One week before his scheduled meeting with President Obama, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has staked out assorted maximalist positions relating to negotiations with Israel, decreasing the odds of any accord being reached.
In statements in recent days, Abbas rejected Israel’s retention of any settlements, reiterated the Palestinian “right-of-return” to Israel, ruled out recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and even introduced a new condition of worldwide Palestinian referendum approval of any deal reached with Israel.
In a speech to Palestinian students on Thursday broadcast on Palestinian TV, Abbas was unequivocal in discussing a number of contentious issues.
Regarding the possibility of Israeli retention of settlement blocs, Abbas rejected the idea. “Our position is that the settlements, from start to finish are illegal. They talk about settlement blocs, or about settlements here and there, but we say that every house and every stone that were placed in the West Bank since 1967 and to this day are illegal, and we do not recognize them.”
Abbas introduced a new wrinkle to the process by insisting that any deal he may reach with the Israelis will not become effective “unless it is confirmed by popular referendum of all the Palestinians worldwide.”
“Every Palestinian from Canada to Japan – that includes the Palestinians living abroad as well – will have to agree on the proposal.” If they say no, he said, “the proposal will not pass.”
Abbas did not explain how such a referendum would operate on a practical level.
Abbas also insisted that “five million Palestinian refugees and their offspring” will have the option to “return” to Israel and “hold Israeli citizenship.” Israel rejects such a possibility for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it would destroy Israel demographically as a Jewish state. That possibility does not concern Abbas, who added: “We shall never agree to recognize the Jewish state.”
Recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as a condition to any deal has been insisted upon by Israeli negotiators, as it would implicitly end additional Palestinian claims against Israel once and for all.
The Obama administration recently had been indicating support for such recognition, but dealt the Israelis a blow on Saturday by asserting that the Palestinians, in fact, would not be required to agree to such recognition.
The Arab League on Sunday also gave its support to Abbas for his refusal to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
By moving farther away from conditions acceptable to Israel and introducing new requirements, the positions stated by Abbas bring into question his seriousness and good faith in actually pursuing a peace agreement with Israel.