The Palestinian Authority decided unilaterally to apply for membership to 15 U.N. agencies in order to demonstrate its uneasiness about the lack of progress with the American-sponsored peace negotiations and to buttress its claims to statehood. While this amounts also to a violation of its promise to refrain from going to the U.N. as long as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continues his diplomatic efforts, the PA expressed its willingness to continue the negotiating process, but expects to get a better deal than the one Kerry worked on.
Several lessons should be drawn from recent events. Palestinian behavior is obviously an affront to the U.S. Even the weak PA, headed by a powerless and hardly legitimate leader, Mahmoud Abbas, has the temerity to challenge the U.S. As we know this type of behavior has happened elsewhere on the globe, and is an additional indication of the poor international standing of the U.S. under President Barack Obama.
The recent events in the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic track reinforce a lesson many stubbornly refuse to learn -- reaching a comprehensive agreement between Israel and the Palestinians has remained an elusive goal. The gap in the positions of the two sides is too large to bridge even by a creative diplomacy backed by a superpower. The two sides still display tremendous energies to fight for things that are important to them. Peace and coexistence are not the most important goals of the two warring societies. Therefore, the strategy of conflict resolution needs to be replaced by a more realistic approach of conflict management. The good intentions of the international community should be directed towards minimizing the suffering on both sides rather than ending the conflict.
At the same time, Israel should seriously consider the wisdom of continuing to go along with the preferences of the international community to implement the two-state paradigm when evidence mounts that this paradigm is not working. The attempt to impose a statist rationale on the Palestinian national movement by hoping that a proto-statist structure such as the PA would behave like Jordan or Egypt has failed.
The PA has failed to meet the main test of statehood -- monopoly over use of force. As result, it lost control over all its territory and Hamas is ruling Gaza, where these radical terrorists are hardly building a friendly state. Furthermore, the PA has developed into a dictatorial and corrupt political entity, hardly deserving the aid of enlightened states. More importantly, it is educating its children to hate Jews, while suicide bombers are the role model for Palestinian youth. The chances of the PA developing into a responsible peaceful state are almost nil.
Indeed, a huge majority of the Israelis fully understand that the current Palestinian leaderships in the West Bank, and obviously in Gaza, are not real partners for peace. Under such circumstances, Israel's interest in making concessions to the Palestinians just to keep their participation in useless talks is questionable. After all, the Palestinians need Israel more than vice versa. Abbas is still ruling primarily due to the efforts of the Israeli security measures to clean the West Bank of Hamas and Jihadist elements that are trying to take over the PA. Moreover, without the economic umbilical cord to Israel the Palestinians will suffer economic hardships.
Therefore, Israeli concessions and gestures to keep the Palestinians talking without any Palestinian quid pro quo make no sense. Releasing convicted terrorists, in particular, is counterproductive. It undermines the Israel's deterrence and its justice; it puts back on the streets individuals intent on harming Israelis; and it radicalizes Palestinian society that welcomes them as national heroes. Furthermore, since 1993 the Palestinians have shown zero flexibility, refusing to budge from their maximalist demands. They still insist on dividing Jerusalem, reject Israeli security demands and refuse to accept Jewish national rights.
Unilateral measures and threats should be answered in kind. A competition in unilateral measures favors a stronger Israel over a dependent and weak PA. Israel can make the lives of the Palestinians much less good and if they forget this fact of life, they need a reminder. Power politics is what everybody understands in the Middle East. In this region, fear is a better political currency than compassion and fairness.
The Palestinian threats to go to the U.N. and international organizations are empty. Nothing can change the reality on the ground without the acquiescence of Israel. For example, the acceptance of Palestine by UNESCO did not change the lives of the Palestinians one iota. Israel should also stop fearing Palestinian accusations at the International Criminal Court. Regular concessions to the Palestinians for not taking this course of action expose Israel to continuous blackmail. It is time to call their bluff and make everyone face the consequences.
Hopefully, Israel's government will stop the habit of paying the Palestinians to sit and talk. It is high time to remind the Palestinians that the decisions in Jerusalem will, to a large extent, determine their fate.
Professor Efraim Inbar, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.