The Palestinians believe they can use international misfortunes to fast-forward their national goals. They see US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu grappling with political woes and the European Union in a life-and-death struggle to save the euro and at least five economies from falling off a cliff edge. Palestinian leaders see their big chance for gain.
Friday, Dec. 10, the London Guardian ran an op-ed by senior Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat in which he presented as fact the astonishing new figure of seven million Palestinian refugees allegedly displaced in the 1948 War (around 10 times the original figure) He omitted to mention that that war was launched against the fledgling state of Israel by seven Arab armies – and other pertinent information. Instead, he "reported: "Israeli historians have debunked the traditional Zionist mythology and shown how Zionist leaders prior to 1948 formulated plans to displace the indigenous Palestinian population in order to create a Jewish majority state."
Erekat laid out his new "facts" unchallenged in Israel because not a single Israeli publication found his opus worthy of mention. The Palestinians can usually count on a favorable press from Israel's mainstream media and equal time at least with the policies of the government in Jerusalem. Airing unreasonable Palestinian demands would break that mold. It would show the Palestinian negotiator pulling his facts and figures out of a hat and leave them no option but to reaffirm the common consent among Israeli leaders of every political hue that by granting the Palestinians the "right of return," Israel would be committing suicide.
This goes across the spectrum from Netanyahu of the right-of-center Likud, Tzipi Livni the left-of-center opposition Kadima leader– who met publicly with Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad in New York this week – former prime minister Ehud Olmert, the doves of the Labor Party like Amir Peretz and their predecessors.
In their international campaign, the Palestinians are building on shifting sands, such as European championship. For now, these sponsors are in no shape to give them much more than moral support. Deep in their own troubles, the Europeans cannot back unilateral Palestinian independence within pre-1967 War borders all the way to UN Security Council recognition because a US veto would knock it down on the spot. The same applies to Brazilian and Argentine backing.
Gestures of support from European officials and has-beens have not only given the Palestinians the optical illusion of broad international support for their cause; they have encouraged them to raise the bar of their demands to unrealistic levels. This leaves them with nowhere to go and no options at present but for the unsatisfactory one of dragging indirect talks with Israel on an interim settlement.
This is the result of the encouragement Abbas received from certain European parties to try and force Israel to accept a second moratorium on Jewish construction on the West Bank and in Jerusalem as his pre-condition for joining Netanyahu in direct talks. Israel fended him off easily and the talks were stalled.
Upcoming now is Erekat's bright idea to force Israel to allow itself be drowned in a sea of Palestinian refugees, a plan which has even less hope of flying.
No wonder Arab rulers like Saudi King Abdullah and Syria's Bashar Assad are ready to wash their hands of the two Palestinian negotiators whom they see leading the peace process to never-never land.
Since US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted in a speech to the Saban Forum Friday Dec. 12, that the Obama administration had failed to bring the Israelis and Palestinians to the negotiating table, local media have been reporting that Washington is pressing Jerusalem hard for clear answers on the core issues of borders, refugees and Jerusalem. Obama's emissary George Mitchell, who tried to resign some weeks ago but is soldiering on because no one has stepped forward to replace him, is said to have been entrusted with this mission in Jerusalem and Ramallah when he arrives Monday, Dec. 13.
debkafile's sources report that neither the Netanyahu government nor Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas will give him anything firmer than generalizations. The Israeli prime minister will most probably tell him for the umpteenth time that Israel wants secure borders. If Mitchell tries to pin him down on specifics, Netanyahu will say they will be determined in direct negotiations with the Palestinians. Abbas, for his part, will demand nothing less than Israel's withdrawal to the pre-1967 war lines on the West Bank and the handover of historic Jerusalem.
He knows as well as Israel and Washington that the lines which preceded the 1967 war were never approved borders. What he is really after is the 1949 armistice lines, which the US opposes.
Barring the unforeseen, the parties are condemned to going round in circles. This cycle will not be broken by the initiative undertaken by the European Union Foreign Ministers' Forum, which is meeting Monday to approve a resolution declaring that if Israel-Palestinian negotiations fail to make progress within a year, the EU will recognize a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.
Here, too, the EU faces strong Obama administration opposition– not because this declaration would harm Israel but because it is seen as a European attempt to hijack the Middle East peace process from the United States. Obama will not stand for this. And since EU members are badly in need of American economic aid, or at least cooperation, to save the euro from meltdown, their foreign ministers are unlikely to take their initiative all the way.
debkafile's sources in Brussels report that they may have another reason to think twice, the suspicion that the Obama administration may be dumping on Europe international issues which it prefers to unload, or which are too tough to crack, such as nuclear diplomacy with Iran. Europe would then be stuck with the fiascoes – no Washignton.
According to our Moscow sources, the Palestinians and Europeans are not alone in trying to cash in on perceived US and Israeli weak moments. Due for an unheralded visit to Israel this week is Mikhail Margelovis, head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Federation Council and chairman of Global Zero, the international movement dedicated to the elimination of all nuclear weapons. A leading voice in the shaping of Kremlin foreign policies, Margelovis is coming to test the ground for a Russian role in Israel-Palestinian peacemaking which would aim to displace the United States.
With these trends in motion, it seems that Washington and Jerusalem have little choice but to work together to push back the European, Palestinian and Russian peace initiatives alike. If they don't, the Americans and Israelis risk losing control of the Middle East peace track.