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22 June 2020

Do Not Squander The Last Vestiges Of A Fading Opportunity

By: Alon Ben-Meir
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Dear President Abbas;
I hope that this final appeal will awaken you to the reality that you can no longer ignore. Time has just about run out and your immediate decision to agree or refuse to enter into new peace negotiations with Israel will determine the future of your people for generations to come. They will either live in peace and harmony with Israel, growing and prospering, or remain a shattered nation despairing for a ray of hope that has eluded them for seven decades – with you sealing their fate.

Now that Netanyahu is poised to annex a significant part of the West Bank, you are faced with a historic juncture: either you wake up to reality and preempt Netanyahu’s plan by calling for new peace negotiations, or squander the last vestiges of a fading opportunity. You must rise to the occasion as a leader should and grasp the moment, because you have reached the precipice of no return.

As you look around, please ask yourself the question: have your people come any closer today to realize their cherished dream of establishing an independent state than 10, 15, or 20 years ago? You know better than anyone else that the answer is categorically NO. You have missed many opportunities and failed to realize that time was not on your side.

The reasons are all but glaringly clear.

The world has moved on, but you are still stuck in your old and tired illusions, that somehow the Palestinians’ moral cause will prevail as their suffering cannot be in vain. The truth is, those who used to care about the Palestinians’ suffering no longer much care, and those who still do have no political sway to turn things around.

Your traditional backers – the Arab states, especially in the Gulf led by Saudi Arabia – are preoccupied with their domestic problems and are far more concerned about the Iranian threat than the Palestinian plight. They no longer view Israel as an enemy but a strategic partner that can confront Iran, and together deter Tehran from threatening their national security or undermining their economic wellbeing.

They are sharing intelligence, advanced technology, and even military coordination. For them, Israel is a reality that they not only accept but view as an asset they can rely on. They pay lip service to the Palestinian cause by withholding full diplomatic recognition of Israel, but that too will come to pass if you remain intransigent and refuse to commit to good faith negotiations to bring peace and prosperity to every Palestinian, young and old, which matters the most.

The United States under the Trump administration is the strongest backer of the Netanyahu government and is fully supportive of the planned annexation. Trump’s deal of the century says it all. It was largely developed in full consultation with Netanyahu and his footprint is reflected in just about every clause of the deal. By refusing to negotiate with the US as a result of Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, you have undercut yourself from the whole process, which also led to the US cutting financial aid to the Palestinians.

For Netanyahu, American backing is what is most important, as he wants to exploit Trump’s support by moving expeditiously toward annexation before the November elections. If Netanyahu acts now, even if Biden wins the presidency it will be impossible for him to force Israel to reverse course, despite the fact that the US is the only country that can exert pressure on Israel to make any concession. The strategic alliance between Israel and the US, coupled with wide support of Israel by the American public, has shielded Israel in the past and is unlikely to change under a Biden administration.

If you think that the EU will come to your rescue, you will be mistaken again. True, the EU has demonstrated consistent support of the Palestinians by advocating for their right to statehood and by regularly providing the largest financial assistance to keep your government solvent.

But then, you should know that by now even though the EU is the largest trading partner with Israel, in relation to the Palestinians the EU holds little sway in the country. The US has and continues to dominate the Israeli-Palestinian discourse, and there is nothing of real substance the EU can do other than potentially impose some sanctions, but that still will not change the dynamics in your favor.

And if you believe that the United Nations can prevent Netanyahu from moving ahead with his annexation plans, then you have learned nothing from the past. The US will veto any resolution that condemns Israel, let alone one that will demand the reversal of territories that have already been annexed.

You can turn of course to the UN General Assembly and you will find a receptive audience, but to what end? A majority of states will certainly pass a resolution that will condemn Israel in the strongest terms and demand that it rescind its annexation. This, however, will amount to nothing more than public relations, as the UNGA’s resolution will have no impact simply because it has no enforcement mechanism to compel Israel to change course.

In relation to Israel, you have missed the boat time and again. Since the second Intifada in 2000, your belligerent attitude toward Israel, and Chairman Arafat before you, have pushed the Israelis toward the right-of-center. Nearly 50 percent of the population has given up on any prospect of peace based on a two-state solution. The last three consecutive Israeli elections offered a glaring picture as to where the Israelis stand.

For the past 11 years in particular, Netanyahu made it abundantly clear that there will be no Palestinian state under his watch and made it his life’s mission to expand the settlements to a point where it would be impossible to restore the status quo ante. Come July, Netanyahu is poised to move swiftly with Trump’s support to annex a significant part of the West Bank, which is nothing but the kiss of death to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Whether Netanyahu ends up in prison because of the three criminal charges against him, or is exonerated and departs his office in peace, he will have fundamentally changed the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its outcome if he implements his annexation plans. Netanyahu has sworn to establish ‘greater Israel’ that expands from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River, regardless of how adversely that might affect the country’s future on multiple fronts.

Given the US’ unequivocal support, there is no country or any radical group that can effectively stop Netanyahu from realizing his own life-long dream unless you preempt Netanyahu’s annexation plans by announcing immediately your readiness and willingness to enter into unconditional peace negotiations. In so doing, you give pause to the Trump administration and increase the pressure on Israel by the Arab states to postpone the annexation to await the outcome of the negotiations. To be sure, you have no one to turn to, and if you miss this last opportunity, you will subject your people to decades more of suffering, hopelessness, and despair.

We are all mortal, Mr. Abbas, and you have come near the end. What legacy do you want to leave behind? Do you want to be remembered as a loser, whose shortsightedness, lack of courage and self-conceit betrayed his people, or as the leader who finally rose to the occasion to bring peace and prosperity to his countrymen before it was too late?

* Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies. - alon@alonben-meir.com

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