During the past three decades, Israel has made countless concessions to the Palestinians as part of an effort to advance peace and coexistence. In 1993-95, Israel signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, giving them full security and civilian control over large parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Thousands of PLO members stationed in different Arab countries were allowed to move to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Israel released thousands of Palestinian security prisoners, including many who were involved in terrorist attacks against Israelis.
The Palestinians, however, were never asked by the US and other international parties to make concessions to Israel. The Israeli concessions did not advance the peace process with the Palestinians. Instead, the concessions were seen by the Palestinians as a sign of weakness and prompted them to increase their terrorist attacks and incitement against Israel.
The Palestinians turned down two concrete Israeli offers of peace according to their own demands (at the Camp David summit in 2000 and by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008) that would have given them a state on most of the land of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
At the Camp David summit, then US President Bill Clinton presented the Israelis and Palestinians with an outline of the parameters for a final status agreement that closely mirrored then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak's proposal, which would have given the Palestinians 97% of the West Bank, full control of the Gaza Strip and large parts of east Jerusalem. Yasser Arafat, then leader of the PLO, rejected the offer, mainly because of a clause in the agreement specifying that the deal meant the end of the conflict. Dennis Ross, then US Middle East envoy who participated in the Camp David negotiations, said: "For him [Arafat] to end the conflict is to end himself."
Mahmoud Abbas, today leader of the PLO and president of the Palestinian Authority, was one of the leading Palestinian negotiators at Camp David in 2000. He said even before the summit that the Palestinians "made clear to the Americans that the Palestinian side is unable to make concessions on anything."
In 2015, Abbas admitted that he rejected the 2008 offer from Olmert for a near-total withdrawal from the West Bank and large parts of east Jerusalem. Abbas claimed he turned down the offer because he wasn't allowed to study the map. "He [Olmert]showed me a map," Abbas said. "He didn't give me a map. He told me, 'This is the map' and took it away."
In recent weeks, talk about a need for Israel to offer new concessions to the Palestinians has resurfaced, as the US administration pursues its effort to achieve a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Yet the experiences of the past have proved that concessions to the Palestinians do not bring peace. The assumption that the more land you give to the Palestinians, the more peace you get, has proved to be false. That's why it's time for the US administration to replace the formula of "land for peace" with "peace for peace." It's also time for the US administration to understand that most Palestinians are unimpressed with any concessions Israel makes. The US should demand that the Palestinians, not Israel, make concessions for peace.
The only concessions the Palestinians are prepared to accept are those that fully comply with their demands. Some Palestinians want a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 (1949 armistice) lines, while others want to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state.
A normalization agreement between Israeli and Saudi Arabia would be good as long as it does not require Israel to make far-reaching concessions that would jeopardize its security, such as the establishment of a Palestinian terror state next to Israel.
Israel signed normalization agreements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan without making any concessions to the Palestinians. These Arab states did not demand such concessions because, unlike the Biden administration, they understand that the Palestinians do not appreciate any Israeli gestures.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was quoted on September 15 as saying that "normalization between Saudi Arabia and Israel cannot come at the expense of the Palestinian cause." The Biden administration, Blinken said, believes that such a deal "needs to involve a two-state solution." Most Palestinians, however, take quite a different view of the matter.
Blinken's statements came less than 48 hours after a public opinion poll revealed that a majority of Palestinians are opposed to a normalization agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel, and opposed to the so-called two-state solution. The Saudi two-state solution envisages the establishment of an Iran-backed Arab terror state next to Israel. Israel already has such a terror state next to its border: the Gaza Strip, ruled since 2007 by Iran's proxies, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in early September, found that 56% of the Palestinians believe that an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel would constitute a "harmful development that would negatively affect chances of reaching a Palestinian-Israeli peace." Palestinians are afraid that the Arab states would turn their backs on them once the Arab states make peace with Israel. They maintain that the Arabs should make peace with Israel only after Israel withdraws to the pre-1967 lines and agrees to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, as stated in the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative.
The Palestinian opposition to normalization between Israel and the Arab states does not come as a surprise. In the past, the Palestinians denounced Egypt, Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for signing peace and normalization treaties with Israel.
While the Palestinian leadership is unlikely to reject a Saudi-Israeli deal publicly, most Palestinians remain vehemently opposed to normalization between the Arab states and Israel. Palestinian leaders are afraid of alienating Saudi Arabia because of its leading and influential role among Arabs and Muslims. Yet, the Palestinian leaders will not be able to prevent Palestinians from taking to the streets to voice their opposition to a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel. They also will not be able to stop other Palestinian factions, such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, from issuing statements denouncing the Saudis for making peace with Israel.
The Palestinian leaders are apparently hoping that Saudi Arabia will resume financial aid to the Palestinian Authority to obtain their approval of, or at least their quiescence about, a deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
According to the poll, 53% of the Palestinians are also opposed to Israel giving any concessions to the Palestinians in return for a normalization deal with Israel. For the Palestinians, Israeli concessions, such as increasing the number of workers permitted to work in Israel or easing travel restrictions, are insufficient. For them, the conflict is not about improving living conditions or boosting the Palestinian economy, but about displacing Israel entirely.
Another 72% of the Palestinians, the poll showed, oppose any Palestinian participation in a Saudi-Israeli agreement.
The reason? Most Palestinians enthusiastically support Hamas, the Islamist group whose charter calls for the elimination of Israel. If new elections for president of the Palestinian Authority were held today, the poll showed, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would defeat incumbent Mahmoud Abbas in a landslide.
The results of the poll prove that the Biden Administration's demand that Israel make concessions to the Palestinians as part of a Saudi-Israeli normalization accord is completely meaningless, at least as far as the Palestinians are concerned.
