The return of Palestinian unilateralism…writes Ben Cohen

October 28, 2014 by Ben Cohen -
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It sometimes seems as if the see-saw debate about the true intentions of Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority has been with us for an eternity.

Mahmood Abbas

Mahmood Abbas

One day, we’ll be saying that Abbas is genuinely a moderate, that he really is committed to a two-state solution, that perhaps he’s the guy upon whom the cautious, unsentimental Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should risk a bet. The next day, we’ll encounter yet another inciting, spiteful Abbas soundbite and it’s back to the drawing board.

I don’t think that Abbas is the Machiavellian demon some believe him to be. Equally, the idea that the Palestinian leader is a transparently uncomplicated moderate is absurd. David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy summarized the Abbas dilemma elegantly in a interview I conducted with him for the latest issue of Fathom, a magazine covering Middle East affairs.

“Shortly after the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers who were later murdered in the West Bank, at a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, Abbas made quite a conciliatory speech, defending the need to cooperate with Israel against terrorism,” Pollock told me. “But then at other times Abbas does or says things that point in the opposite direction. He meets with terrorists whom he released from prison and praises them. He allows his spokesmen to continue to glorify terrorism in official media. It’s equivocal, it can be seen as hypocritical, and it’s just not particularly credible, because it’s not consistent.

Still, for all of Abbas’s failures, you have to credit him with shrewdness on this front: he’s persuaded most of the world that there’s a deal to be made if only Netanyahu would abandon his “Greater Israel” doctrine. He therefore gets away with the kind of incendiary rhetoric that, over the last few months, has involved comparisons between Israel and Nazi Germany, accusations of Israeli “genocide,” and a bloodcurdling appeal to stop Jews (whom he described as a “herd of cattle”) from praying at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem “by any means.”

So, if Abbas is being indulged on the rhetorical front—even when that rhetoric contributes dramatically to Palestinian violence that has raged in Jerusalem during the last week, claiming the life of a three month-old Jewish infant—you can hardly blame him for seeking to up the ante when it comes to political strategy.

The PA is now dusting off its unilateralist playbook, which means that it seeks to impose recognition of a Palestinian state upon Israel through international pressure. It’s a method that has won only symbolic victories so far: “Palestine” became a non-member observer state at the U.N. in 2012, and more countries (134 at the last count) recognize the statehood of the Palestinians than they do Kosovo (a country liberated from Serb ethnic cleansing by a NATO coalition in 1999) or the Republic of Taiwan (which has the enormous footprint of communist China to contend with).

But as wealthier, more influential countries join the Palestinian recognition bandwagon, that could change in the coming months. One of the very first acts of Sweden’s newly elected leftist government was to recognize Palestinian statehood. A few days later, the British parliament voted to do the same. And the Irish Senate has just now passed a motion calling on the Dublin government to recognize the State of Palestine. As the motion’s sponsor, Senator Averil Power, put it, “The more countries that recognize the State of Palestine, the greater the pressure on Israel to end its illegal occupation and agree to a long-term peace agreement in the region.”

What if other European states—like France, which is rumored to be considering a similar move—follow suit? In that case, there could well be direct policy implications for what the Europeans will doubtless portray as Israeli non-compliance with the will of the international community. We’ve already seen the European Union (EU) introduce labeling for Israeli products produced by Jewish communities in the West Bank. It’s not beyond the bounds of possibility that further measures could be introduced to limit the trading relationship between Israel and the EU, worth around $40 billion per year, as well as academic, defense and other vital forms of cooperation.

Think of it, if you like, as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions by the back door, the respectable government version of a campaign whose founders aim is to eliminate the very existence of the Jewish state. As long as such governments remain in thrall to the unshakeable belief that Abbas is the only man who can deliver peace, and that consequently anything he does that might undermine the peace process (like encouraging terrorism) can be written off as just so much understandable frustration, there is little that can be done to counter the Palestinian diplomatic offensive. And in such an environment, can we be sure that the Obama administration won’t underhandedly explore the implications of cooperating with Abbas and co in the quest for recognition? I don’t think so, which is why we will have to be eagle-eyed in watching U.S. actions at the U.N., given that the Palestinians are now considering applying for membership in 522 organizations, protocols, and treaties as the next step in their unilateralist strategy.

Ben Cohen

Ben Cohen

In the same vein, we should be clear that any attempt to force Israel to recognize a Palestinian state without having its own security needs respected is verging upon a declaration of war. The Israelis have themselves said that they do not reject the idea of a Palestinian state—many of them would happily accept one under the right conditions, since it would liberate their country from the burden of controlling the West Bank—but that it must be achieved by negotiation.

It’s increasingly clear, however, that the mood in the world’s democracies is shifting. The view that Israel must be cajoled and bullied into giving Abbas what he wants is spreading. And that could turn out to be just as dangerous as a Hamas missile campaign from the Gaza Strip.


Ben Cohen is the Shillman Analyst for and a contributor to the Wall Street Journal, Commentary, Haaretz, and other publications.


3 Responses to “The return of Palestinian unilateralism…writes Ben Cohen”
  1. Otto Waldmann says:

    Whichever way one turns the arguments, there are a few immutable features profiling Abbas:

    – Abbas can ONLY represent a palestinian cause AS WE KNOW IT
    – Abbas is consistent with the fundamental duplicitous palestinian PR strategy
    – Abbas shall be using to exhaustion all farcical methods to advance the palestinian cause which is predicated on :

    a) anti Israel instransigence
    b) appeal to international support of the ideological kind and financial
    c) infinite delays in the conclusion of a political conclusion of the conflict with Israel, thus attracting/maintaining islamic as well as non-islamic fellow traveler international support for a “war cause”, integral part of a larger islamic jihadist ideology/strategy.

    Abbas and the ideology he represents is manipulating all entities concerned with all matters related to islamism, Middle East conflicts and , of course , the Israel-palestinian conflict per se.
    All should just get used to it and make sure that Israel, as well as the rest of our decent world shall remain strong in dealing with all of the above.
    This saaga of commentaries shall remain with us seemingly forever, thus allowing Jwire ( and its boss) a longevity of at least another 230 years, OK !!!

  2. Ben Eleijah says:

    Cohen seems to advocate that Abbas do nothing, just when Israel announces building a thousand more settlement units in the West Bank. Let Abbas sit on his hands for a few more years and there will be no Palestine left for the Palestinians.

  3. wavettore says:

    The media propaganda with the role to protect Israel could not continue forever in spite of what is in front of everyone’s eyes.
    The consequence of this World War of Religion instigated by the Zionists should be looked over even by the same citizens of Israel.
    If at first it may seem that Muslims are fighting Jews and Christians joined together soon after the next conflict will certainly be one between Christians and Jews for the Deception on 9/11 (how could anyone still believe the story of Osama bin Laden?). Without a scapegoat no media propaganda could save the Jews from a drastic change of public opinion.
    Should this be the greatest gift that the citizens of Israel wish upon themselves and want to offer to the whole World?
    We are still in time to put the past in a new prospective and to build a World that could welcome the next generations.
    This is not mere idealism but a real possibility.
    It is difficult to comprehend why the Jewish people would want to fall back in the same path that over the centuries has brought only the destruction of many innocent lives.
    This seems the perfect time to change the rules of the game but if this World conflict must happen then let it be one between the old Animals versus a new Humankind.

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