Abbas Cannot Make Concessions on Any Core Issue
Even if the Palestinian Authority recognizes Israel as a Jewish state, the gap between the two parties remains as wide as ever over most of the core issues.
As the Americans and Israelis continue to demand Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, a senior Palestinian Authority official revealed that this issue was no longer the main obstacle to reaching a peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel.
Mohamed Shtayyeh, member of the Fatah Central Committee and former member of the Palestinian negotiating team, said that gap between the two parties now remains wide over major issues such as settlements, Jerusalem, borders and refugees.
Shtayyeh and other senior Palestinian officials insist that the only way to move forward with the peace process is by forcing Israel to accept the Palestinian demands regarding these major issues.
"The dispute with Israel is not only over recognizing Israel as a Jewish state," Shtayyeh said. "The dispute is over Jerusalem, settlements, refugees and borders."
The Palestinians say that the real problem facing the peace process is the refusal of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to accept the fact that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is not authorized to make any concessions on any of these core issues.
"The Americans are behaving as if this is a personal dispute between President Abbas and [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu," said a senior advisor to Abbas in Ramallah. "Obama and Kerry think that once Abbas signs an agreement or accepts Israeli and American demands, all the Palestinians would take to the streets to support the peace process."
"Abu Mazen [Abbas] remains fully committed to the Palestinian national rights and he will not succumb under any form of pressure," explained Palestinian political analyst Hani Habib.
Habib said that despite their weakness, the Palestinians are determined to go to the United Nations to seek recognition of a Palestinian state once the talks fail. He also said that the Palestinian Authority has plans to file complaints against Israel with the International Criminal Court.
Abbas, who is expected to meet with Obama in Washington on March 17, will once again make it clear that without accepting all Palestinian demands on the core issues there would be no agreement with Israel.
Abbas's position on the core issues was relayed to Obama and Kerry on a number of occasions over the past few months.
On the issue of Jerusalem, Abbas continues to insist on a full Israeli withdrawal from east Jerusalem, including the Old City, and turning it into the capital of a future Palestinian state.
As for the borders, Abbas has made it clear that the pre-1967 lines would become the borders of a Palestinian state, with "minor" amendments that take into consideration new facts created on the ground over the past four decades.
With regards to the settlements, the Palestinian position is also very clear: Israel must remove all settlements and settlers from the West Bank.
And on the explosive issue of the refugees, Abbas continues to insist on the "right of return" for those Palestinians who wish to move to Israel. True, Abbas recently declared that he does not wish to "flood" Israel with millions of refugees. However, this is out of the conviction that most of the refugees would agree to accept financial compensation or resettlement in Arab and Western countries. Representatives of the refugees have responded by criticizing Abbas, arguing that he is not authorized to make any concessions on the "sacred right of return."
Nabil Sha'ath, a senior Palestinian official, reaffirmed the Palestinian position this week when he accused Israel of rejecting the "foundations for peace."
Sha'ath stressed that Israel's refusal to accept the Palestinian demands regarding the core issues would lead to the failure of the peace talks.
Today it is clear that the Palestinian Authority is preparing to hold Israel responsible for the failure of the peace talks because of its refusal to comply with all of the Palestinians' demands.
The peace talks are scheduled to end in late April in accordance with Kerry's nine-month deadline. But the Palestinian Authority leadership has no plans to wait until then to declare the failure of the peace process.
Palestinian officials in Ramallah say that the talks with Israel have already failed, but Obama and Kerry continue to live in denial. There are no direct talks between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. Rather, each side is conducting separate negotiations with Obama and Kerry.
The latest statements from Palestinian Authority officials show that the issue of Israel's Jewishness is only a secondary issue compared with the sensitive issues of Jerusalem, refugees, borders and settlements.
Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state is not going to bring the two sides closer to reaching agreement on any of these core issues. This is what Obama needs to take into consideration when he meets with Abbas. He also needs to take into consideration what many Palestinians are saying – that Abbas is not authorized to make concessions on any of these issues.
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