The perfect storm is gathering in the Middle East, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas seems to be steering the ship directly into it.
In September, just as summer vacation ends, critical elements of the peace process will converge, seriously threatening Israel.
First, the Israeli-Palestinian proximity talks, an experiment launched in May under U.S. auspices, will reach the end of its four-month mandate. They are supposed to lead to a resumption of direct negotiations. Former Senator George Mitchell, President Obama’s special envoy, has been shuttling the short distance between Jerusalem and Ramallah in an effort to convince Palestinian leadership to sit down at the same table with Israelis, as they had for more than 16 years before Abbas cancelled direct talks 18 months ago. The history of Arab-Israeli peacemaking shows that direct talks are imperative to resolving core issues.
However, Abbas is not only avoiding direct talks, but seems reluctant even to continue proximity talks, turning again for cover to his Fatah Party leadership, to the PLO and even to the Arab League. Not difficult: Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa recently called the proximity talks “a comprehensive failure.”
So, only two months after Mitchell began his shuttle diplomacy, Abbas is upping the ante. In addition to demanding a total Jewish construction freeze in the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, Abbas now wants the U.S. to obtain from Israel written guarantees on the final borders for a Palestinian state. Amr Moussa conveyed the same message to Mitchell when they met July 18 in Cairo.
As Ronald Reagan would have said, “There you go again!”
Seriously, when will Palestinian leaders acknowledge that four consecutive Israeli prime ministers – Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Benjamin Netanyahu – have stated Israel’s commitment to a negotiated two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Back when there were direct talks, very sweet offers were made. Barak, with the support of President Clinton, offered more than 90 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza, and even floated the idea of sharing Jerusalem. But the answer from Yasser Arafat in 2000 was the second intifada. Olmert made a similar offer on West Bank territory, as well as a piece of land on the Israeli side of the border, in 2008. But Abbas, rather than continue negotiating, followed in the footsteps of his mentor and predecessor, spurning the Israeli offer and summarily cancelling peace negotiations.