The Perils of Palestinian Strategy

TEL AVIV – It should be clear to all by now that talks between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu cannot produce a peace agreement. Yet it would be wrong to dwell excessively on current leaders’ weaknesses, for to do so presupposes that with different leaders at the helm, an Israeli-Palestinian agreement could be reached through bilateral negotiations.

Alas, as a recent leak of Palestinian official papers demonstrates, this is not the case. This typifies the dissonant historical rhythms of the Middle East. In the past, Israel’s offers were rejected by the Palestinians; now it seems that Israel spurned especially flexible Palestinian positions.Personalities are, of course, important in history, but the Israeli-Palestinian peace process has for decades been a hostage to the impersonal forces of history.

Indeed, failure to reach a settlement in the past was not the result of bad faith, or inadequate negotiating skills. Rather, failure stemmed from the inherent incapacity of both parties to reconcile themselves to each other’s fundamental requirements for a settlement. Left to our own devices, we have proven ourselves tragically incapable of breaking the genetic code of our dispute.

Abbas is thus right to opt for a new peace paradigm, but his plan for a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence might be the wrong choice. He expects that a unilateral yet internationally recognized declaration of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders would put unbearable pressure on an Israel haunted by the specter of worldwide de-legitimization.