President Mahmoud Abbas had said that once the U.N. voted to upgrade the Palestinian Authority to non-member state status, he would be ready for unconditional peace talks with Israel. "I've said a thousand times that we want to resume negotiations and we are ready to do it," Abbas told reporters in New York last month. "We are not setting any condition."
It appears he has changed his mind.
He won the vote easily and speaking to Arab League ministers this weekend in Doha he dropped the offer of unconditional talks – which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been calling for -- and instead added new demands. Not only does he still insist on a total Israeli construction freeze, including in East Jerusalem, but he wants to resume where talks left off when he walked out on negotiations with then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.
He also said he's ready for only six months of talks. That's an odd demand coming from a man who had once rejected a similar Israeli position. In 2009 Israel had offered a 10-month settlement freeze and it took Abbas nine months to get around to talking, offering Netanyahu no incentive to ignore pressure from within his own government and extend the freeze. When Bibi didn't renew the freeze, Abbas once again walked out.
An aide to Netanyahu this weekend said Abbas knows his conditions are non-starters are simply an excuse not to return to the table. He's right.
The Olmert government had made a far-reaching peace offer in 2008, but Abbas rejected it as insufficient and didn't even bother countering it. Yasser Arafat had done the same thing in 1999 and 2000 when then-PM Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton presented their proposals. In response to Barak, Arafat triggered the second Intifada.
It took both Arafat and Abbas a year or more to come up with explanations for their failure to respond to the Israeli and U.S. peace offers.
Abbas earlier this year said there wasn't enough time before Olmert left office to work out a deal, but that was a lame excuse; in fact, had he made a serious counter-offer the outcome of the 2009 Israeli election could have been dramatically different. The centrist pro-peace Kadima might have won; instead Netanyahu brought in a far-right coalition opposed to any realistic deal.
Olmert had offered to withdraw from well over 90 percent of the West Bank, including parts of East Jerusalem.
It took the Palestinians 65 years to accept the 1947 partition plan, and they still don't have a sovereign state, just a placebo from the UN General Assembly.
Abbas' Arab brethren could be doing a lot more to help the Palestinians forge a peace agreement with Israel, but all they gave Abbas was a pat on the back and $100 million a month in pledges. Let him try collecting. Their track record on fulfilling their pledges is less than stellar.
The Palestinian Authority says it needs $240 million a month to operate. In the wake of the UN vote Israel has stopped transfer of customs revenues, saying it will use the money to pay Palestinian debts owed to Israeli companies. Much of the PA's other income comes from the United States, the European Union and Arab states. Don't be surprised if the U.S. Congress decides to cut back on aid next year in response to the UN vote.
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