Aaron MagidThe writer is a graduate student at Harvard University specializing in the Middle East Studies and a staff writer for the JerusalemReview.
Many commentators have noted that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem has negatively impacted the atmosphere for peace negotiations.
Yet, the situation is far more complex, with both sides needing to play productive roles. The Palestinian Arab leadership must take conciliatory steps to prevent the situation from deteriorating and show the Israeli pubic that the Palestinian Authority (P.A.) is a genuine partner for peace during the increased violence.
When Israel first announced settlement construction at the beginning of peace talks, Bloomberg’s Jeffery Goldberg condemned Netanyahu’s shortsighted refusal to freeze settlement building, writing that the Prime Minister valued politics over security. Yet, many of these same pundits have not applied the same level of criticism towards Abbas and the Palestinian Arabs' arguably more problematic actions.
The Palestinian Arabs should take steps that would dramatically improve the mood during peace talks.
Palestinian Arab leadership often speaks of the heightened sense of urgency in needing to reach a peace agreement.... their actions on the ground do not match this peaceful rhetoric.
At the beginning of the talks, the Israeli parliament invited Palestinian Authority legislators to the Knesset with the support of 33 Members of Knesset and ministers to promote a spirit of reconciliation hanging the PA and Israeli flags side by side.
Abbas was supposed to respond by hosting a gathering with Israeli MKs in Ramallah a month later. However, at the last minute he cancelled. Abbas called off the toast. According to the official statement, Abbas needed to postpone the event because of the imminent American strike on Syria. Yet, this excuse has turned out to be unsatisfactory, as no strike has been launched and Abbas has not rescheduled the meeting.
The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported that anti-normalization pressure within Abbas’ own party led to the cancellation. If Abbas was unwilling to meet publicly with Israelis in Ramallah, a minimal step for any long-term peace agreement, then such behavior speaks volumes to the lack of Palestinian Arab commitment towards reaching a permanent accord.
Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority negotiators have blatantly violated the understanding reached by US Secretary of State John Kerry that both parties maintain absolute silence regarding the peace talks. Kerry pushed for this policy in order to minimize the negativity by either party that could harm the negotiation’s success. Although lead negotiator Tzipi Livni and the Israeli delegation have followed the American order, the Palestinian Authority side has breached the understanding. Yasser Abed Rabbo, a senior aide to Palestinian Authority headt Mahmoud Abbas, when speaking with Voice of Palestine radio, declared, “these negotiations will not lead anywhere” and “there have been no developments in these talks.”
The increase of violence from the West Bank has added to this worrying trend. During the past week, Palestinian Arabs have killed two Israeli soldiers in separate incidents. These murders lead to troubling speculations.
Abbas may not have real control over security in the West Bank; this marginalizes his role as President and reduces any chance of reaching a permanent accord with him. On the other hand, if Abbas is firmly in charge of the region, then the killings demonstrate that he is not seriously combatting terror. After the killing of IDF soldier Tomer Hazan over the weekend, the killer’s father announced, “I am telling you this from the bottom of my heart… if the military would give me an M-16 (assault rifle) I would go and shoot my son.” Nonetheless, Fatah Central Committee Member Abbas Zaki said that Netanyahu and the Israeli government are the ones to blame for the attack. By allowing senior members of Abbas’ party to launch such outrageous accusations, Fatah is torpedoing the chances of convincing the Israeli public that Palestinian Arabs are now determined to reach a true peace.
Finally, rocket fire from Gaza, intentionally targeting nearby Israeli civilians, has continued repeatedly despite the Egyptian mediated cease-fire last year. As recently as Thursday, Gazan terrorists launched rockets at the Israeli city of Ashkelon. This act of terror is in addition to the dozens of other rocket attacks, which struck Israel during recent months. These acts destroy make it difficult for the Israeli public to accept the necessary compromises to reach a solution when their security is so tenuous.
The Palestinian Arab leadership often speaks of the heightened sense of urgency in needing to reach a peace agreement to establish an independent state. Unfortunately, their actions on the ground do not match this peaceful rhetoric.