Abbas never intended to deal

Last March, as he prepared to travel to the US (no doubt to assure President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry that the Palestinian leadership would spare no effort to reach a peace agreement with Israel), PA president Mahmoud Abbas was handed a briefing document written by his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat.

Abbas received this briefing on March 9; his meeting with Obama was scheduled for March 17. These dates are important. At that time, the so-called peace process appeared to be still alive — after a fashion. The release of Palestinian terrorists held in Israeli jails — a demand Abbas had made to demonstrate Israel’s good faith — had proceeded as planned, in spite of intense opposition within Israel.

On his side, although Abbas had threatened to sign 15 international conventions, in contravention of the Oslo agreements of 1993 and 1995, he had not in fact done so. So, at that time, mid-March 2014, the US-brokered peace talks were still alive. There was a great deal of talk about the likelihood of their failing. A great deal of opprobrium (much of it orchestrated by the American and British governments) was being aimed at Israel on account of settlement construction in Judea and Samaria. Israel’s demand to be recognised as a Jewish state was being dismissed as a provocative irrelevance. It was being said — in off-the-record briefings to journalists and anyone else who would listen — that, if the peace process failed, the global community would see to it that Israel would shoulder the greater part of the blame.

But all this was in the future. In March, the process had yet to run its course. What, then, was the purpose of the Erekat briefing?

The document did not, as you might have supposed, set out further constructive ideas for peace — perhaps discussing a series of hypothetical scenarios to take the process forward, or mapping out helpful concessions that the Palestinian leadership might be prepared to make for the sake of a binding final status agreement with Israel.

On the contrary, what it did was to set out a number of actions that Abbas might take in order to ensure that no such agreement could ever be signed. The Washington-mandated deadline for the completion of the peace talks was April 29. In the view of the PA leadership, it was essential that no agreement be reached before the expiration of this time-limit.

Accordingly, Erekat recommended a reconciliation with the Hamas government of Gaza, which does not recognise and has no intention ever of recognising Israel, and that the Palestinian Authority seek unilateral membership of various international treaties (such as the Geneva Conventions). This was, of course, exactly what came to pass. Hamas and Fatah (Abbas’s party) have become reconciled. The PA has made 15 international convention applications. The Kerry process is at an end.

I was always deeply cynical about the Kerry initiative. I argued that it was doomed to failure because no Palestinian leader was ever going to defy the Arab world and accept even the de facto legitimacy of the Jewish state.

The contents of the Erekat briefing (annexed to a letter sent on April 22 by Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Yossi Cohen, to the White House and the EU) underline the truth of this verdict.

The Kerry initiative failed not because of settlements, or Netanyahu’s refusal to sanction a fourth tranche of prisoner releases, but because the Palestinian leadership had decided that it was never going to succeed.

I, for one, am glad it’s dead. I welcome the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, which has cleared the air. Hamas is an unashamed antisemitic terrorist organisation. So is Fatah. Israel has no genuine “partner for peace” in the Arab world. Western governments may find these truths hard to accept.

Some may cling to the belief that throwing money at the corrupt Palestinian Authority while publicly chastising and even sanctioning the Jewish state will yield results. The Erekat briefing suggests that these aspirations are quite unrealistic.

I agree that the Arabism of the British Foreign Office may prevent these truths from reaching Downing Street. I’m cautiously hopeful that American Congressional leaders are less easily deluded.

Last updated: 3:07pm, May 16 2014