Don’t Let Abbas Return the Keys to Israel

Deep frustration over lack of progress in talks and Israel's rejection of Palestinian demands could lead Abbas to dismantle the PA.

Abbas during a meeting with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah.
Mahmoud Abbas. According to logic, they can stop negotiating right now, with the Palestinian president blamed for not wanting an agreement because he did not want to give up the prisoner release. Reuters

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas wants to continue the negotiations until the end of 2014. At a meeting with Knesset members on Wednesday, he also made his conditions clear: Freeing prisoners – including 14 Israeli ones – and devoting the first three months of talks to drafting the borders, within which construction in the West Bank settlements will be suspended.

These are not new issues or trick conditions. Israel had undertaken to release the fourth batch of Palestinian prisoners as part of the initial agreement to renew the talks (including the Arab-Israeli prisoners), but broke its promise. As for the borders, Israel objected to separating the discussion on this issue, arguing that any agreement should be seen as part of a whole. However, so far this position has sabotaged the effort to advance the negotiations.

Israel’s arguments on these two issues can no longer be accepted. Releasing the prisoners is completely unconnected to the fundamental discussion on the future relations between Israel and Palestine. Presenting it as a new condition is misleading, as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has clarified. At the same time, defining Israel’s borders should not depend on other agreements. Delineating the borders will clearly demarcate the settlements that will be part of Israel, pave the way to setting Jerusalem’s borders, grant the Palestinians the territorial framework of their state, limit the Israeli messianic dream and pour real content into the two-state idea.

A discussion and agreement on the borders issue would not infringe on the principle that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed,” because the parties can stipulate that any agreement on the borders will be subject to a comprehensive arrangement.

Abbas’ statement is far from being a display of rejectionism. But the deep frustration over the absence of progress in the talks, and Israel’s rejection of the Palestinian demands, could lead Abbas to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and hand the keys over to Israel.

This, not the possibility of another intifada, is the threat underlying the negotiations’ failure – placing direct operative responsibility for the territories on Israel. In addition to the massive financial burden and the security hurdles of direct occupation, it would turn Israel into a target for international sanctions.

Abbas’ demands are reasonable and will constitute a test to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s seriousness.