Lately, two opinion articles in Haaretz have focused on Mahmoud Abbas‘ role in the so-called “peace process,” both depicting him as a notorious naysayer but with different additives. On the one hand, we have Israel Harel, blatantly espousing his negation of international law as usual (one must only remember the cheeky article he wrote in defense of his son), who accuses the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF) of basically fostering the destruction of Israel by “perhaps transferring additional parts of the West Bank to Palestinian security control.” On the other hand, there is the ostensibly more “left-leaning” Yoel Marcus, who just cannot hide his utter ignorance of historical facts.
Let’s start with Harel’s piece. He wastes roughly two thirds of his article with hollow repetitions of the old Israeli myth: “we don’t have a partner for peace.” Referring to the Palestine Papers that were published by Al Jazeera in January 2011, Harel points out how Ehud Olmert and his entourage made a historic offer to Abbas, basically giving away 96% of “Judea and Samaria,” (or as the rest of the world calls it: the West Bank) compensating the Palestinians for the rest and even agreeing to “accept the return of a few refugees.” But of course, Abbas, the naysayer, refused – “just as the Palestinians always have.” For those who have followed the publication of the Palestine Papers and maybe even read into them, this statement seems kind of… well, one-sided at best. Leaving aside further explanations about what a big joke all these ninety-something per cent offers are (for more information please read Chris Whitman’s article who talks about the settlements and land-swap scenarios here) – Harel somehow forgot to mention one of the main findings that the Palestine Papers offered to their readers: Abbas and Erakat basically sold out their own people; that they gave up on the refugee question; that they would ultimately have agreed to a non-viable, non-free non-state just to stay in power. Somehow that wasn’t enough.
But Harel’s cliché depiction of Mahmoud Abbas does not end there. To him, Abbas is guilty of
“pushing Israel into a diplomatic corner, which reached its peak with his bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state; attempting to convince international public opinion that IDF soldiers are storm troopers; and naming public squares and official institutions after terrorists who killed both soldiers and civilians.”
I am certainly no particular fan of Abbas – though for completely different reasons – but this list just reeks so heavily of projection (Siegmund Freud would be delighted!), it needs to be addressed. First, diplomatic corner? You really did not need help to get into there, and you have been in it long before Abbas came into office. Plus, sharing that corner with the world’s most powerful hegemony is quite a comfortable spot, isn’t it? Second, I am really sick of this ignorant “the Palestinians want UN recognition of a Palestinian state” talk. It comes from all directions, has so since 2009 and especially during its apex right before and after the UNGA’s meeting in September. Honestly people: there is no such thing as a UN recognition of statehood. The UN does not have this power. Never had and never will unless some pretty fundamental changes are made. The maximum that the PA could have gained at the UN is the admittance as a full member state. As new members have to be suggested by the Security Council, and this has never even been within their reach. Whatever the PA did at the UN, it could only have purely symbolic implications. Going there as the PA and returning as the government of the State of Palestine has never been an option. Third, dear Israel Harel, actions speak for themselves; no one with the least bit of decency and common sense needs the PA to convince them of something a simple research into the conduct of the IOF in the occupied territories can prove in minutes, but thanks for playing the Nazi card. Fourth, naming public places and institutions after terrorists? Oh, right…
Let us get back to the accusations Israel Harel directs at the IOF. To him, transferring the security control over the smallest piece of the West Bank (oh, sorry, “Judea and Samaria”) resembles a defeat of, no, an attack on the “Jewish State of Israel”. Or as he terms it:
“It [the IOF] is proposing that we transfer parts of our homeland to Palestinian control (“security” or otherwise).”
