Last week when US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assigned blame to both the Palestinians and Israelis for the faltering negotiations process, the Palestinians took offense and for good reason. Not only had the American administration suddenly reneged on its former tactic of pushing Israel to extend a settlement freeze but it was now saying the Palestinians also "have not yet made the difficult decisions that peace requires."
Plain and simple, this is just not fair. There has been no Palestinian government to date so willing to work towards a peaceful solution more than this one. Yesterday, December 19, President Mahmoud Abbas hosted over 100 Israeli Knesset members, peace activists and journalists at his headquarters in Ramallah to send their government and people one very important message: We want peace.
Abbas outlined to his Israeli guests that he has worked hard to bring the Palestinians to what they are today, to a people who want peace by non-violent means and in an independent state along the 1967 borders. He urged them to convince their people not to miss the opportunity of achieving peace with the Palestinians, probably because he knows this is a chance in a lifetime.
Regardless of whether all Palestinians warm to the tactics of the Palestinian Authority and leadership or not, it is clear that Abbas and his government have not wavered in their commitment to reaching a peace deal with Israel. Contrary to the propaganda that the Palestinians are the intransigent party that doesn’t want to return to the negotiating table, it is the Palestinians who have adhered to their position –” backed nonetheless by international law –” from the get-go. Abbas reiterated this to his Israeli guests and has said so in all public forums he addresses. This is to say that his approach has remained constant and that he has made every effort to encourage a peaceful solution since the day he took office.
While much criticism can be heaped on Abbas for the way in which he has maneuvered his leadership, this should be left for another day and another topic matter. The question is why the United States, and the Europeans by association, have not appreciated the wholehearted efforts put forth by the government? It seems a bit hypocritical that Clinton should berate the Palestinians for not "making the difficult decisions", while the real decision was up to the Americans: to push Israel to continue its freeze. It was the Americans who backtracked on their demands, not the Palestinians.
If Clinton’s December 10 speech is any indication, it is more than a case of cold feet with the Americans. Rather than the belief some of us had that the Americans know what is right but just can’t get themselves to do it, there is now evidence that the US administration really does think the Palestinians are to blame. Which is, in no simple terms, mind-blowing.
This begs the question of what else should the Palestinians do? The Israelis cannot possibly complain about "violence" against Israelis in the West Bank –” there is far more violence on the streets of Chicago than in downtown Ramallah or Nablus. Abbas even reiterated his position on renouncing all violent means of reaching national goals and endorsing a negotiated and peaceful solution. What else do they want? If such malleability is not always palatable even with his own people, how much more do the Americans want him to stretch?
The natural conclusion to all of this is that the Americans can never be the impartial and honest broker the Palestinians had hoped for. While this is a disheartening conclusion, there is an even more unsettling one. If the Israelis and Americans miss out on this chance to make peace with the current Palestinian leadership, which by all standards is the most engaging and most receptive in our history, the consequences could be grave for everyone involved. An alternative to this government (no matter how flawed it is) may be something none of us desire, least of all the Americans and Israel. It would certainly not be as acquiescing either. But even the Abbas government is losing its patience, what with the threats to go to the UN Security Council to demand recognition of a Palestinian state whether Israel agrees or not.
The point is, it doesn’t have to be this way. At the risk of sounding redundant, this could be the last chance for peace. If the Americans and Israel know what’s good for them, they should grab on with both hands.