrigibly reactionary view of Abbas’s is hardly surprising. It is worth recalling the remarks of Maen Rashid Areikat, the Palestinian envoy to the United States, back in 2011 in Washington. Commenting about the presence of Jews in the disputed territories, he said, “Well, I personally still believe that as a first step we need to be totally separated . . .”

The Palestinian state envisioned by Areikat would not only expunge a Jewish presence but would also likely target gay citizens. The Weekly Standard’s John McCormack asked Areikat whether homosexuals would be accepted in a Palestinian state. “Ah, this is an issue that’s beyond my [authority].” Areikat responded.

Moreover, Abbas’s ongoing crackdown on Palestinian journalists certainly does not bode well for any newly created Palestinian state. The Palestinian Authority’s General Intelligence Security detained the journalist Haroun Abu Arrah in May for interrogation. Abu Arrah said “They asked me provocative and personal questions, such as whether I was having or had sexual relationships. I told the interrogator that this was none of his business.” The interrogator’s response: ”You better answer the questions.”

The persecution of Christians in the West Bank has intensified under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, too. Dexter Van Zile, an expert on Christians in the Middle East, brought the case of the Bethlehem pastor Reverend Naim Khoury and the First Baptist Church to the fore; the Palestinian government ruled that the church lacks the religious authority to operate.

In short, Israel simply does not have a meaningful negotiating partner. Palestinian society is divided between the undemocratic, scandalously corrupt Palestinian Authority and the Muslim Brotherhood and Iranian-backed Hamas organization in Gaza.

Even putting aside the social and political deficiencies of the Palestinian state in the disputed West Bank territories, the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip remains opposed to a peace agreement with Israel. Hamas’s ideology in the Palestinian enclave in Gaza is animated by lethal anti-Semitism and violent hatred of Israel.

All of this helps to bolster the argument that Kerry should devote his considerable energy and political capital to dislodging Hamas

To reach a peace agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sine qua non of any deal would entail a unified Palestinian leadership committed to Western values and capitalism, and a Gaza Strip free from  Hamas.  It is a tall order.

— Benjamin Weinthal is a Berlin-based fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Follow Benjamin on Twitter @BenWeinthal.