columnMiddle East

Can the Palestinians adjust to changing times?

The Arab states have moved on. The Israeli left is powerless. And no one expects the Biden administration to help. So why are the Palestinians acting as if they don’t have to change?

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. Security Council concerning details of the Mideast peace plan put forth by the United States on Feb. 11, 2020. Credit: Eskinder Debebe/U.N. Photo.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas addresses the U.N. Security Council concerning details of the Mideast peace plan put forth by the United States on Feb. 11, 2020. Credit: Eskinder Debebe/U.N. Photo.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

They’ll always have the United Nations. Even as the rest of the world abandons their cause, the Palestinians can still count on the world body to be their faithful ally in their century-old struggle against Zionism. According to UN Watch, the U.N. General Assembly voted to condemn Israel 17 times during the current session, as opposed to resolutions noting anything happening anywhere else on the planet only six times. The international diplomatic community remains committed to prioritizing the Palestinians’ grievances against the Jewish state.

But in the real world outside of the fantasy land of U.N. resolutions, which have no impact on actual events, the Palestinians find themselves more isolated than ever.

The Arab states, which once sacrificed their national interests, as well as much blood and treasure in the name of the Palestinian cause, have largely abandoned them. The once potent left-wing parties within Israel that championed efforts to create another independent Palestinian state in addition to the one that already exists in all but name in Gaza are now completely marginalized. And not even the most ardent American advocates of a pro-Palestinian policy and the two-state solution have the slightest expectation that the incoming Biden administration will do much to advance those goals.

In other words, after spending the last decades confident in the belief that sooner or later the international community would deliver an isolated Israel—universally branded as a pariah state—to them on a silver platter, it turns out that it is the Palestinians who are the ones without meaningful allies. Israel’s critics were sure that it was running out of time to divest itself of the territories in order to prevent a “diplomatic tsunami” against them. But it now seems that the side that has run out of time is the Palestinians.

The Trump administration’s successful push for the Abraham Accords meant more than just the fact that the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have normalized relations with Israel. The tacit support for the accords from Saudi Arabia and the refusal of the Arab League to intervene against Israel’s new friends demolished the assumption that the Arab world would always back the Palestinians’ refusal to make peace indefinitely. And no one in the Arab world or among Israel’s foes in the United States thinks even Trump’s defeat by Biden will lead to another round of futile peace processing.

The only real question about this is what, if any, conclusions are Palestinians drawing from these events? So far, the answer is—much like their reactions to 100 years of failed efforts to crush Zionism and their continued refusal to compromise—none at all. Their leaders prefer to double down on rejectionism and pointless calls to erase history, both recent (as in the case of the Abraham Accords) and distant (the 1967 Six-Day War, the creation of Israel in 1948 and the 1917 Balfour Declaration). Nor is there any discernable evidence available that either the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank or Hamas in the Gaza Strip are getting much grief from the people they supposedly represent to adjust to the new reality and start clamoring for talks with Israel before their fortunes decline any further.

The next Israeli election, like the three previous ones, will not feature any debate about what to do about the Palestinians because that was resolved years ago in favor of a national consensus that the status quo was, however unpleasant, preferable to a repeat of Ariel Sharon’s disastrous Gaza experiment in the West Bank. Indeed, this next one will be even worse news for two-state advocates since the real competition is now between parties that oppose such a course of action.

While some American liberals have stubbornly ignored the evidence that has created that consensus, Trump’s foreign-policy team proved that the Arab states had not. The Abraham Accords, which were blessed with tacit support by Saudi Arabia, demonstrated that outside of rogue states like Iran and those Islamists allied with them, the Arab and Muslim world understands that the Palestinians have no intention of making the kind of compromises that would enable the implementation of a two-state solution. Indeed, their political culture is so inextricably linked to their century-old war on the Jews that such flexibility appears to be impossible.

It’s not that other Arabs and Muslims have suddenly become Zionists or are enamored of Israel, although as normalization continues that will chip away at the anti-Semitism endemic throughout the region.

The Arab states are threatened both by an Iran that was enriched and empowered by the Obama administration’s nuclear deal and Islamist terror. They look to Israel as an ally to bolster their defense, as well as to the only First World economy in the region as a valuable trading partner. Yet the Palestinians actually expected these countries to remain hostage to their veto on normalization with Israel. The Palestinian leadership remains shocked to learn that while they still are stuck in a mindset that thinks of Israel as an illegitimate state that will eventually be erased from the map, other Arabs and Muslims recognize that isn’t going to happen. If the Palestinians are still unwilling to make peace, the other Arab states aren’t going to go on sacrificing their own interests for them merely out of nostalgia.

Some liberals are claiming that the push from the Arab states will persuade the Palestinians to change their tune. But if there is anything that we should have learned from the Trump team’s diplomacy, is it that the “outside-in” strategy in which the Arab states would use their financial clout to persuade the Palestinians to negotiate is a myth. Indeed, the Abraham Accords are proof that the Arabs don’t believe in it anymore either.

Though the states normalizing relations are still paying lip service to the Palestinian cause, the idea that they are eager for the creation of a Palestinian state may also be a myth. The last thing Arab governments want is to have another unstable, weak state that would be vulnerable to Islamist extremists. Such a development would be as much of a threat to them as it would be to Israel.

While all of these factors ought to be compelling the Palestinians to engage in a major bout of soul-searching about where they’ve gone wrong, there’s no sign of that happening. Instead, all we’re hearing out of both Ramallah and Gaza is more of the same invective about Arab traitors and dastardly Israelis and Americans, not recognition of how time has passed them by.

A rational response to recent events would be for the Palestinians to start rethinking their expectations, in addition to their strategy and tactics. As long as they refuse to do so, their isolation will only continue to grow, ensuring that any outcome other than a continuation of the status quo is only that much more unlikely.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates