It is a known principle in international relations, ancient as mankind itself: when refusing a peace deal, you get less than what you were offered prior to the war. The Palestinians have experienced this three times already. Nevertheless, it seems that lessons were not learned, and throughout the years the Palestinian leadership has consistently said “No” to every peace offer.
Last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as saying that a US peace envoy was concocting a peace plan in which a Palestinian–Jordanian confederation would be formed. The response of the Palestinian leadership was, as always, a definitive “No.”
According to Abbas’s calculations, such a peace deal lacked justice for the Palestinian cause, overlooks territorial needs and disregards the refugees left scattered throughout the Middle East. Further, Israel is bound to offer a better deal in the future, given his support for non-violence. In this synopsis of events, Israeli and international public opinion will lean toward the Palestinian cause, generating a substantially better offer than this one.
But Abbas’s compass guiding his decision- making on the matter is severely misdirected. Rejecting the current peace plan inflicts harm upon the Palestinian cause, not leverage.
In the past, every refusal of the Palestinian leadership to accept a serious peace proposal has always been followed by a worse proposal. Currently, the Palestinians are losing momentum. Israel’s ties with the US have never been stronger, and the high demand for Israel’s innovative water and security technologies have dramatically improved Israel’s popularity in the region and beyond. If the Palestinian leadership continues rejecting peace deals, only a limited opportunity will remain for prospects of a Palestinian state.
The Palestinian rejection of peace settlements is hardly a new phenomenon. In 1937, Palestinian leaders in Mandatory Palestine rejected the partition plan offered by the British Royal Commission. Despite the fact that the plan offered an “Arab State” on approximately 70% of the territory, and a “Jewish State” on less than 20%, the Palestinians responded negatively, even violently. In stark contrast, the Jewish leadership accepted the partition plan, undeterred by the indefensible borders that the proposal would create for the future Jewish state.
In February 1948, the Palestinian leadership rejected the UN Partition Plan for Palestine, while Jewish leaders in Israel and abroad welcomed the plan openly. Soon after, they waged war against Israel with the very clear intention to “smash the country with our guns and obliterate every place the Jews seek shelter in.” The aftermath of the 1948 War of Independence left the Palestinians with little territory of their own, and victorious Israel gained control over 77% of the territory of Mandatory Palestine west of the Jordan River.
STILL, THE Palestinian leadership did not learn from their losses. After two more attempts to obliterate Israel in 1967 and 1973, and after Israel gained control over all of Mandatory Palestine, the Palestinians received another opportunity to have a state of their own. During the 2000 Camp David Summit, prime minister Ehud Barak offered to establish a Palestinian state on 92% of the West Bank and on 100% of the Gaza Strip. Yasser Arafat dismissed the deal, perpetuating the war cycle and augmenting potential future losses for the Palestinians.
The perilous wheel continues rolling. President Abbas refuses to learn from past mistakes, as he remains committed to the “definitive no” policy. Furthermore, he is misreading current trends in the region and in the international arena, indicating that while Israel has moved forward, Palestinians have fallen behind.
The Trump administration is one of the most pro-Israel administrations the US has ever known. Aggressively confronting the Palestinians in every way possible, the US administration has boycotted UN committees, flagged anti-Israel rhetoric, cut funding to the PA, and declared Jerusalem to be Israel’s capital while leaving the Palestinian’s connection to the Holy City candidly disregarded.
Even Arab countries have started letting go of the Palestinian cause. Shared security interests regarding radical Islamist groups and Iran have pulled traditionally anti-Israel states in the region closer toward Israel. Further, regional demands for green energy, cyber, and water desalination technologies – all of which Israel is considered a powerhouse in – are drawing Arab countries to Israel’s doorstep. Both Jordan and Egypt, in tandem with Israel’s regional rise, have signed agreements with Israel for natural gas worth between 10-15 billion dollars. They have also begun to maintain close security cooperation and coordination with Israel to maintain stability in the Sinai and to insulate the Syrian civil war from Jordan’s borders.
Israel’s ties with the Gulf states have grown stronger in recent years as well. In September 2017, Bahraini King Hamad al-Khalifa, said he opposes the Arab boycott of Israel. Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman lifted a 70-year ban and permitted flights to Israel over his territory, before telling the Palestinians that they should “agree to come to the negotiations table, or shut up and stop complaining.”
In similar, unprecedented fashion, Saudi Arabia continues to deepen its security cooperation and coordination with Israel. The United Arab Emirates has even opened an Israeli economic mission in Abu Dhabi and conducted joint military exercises with the Israel Air Force.
Taken together, recent trends of Israel’s rise and the past losses endured by the Palestinians should send shock waves to the tip of the Palestinian decision-makers’ pens. If offers continue to be rejected, national prospects will only fade further for the Palestinian cause. Abbas, during his final years as president, has a unique opportunity to leave a legacy that can pave the way toward independence. But for this to happen, first, President Abbas, say “Yes.”
The writer is a PhD candidate at the War Studies Department of King’s College London and the program manager of the Argov Fellows program in leadership and diplomacy at IDC Herzliya.