Again, leaving aside the obvious ridiculousness of that statement, what is he talking about? The PA exercises the security control in up to 17% of the West Bank. In theory, complete Area A (17%) should be controlled by the Palestinian Security Forces (PSF) but in reality their operational area covers only about 90 to 95% of that area. The International Crisis Group in a 2010 report concludes that “since 2007, Israel has allowed the PA to expand its area of operation without decisively reducing its own. Today, the PSF’s operational area (i.e., the area in which the PSF can operate without prior coordination with the IDF) covers most of Area A and some immediately adjacent swathes of Area B.” What these numbers do not reveal is that Israel never really gave up on their security control, even within the presumably PA-controlled areas. Even the UN in their 2011 report to the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee states that Israeli incursions in Palestinian controlled areas have continued and are constantly undermining the PA’s security apparatus. That said, Israel Harel should open his eyes to the immense benefits to “Israel’s security” that the security cooperation with the West Bank PSF provides.
“From Israel’s standpoint, coordination has reached virtually unprecedented levels as a result of the fight against common enemy, namely Hamas. With certain exceptions […], the General Intelligence Service (Shin Bet) provides its Palestinian counterparts with lists of wanted militants, whom Palestinians subsequently arrest. IDF and Israeli intelligence officials take the view that, in this regard, ‘coordination has never been as extensive’, with ‘coordination better in all respects’.”
If Harel were able to look just one inch over the rim of his Greater Israel complex, he would probably realize how the IOF are certainly not being altruistic but acting very strategically instead – while at the same time reducing Israel’s costs of being an occupier even more. Why not let the PA do that job for them?
But how would Israel Harel know? His conclusion is:
“One can only imagine what an uproar there would be if the army had recommended annexing the territory instead of transferring it to the PA.”
– Do I really need to point out the insult to international law that is inherent in that statement? So who would expect more from such a person?
Let me make some remarks about Yoel Marcus’ piece as well. Marcus starts into his article by criticizing the common view that the prisoner exchange deal was a huge success for Hamas (which it probably was), and a failure for Mahmoud Abbas who never was able to get such a deal. To Marcus, one main reason for this is Abbas’ continued refusal to accept Israeli offers which (in some parallel universe?) seem to be as regular as a daily paper.
“If Mahmoud Abbas really wanted to establish a Palestinian state, he would take advantage of the commitment expressed by Netanyahu to the two-state solution in the latter’s programmatic Bar-Ilan address. Before Netanyahu rose to power, Abbas conducted close negotiations with Ehud Olmert, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak, all of whom truly wanted a peace deal. He also could have seized proposals offered by these three. For years, prisoners were freed for him, he received assistance in the formation of security forces, he was helped to secure money from the Americans, and he received land swap offers. Yet despite the good atmosphere in these talks, he would say ‘no.”
There it is again: Abbas, the naysayer. But Yoel Marcus’ view of Abbas – and with him the rest of the PA – is not entirely detached from reality. He does see the congruency of interests between the PA and the Israeli governments. He sees the cozy nest that the PA built for itself in Ramallah and that would be endangered by any progress towards real change. But he fails to connect the dots. To him, Palestinians and Israelis are equal negotiators who – if only they wanted – could reach a peace deal within days. Marcus is blind to the nature of the Israeli proposals under this umbrella of the “peace process,” and what it has brought the Palestinians over the years. It has not brought them any closer to a state or any resemblance of something close to self determination, as guaranteed by international law. He is blind to the betrayal by the PA that has not been a legitimate representative for the Palestinians in years.
As different as the two authors may seem – and of course to a large extent they are – they both perpetuate the same myths and they both neglect historical facts. To both of them, Palestinians are still no “partner for peace”. Both of them fail to see the fundamental asymmetry of power that has characterized every “negotiation” in the “peace process” and that characterizes Palestinian life. And it honestly makes no difference at all if they do that from a rightist/settler point of view (Harel) or in the guise of seeking a “fair” solution for both sides (Marcus).
Written by Svej
 ICG 2010 <http://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/Middle%20East%20North%20Africa/Israel%20Palestine/98%20Squaring%20the%20Circle%20–%20Palestinian%20Security%20Reform%20under%20Occupation.pdf >, p. 18.
 ICG 2010, p. 21.