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Abbas tells Palestinians he won’t give up their principles

September 6, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments
By Ira Sharkansky

Ira Sharkansky

JERUSALEM –Israeli media are quoting comments made by Mahmoud Abbas, that the Palestinians will not give up any of their principles in dealing with the Israelis. Among the items he considers cardinal are refugees, the 1967 borders, and the presence of Israeli civilian or military personnel in Palestine. Pressure on those issues, he says, will cause him to walk out of the talks.  

Mr Abbas should know that Israelis also have some principles. The most prominent may be the Land of Israel, a principle that has been in existence for something like 3,000 years. The Palestinians have thought of themselves as a nation for about 100 years. However, one wonders about the solidity of that concept due to fighting between political factions, clans, Muslim extremists and others, as well as the pressure of Muslims that turned Christian Palestinians into a stream of outward migrants.
Like all principles, the Land of Israel has its problems, but it is not hard to find interpretations that it does not leave much room for Palestine, or too many Palestinians.
Israelis have pretty much given up any insistence on their monopolistic control of the Land of Israel. The point is, they expect Palestinians to be equally flexible about what they claim to be their principles. If not, there is little purpose in negotiating. The coming year, which is the Obama administration’s idealized timetable, will not be an exercise in Israeli surrender, or Israeli flexibility and Palestinian steadfastness.
Israelis generally recognize that as the stronger power they are expected to be more forthcoming than their weaker neighbors. But within limits. 
There will have to be a better deal for those 50-60,000 Jews living in the West Bank beyond the security barrier  than for the 8,500 Jews withdrawn from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinian response to that move has not made many Israelis keen to move tens of thousands.
And those refugees who claimed to have been pushed out by the Israelis in 1948, as well as their children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren will have to get use to living where they are, or go someplace else. A few may be let back in as a gesture when everything else is settled, but by that time there won’t be many of the original refugees left. There is not much inclination to make gestures toward those claiming to be descendants of refugees. 
There will be some who say that Abbas’ comments are meant for home consumption. He must know that he will have to be flexible with Israel under the eyes of the American and European observers.
Such an excuse is just as troubling as his comments. The Palestinians have been investing in the demonization of Israel for more than 60 years. Incitement continues in their schools and mosques, and may enjoy only occasional pauses in the mass media controlled by Fatah when it suits party leaders. If there is no preparation of the Palestinian public about the need to rethink their principles there will be little prospect of a deal anytime in the near or not so near future.
Other signs suggest that this appears to be an ideal time for negotiations. They include Netanyahu’s strength, the lessons of flexibility he has learned, plus the support for accommodation that appears among some of his leading party colleagues and even more so in the parliamentary opposition, plus the persistence of Barack Obama, and the relative prosperity in both Israel and the West Bank. 
Without Palestinian flexibility, the stars may not align so favorably for many years. This might be their last chance. 
Some years ago Anwar Sadat indicated that the last Egyptian had given his life for the sake of Palestine. While Palestinians figure prominently in the mantras recited by rulers throughout the Muslim world, they have not had significant military help since 1967. The Yom Kippur War of 1973 was not aimed at helping Palestinians, but at regaining Syrian and Egyptian territory. Occasional efforts coming out of Lebanon and Gaza have resulted in devastation in those places rather than in Israel. The aid provided by the United Nations, Europeans and Americans is best described as political lip service and a level of welfare assistance that has reinforced a culture of helplessness.
Palestinians should recognize that most nations do not have their own state. There is not much between their present condition and that of the Kurds, Druze, Basques, Catalonians, Welsh, Corsicans, and who knows how many African tribes who maintain their own languages, but are powerless outsiders in countries ruled by others. 
Bombast will not give the Palestinians their own state. Political savvy would be better. 

Sharkansky is professor emeritus of political science at Hebrew University.

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