On August 25, the American media outlet Axios reported that Blinken told Israel's Minister of Strategic Affairs Ron Dermer that the Israeli government is "misreading the situation" if it thinks it will not have to make concessions to the Palestinians as part of any Saudi deal.
If anyone is misreading the situation, however, it is Blinken, who thinks that Israeli concessions would convince the Palestinians to accept an agreement between Saudi Arabia and Israel. As the results of the PCPSR poll showed, the Palestinian public is not impressed with the proposed concessions.
The proposed concessions, according to unconfirmed reports, include expanding the Palestinian Authority's control to more parts of the West Bank. Ironically, the talk about transferring more territory to the Palestinian Authority comes at a time when the Palestinian security forces are losing control over areas already under their rule, especially in the northern West Bank, where armed groups belonging to Iran's Palestinian proxies, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, continue to operate freely and more violently.
If the Palestinian Authority is currently unable or unwilling to prevent terror groups from attacking Israelis, it is truly delusional to think that it would be more diligent in controlling security in any new areas it received from Israel. Abbas has not been willing to send his security officers to arrest or kill the terrorists based in the cities of Jenin and Nablus. He knows that if he does, his people will condemn him as a "traitor" and "collaborator" with Israel, and quickly dispatch him to "drink tea up there" with the Egypt's murdered President Anwar Sadat, who was assassinated for brokering his country's 1979 peace deal with Israel. Moreover, Abbas will not go against the terrorists as long as they do not physically go against him.
Most of all, the idea of transferring more land to the Palestinians is terrible because sends a message to the Palestinian Authority that, after it failed to combat terrorism in land under its control, it will be rewarded with even more land. Implementing this lunatic idea would further endanger the lives of both Israelis and Palestinians. Palestinians would correctly conclude that "terrorism works!", providing yet a further disincentive for the Palestinian Authority to rein in the terror groups. Israel will be forced to retaliate for terrorist attacks.
As the poll illustrates, support for anti-Israel terrorism among the Palestinians has risen from 53% (three months ago) to 58% today. That is why it is unrealistic to expect the Palestinian Authority to take any measures to disarm the terror groups in the West Bank. Unlike Blinken, Palestinian leaders are aware of the massive support for terrorism among their people. Unlike Blinken, Palestinian leaders also know that were it not for Israel's presence in the West Bank, Iran and its terror proxies would have taken complete control of the area a long time ago and ousted Abbas, just as they did in the Gaza Strip in 2007. According to the Los Angeles Times, reporting on June 14, 2007:
"Hamas gunmen seized military control of the Gaza Strip on Thursday, executing Fatah rivals and provoking the collapse of their power-sharing Palestinian Authority government.
"As Fatah's last security command centers fell after four days of fighting, Hamas military men in black masks moved unchallenged across Gaza City, hunting down foes, blowing up homes and dragging the body of a top Fatah militant through the streets."
Palestinian leaders, therefore, are understandably afraid of being portrayed as traitors if they come out against the terrorists. These leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas, spend a great deal of time praising and glorifying their terrorists. " [F]or us the Martyrs, the wounded, and the prisoners are the most sanctified," Abbas has declared.
In addition, the Palestinian Authority, through its "Pay-for-Slay" program, proudly rewards terrorists who murder or wound Jews. In just one year, "Ramallah paid out around NIS 600 million ($187 million) in salaries for Palestinians imprisoned, jailed, or killed by Israel in 2020, according to a senior Palestine Liberation Organization official."
In February 2019, Abbas vowed:
"If we had only 20-30 million Shekels, which is the [monthly] sum paid for the families of martyrs, we would still pay it to them. If the PA doesn't have anything other than that amount, I will pay it to the families of the martyrs, the prisoners, and the wounded."
On July 23, 2018, at a ceremony honoring Palestinian terrorists, Abbas said:
"We will neither reduce nor withhold the allowances of the families of martyrs, prisoners, and released prisoners, as some want; if we had only a single penny left, we would pay it to families of the martyrs and prisoners."
The assumption that the Palestinian leadership would stop paying stipends to terrorists and their families has endlessly proven to be false. If and when the Saudis do resume financial aid to the Palestinian Authority, the bulk of the money will no doubt be channeled to terrorists and their families.
In addition to rejecting the idea of concessions from Israel, most Palestinians continue to oppose the "two-state solution," according to the poll.
So, while Blinken is talking about the need to involve the "two-state solution" in a Saudi-Israeli deal, 67% of Palestinians oppose it.
Another 27% believe that Hamas, not the Palestinian Authority, deserves to lead and represent the Palestinian people today, while 24% believe that Abbas's ruling Fatah faction deserves to. On the other hand, 44% believe that both parties are unworthy of representing and leading the Palestinians.
It appears that the Biden administration and many European governments have more faith in the Palestinian leadership than most Palestinians do. US and European officials tend to speak to their Palestinian counterparts in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, and make no effort to engage ordinary Palestinians.
Palestinian officials sound more conciliatory when they speak in English to their American and European counterparts, who after all, are among their major funders. In Arabic, the conversation is quite different (such as here, here, and here.) These officials, however, rarely represent the authentic voices of the Palestinians, most of whom (according to the latest poll) are opposed to the "two-state solution" and support armed confrontation against Israel.
Rather than demanding that Israel make concessions to the Palestinians as part of a Saudi-Israeli deal, Blinken should put pressure on the Palestinians to enforce law and order in their areas, disarm the terror groups, and stop murdering Israelis. If anyone needs to make concessions for peace it is the Palestinian Authority, whose leaders continue to spread antisemitism and falsehoods about Israel and Jews, promote and glorify violence -- and pay salaries to terrorists and their families to go murder Jews.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim Arab based in the Middle East.