Although most of what Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas recently said at the United Nations has been heard already, many times, the context has changed.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the UN General Assembly, on September 26, 2014. (Image source: UN)
West Bank Palestinians are -- and are known to be -- the most privileged refugees in the world. They are not running; they do not have to. Unlike Syrians, no one is dropping barrel bombs on them, starving them, or refusing them entry -- as Jordan does with Palestinians among the refugees from Syria. The West Bank Palestinians have homes, food, jobs (often with Israeli companies that pay three times the prevailing Palestinian West Bank wages), education, political parties, seats in parliament, and relative security. Gazans are different, but Israel ensures that they have the basics.
Palestinians are irrelevant in the world, except that they suck up a vastly disproportionate share of the world's aid money, which has allowed the PA to create a bureaucracy that even Palestinians complain is corrupt and unresponsive.
Hence Mahmoud Abbas's jeremiad, accusing Israel of "crimes," but without actually citing any.
Possibly to attempt relevance, Abbas used the U.N. pulpit to incite his followers -- with false claims -- to violence against the Jews. Now in the 11th year of his four-year term, he threatened to quit. He threatened to torch the Oslo Accords. But, in the end, the Palestinians have been heard already, and the discussion has moved to the hundreds of thousands of migrants sailing and marching to Europe, demanding food, housing and money.
It is in this context, dismayingly, that members of the U.S. Administration are lining up to restart the "peace process." After reports that Secretary of State John Kerry had scuttled a meeting between Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, a senior American official told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, "The secretary is interested in reengaging on the issue. He is talking to a full range of experts and stakeholders to better understand the options as part of our ongoing policy review."
"Policy reviews" have also been heard already. The parameters never change. The absence of progress is owed to the absence of a shared goal toward which both parties can be induced to work. The Palestinians seek three things:
- Creation of an independent state without recognizing a legitimate and permanent State of Israel in any territory.
- Sovereign control of East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.
- The right of entry for all remaining 1948/9 Arab refugees from Britain's Mandatory Palestine, and for their descendants, to any place within pre-1967 Israel in which they, or their antecedents had lived.
Israel seeks three different things:
- Recognition of the legitimacy and permanence of Israel within finalized "secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force." This is the security promise of UN Resolution 242 to which Israel is entitled.
- The capital of Israel in Jerusalem and Israeli protection for Jewish patrimony in Eastern Jerusalem.
- "End of conflict; end of claims." After an agreement, the Palestinians will not be able to press additional claims against Israel for territory or other "rights."
Flying the Palestinian flag at the UN makes some people very happy and others less so, but it is clear that it was only symbolic. The impossibility of finding a shared goal is clear from the first priority on each side -- before the questions of boundaries; Jews living in Palestine; security control of the Jordan River Valley; demilitarization; Jewish refugees from Arab countries and their descendants; or settlement of the Arab-Israel dispute, which is separate from the Palestinian-Israeli dispute.
The Obama administration is watching the disintegration of Sunni Arab culture in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. The millennia-old Christian minorities are gone or fleeing. The foundations of Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia, Mali, and Nigeria are shaking. Turkey is pursuing its old vendetta against the Kurds. Russia, in addition to its new Iran-Shiite-Russian axis, evidently blessed by Obama, may be pursuing its old vendetta against Sunni Turkey -- successor to the Ottoman Empire that committed genocide against Christian Armenians, cousins of Slavic Christians. Russia is also pursuing Chechens who gravitate to ISIS for arms and training to take back to Chechnya to restart the Muslim wars in southern Russia. Saudi Arabia is bombing Yemen; Egypt is bombing Libya on occasion, as well as the Iranian-supported Sunni jihadists in Sinai. Sunni Hamas and Shiite Hezbollah both take funding, training, and direction from Shiite Iran.
This sweeping convulsion also has been with us before. After a century, Sykes-Picot is being overtaken by events, with should-have-been-anticipated results. Strong governments are needed to resist guerrilla warfare or colonial wars of occupation; but overthrown strongmen in the Middle East have been replaced by chaos, which serves only the forces of war, and a vacuum that seems to be filled enthusiastically by Russia and Iran.
Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian nationalism appear have outlived their moment. For the Obama administration now to pursue a Palestinian state, at the expense of Israel, already under daily explicit and lethal threats from Iran -- re-empowered by the prospect of $150 billion followed by legitimate nuclear weapons soon -- would likely be seen by both sides as nothing more than a shiny new distraction for the benefit of the U.S. negotiators' vanity, nothing more.