What if the Palestinians Don’t Want a State?

With the Obama Administration apparently prepared to ramp up the pressure on Israel to arrive at a settlement with the Palestinians, including the possibility of the Administration presenting its own peace plan as a more or less done deal, I hope someone in the Administration pauses to ask the question “what if the Palestinians don’t want a state?”

Of course, phrased that broadly, the notion is absurd. The Palestinians clearly would want a state if it meant displacing Israel with an Arab-majority state. But what if the Palestinians don’t want, or their leadership is unwilling to accept, a state on the terms that “everyone knows” would be the basis of a peace settlement–a state approximating the total land area of the West Bank and Gaza circa 1967, with territorial adjustments to account for large Israeli settlement blocs, and perhaps for large Arab population centers within Israel near the ’67 boundary? This state would also be charged with resettling descendants of Arab refugees from the Arab-Israeli wars, with few or none returning to what is now Israel.

What if, just as many prominent Israelis are more or less satisfied with current status quo, the Palestinian leadership is content for now with the Palestinians having “won” the rule of all of Gaza and 70% or so of the West Bank without giving up their claim to the right of return, or, for that matter, their desire for the ultimate destruction of Israel?

Perhaps someone can point me to a statement by a prominent Palestinian political leader to the effect that if the Palestinians were given all of Gaza and the land equivalent of 100% of the West Bank, they would sign a permanent, final peace treaty recognizing Israel as the Jewish state envisioned by U.N. way back when (so long as it guaranteed Arab minority rights), and giving up both the right of return and any future claims on Israeli land. Or even a political poll that shows anything approaching a majority of Palestinians would support this result (as opposed to the more weasily question of “a peace settlement based on the 1967 broders” with no mention of giving up the right of return).

The Netanyahu government is more to the right than my own sentiments on the conflict, and one result of this is that the attention has largely focused on what amount to irrelevancies that tick off the Obama Administration, like building in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Meanwhile, and more ominously for peace prospects, Netanyahu has expressed over and over his desire to start direct, final status negotiations with Abbas, who has responded with a series of increasingly onerous demands before he will commence negotiations.

The Obama Administration, apparently assuming that Netanyahu is the problem, has sided with Abbas and taken measures that seem designed to either bring him down or force him into a more moderate coalition. But, as several commenters, including some lukewarm to Israel have pointed out, Obama would do better to save his ammunition for the point in which the Palestinians are ready to reach a reasonable deal, and Netanyahu demonstrates intransigence. (And, I would add, in Israeli politics a “right-wing” government is more likely to be able to sell a peace deal to the public than a center-left government.)

One advantage of that strategy would be that before the U.S. became too intimately involved in the process, as it’s threatening to do, we could find out if the Palestinians are, in fact, interested in a deal with reasonable parameters. The Obama Administration seems to assume they are, but so did Bill Clinton in 2000, and he’s regretted it ever since. And if we were to assume that the U.S. has the power to impose a settlement on reluctant Palestinians, it still might not be a great idea. Consider Barry Rubin’s suggestion:

And so if Obama were to implement any conceivable negotiated solution–even an extremely pro-Palestinian one by Western standards–he’d be labeled as the man who sold out the Palestinians and go down in history as a betrayer and Zionist imperialist…. The United States would not be portrayed as a hero because it created Palestine but a villain because it robbed the Arabs of getting everything some day. Terrorism against American targets would go up, as it would argued that the Americans had forever destroyed the chance of wiping Israel off the map. Of course, terrorism against any Palestinian leaders who agreed to such terms would also break out.

UPDATE: I should add that I’m not arguing that I know for certain that the Palestinian leadership would refuse to accept a deal within the “everyone knows” parameters. I am merely pointing out that this is something that the Obama Administration seems to be assuming, even though the available evidence is hardly dispositive.

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