Giving peace another chance, 69-year-old Secretary of State John Kerry continued his shuttle diplomacy getting 78-year-old Palestinian Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to agree to new peace talks with Israel. Only one small problem: Abbas only controls half of the Palestinian population. U.S. officials have only the Ramallah, West Bank government of Abbas to deal with, completely ignoring another 1.5 million Palestinians under control of Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh in the Gaza Strip. When Palestinians overwhelmingly voted Jan 27, 2006 to elect Hamas—not Abbas’ Palestinian Authority—in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian civil war officially began where Hamas rejected all prior peace agreements with Israel and continued the “resistance” to someday topple the Jewish State. Kerry’s new peace venture involves bypassing 50% of the Palestinian people.
No matter how many promises Abbas makes, he lacks the blessing from Gaza and Hamas’ 56-year-old leader-in-exile Khalid Meshaal. Once a key ally of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, Meshaal has joined forces with various Saudi-funded Wahhabi rebels trying to undermine the al-Assad government. Abbas no more speaks for Hamas, Meshaal or Haniyeh than the man-in-the-moon. Enticing Abbas by promising a return—for a future Palestinian State—of the 1967 border isn’t realistic. Israel expanded its territory in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and Gaza Strip, Jordan’s West Bank and Syria’s Golan Heights after an unprovoked war led by Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser backfired. Nasser died a broken man Sept. 28, 1970, leading Egypt to a humiliating defeat June 10, 1967. Palestinians, who held no sovereign territory in 1967, claim Israel’s spoils of the Six-Day-War for a future state.
Kerry knows that returning to the pre-1967 War borders is impossible, impractical and a nonstarter for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and most of his government’s coalition partners. State Department and European Union officials know that Abbas can’t negotiate for Hamas whose mission continues the destruction of Israel. Whether Kerry accepts it or not, Abbas is only the titular head of the West Bank government, frequently taking orders from Meshaal or fearing reprisals from Hamas. Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice refused to recognize Hamas after winning elections in Gaza Jan. 27, 2006. On June 14, 2007, Hamas staged a successful coup d’etat in the Gaza Strip, vanquishing Abbas to the West Bank. U.S. attempts to bypass Hamas haven’t worked before and won’t work now, until Palestinians work out their problems under one roof.
Marred by brewing scandals—from Benghazi to the IRS—the Obama administration began the heroic process of re-starting Mideast peace talks. Rocked by scandals—especially Monica Lewinsky—at the end of his second term, former President Bill Clinton tried but failed to reach a peace deal July 25, 2000 with the late Yasser Arafat. When the talks collapsed, Arafat began the second “intifada” or uprising starting new waves of suicide bombing inside Israel. After living in besieged Ramallah for nearly two years, Arafat died Nov. 11, 2004 of suspicious circumstances, possibly poisoned by his own ranks. When Abbas took over May 8, 2005, the U.S. hoped for a more moderate peace partner. Three months later, former Israel Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pulled out of Gaza Sept. 12, 2005, paving the way for Hamas and radical Palestine to take over the Gaza Strip.
Diverting attention to the Mideast peace talks carries certain risks, just like it did when Clinton tried to pull a rabbit out of his hat in 2000. If Kerry’s new plan falls flat it could trigger a new uprising, this time with far more deadly consequences. Since Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak’s fall Feb. 11, 2011, the Sinai Peninsula, once a thriving Mediterranean resort, has become a haven for terrorists. With the war in Syria raging, Israel doesn’t need a new front from the South in Gaza or North in Lebanon. If the latest peace efforts fail, it could trigger a wider war with Israel, this time with sophisticated missiles raining down from the North and South. Before the White House pushes things too far, Kerry needs an agreement between the PLO and Hamas that Abbas can negotiate for an independent Palestinian State. There’s no reason to press ahead risking a new war if Hamas doesn’t come onboard.
Attempts at Mideast peacekeeping have failed because the PLO expected too much from Israel, given Israel’s 65-year history. By far the most industrialized and technologically sophisticated state in the Middle East, Israel isn’t on a level playing field with the largely disorganized and impoverished Palestinian territories. Calling Israel an “occupying force” yet expecting Israel to hand over all its spoils of the Six-Day-War is unrealistic and impractical. When talks failed in 2000, it was over the “right of return,” where Palestinians can reclaim land lost during Israel’s 1948 war of independence. Abbas’ okaying talks with Israel’s current settlement building shows just how far things have come. Hamas continues to call for Israel’s destruction. If Abbas can’t represent all Palestinians, it’s fruitless trying to negotiate with half the Palestinian people—Hamas would never go along.
About the Author
John M. Curtis writes politically neutral commentary analyzing spin in national and global news. He’s editor of OnlineColumnist.com and author of Dodging The Bullet and Operation Charisma.