The Palestinians are divided today into two camps – one that is radical and another that is less radical -- or "moderate" in the words of the West.
The radical camp is headed by Hamas and other extremist groups such as the Islamic Jihad organization.
This camp's message is: We want 100% of everything and we will not make any concessions to Israel. We want all the land, from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River. We want to replace Israel with an Islamic state where Jews who wish to could live as a minority.
There is no point in talking about the possibility of negotiating with this radical camp about peace, especially as its declared goal is to eliminate Israel -- not make peace with it.
The only thing Israel could talk to the radicals about is how and when to dismantle the Jewish state and send Israelis to Europe, Russia, the US and their Arab countries of origin.
The less radical camp, headed by the PLO and a minority of secular Palestinians, is also saying that it wants 100%, but only of the pre-1967 lines -– meaning the entire West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem.
Like the radicals, the "moderate" camp is also saying that it will not and cannot make any concessions to Israel on its territorial demands.
With such positions, it is hard to see how the peace process could lead to anything positive. The radicals do not want to negotiate with Israel because they do not recognize its right to exist and believe it should be wiped off the face of the earth. The so-called moderates say they are ready to return to the negotiating table, but only if Israel agrees in advance to give them 100% of their demands.
Yet the central problem is that even if Israel does accept all their demands, neither camp is willing to commit to ending the conflict. This is basically why the 2000 Camp David summit failed – because Yasser Arafat was not prepared to sign any document that called for end of conflict even after a peace deal were reached between Israel and the Palestinians.
Further, no "moderate" Palestinian leader would dare to sign such a document out of fear of being denounced by his people -- and the rest of the Arab and Islamic countries -- for having "sold out" to Israel by giving up the claim to all of the land.
Because the less-radical camp knows that Israel will not and cannot accept all their demands, they have decided to stay away from the peace talks. They have instead chosen to negotiate with the international community about the establishment of a Palestinian state. That is why they prefer to negotiate with France, Germany, Britain and South American countries about the two-state solution.
The Palestinian Authority, which today represents the less-radical camp, is hoping that the international community will give the Palestinians what Israel is not giving it at the negotiating table. The goal of the Palestinian Authority leadership is to internationalize the conflict with the hope of imposing a solution on Israel. This is the main reason why it has decided to go to the UN in September with a request to recognize a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines.
The UN may approve the Palestinian Authority's request. But the Palestinians will only get a state on paper – in the form of another meaningless UN resolution. The only way to achieve a state is through negotiations with Israel, whether the Palestinians like Israel or not.
And the Palestinians have good reason to be optimistic about negotiations with Israel. A majority of Jews, according to several public opinion polls, believe in the two-state solution. The only debate inside Israel today is not whether there should be a Palestinian state, but how much land the Palestinians will get.
Hence it would be wise if Mahmoud Abbas refrained from pushing Israel to the corner through his statehood bid, and agreed to return immediately to the negotiating table.
Moreover, Abbas needs to be warned that his September initiative could be counterproductive for the Palestinians and damaging for the two-state solution. Such an initiative would not only damage the Palestinians' relations with the US and most EU countries, who are all opposed to the statehood plan; these parties have also hinted that financial aid to the Palestinians would be affected if Abbas insisted on proceeding with his plan. The Palestinians would then be held responsible for sabotaging the peace process by embarking on a unilateral step in violation of the Oslo Accords.
That's what the Palestinian Authority would say. The Americans and Europeans disagree and that's why they are urging the Palestinians to return to the negotiations. Add to this the fact that Israel has repeatedly expressed its desire to resume the peace talks.