By KHALED ABU TOAMEH, GATESTONE-—
The Arab League foreign ministers who met with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Washington last week were convinced that they had a mandate from the Palestinians to talk about possible land swaps between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Ahead of their departure to the US, the ministers had met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Doha, Qatar, and discussed with him the land swap idea.
At the meeting, the Arab League decided to dispatch a high-level delegation to Washington to brief the US Administration on the Arab position regarding the resumption of peace talks with Israel. Headed by Qatar’s Hamad bin Jasim al-Thani, the delegation which met with Kerry also consisted of Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Malki.
Yet the Palestinians seemed to be surprised, following the meeting with Kerry, to hear the Qatari representative talk about possible land swaps between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinian Authority’s initial response was to issue a statement in English — not Arabic — voicing support for the land trade proposal. The statement said that this was an old idea that had been discussed in the past between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators.
But following strong condemnations from many Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority leadership took a step backwards.
First, the Palestinian Authority said that it was only prepared to discuss “minor” adjustments to the border between Israel and a future Palestinian state.
Later, as the denunciations grew, the Palestinian Authority took yet another step backwards, saying it was opposed to making any “down payments” to Israel before the peace talks resumed.
In other words, the Palestinian Authority is not prepared to talk about any territorial concessions to Israel before the Israeli government accepts the pre-1967 lines as the basis for a two-state solution.
Palestinian reactions to the land swap proposal seem to have angered Qatar and other Arab countries.
With the exception of a few Palestinian Authority officials, all Palestinian factions have come out strongly against the proposal. The anger has been directed especially against Qatar.
Other Palestinians, including top members of Abbas’s Fatah faction in the West Bank, have also lashed out at the Arab ministers for “offering free concessions” to Israel on behalf of the Palestinians.
Although the Palestinian Authority leadership had in the past hinted that it would be willing to accept the land swap idea, it is now obvious that it would never be able to win the Palestinians’ support for such a proposal.
As leaders of Hamas and other Palestinian groups emphasized over the past few days, no Palestinian leader has a mandate to make any concessions to Israel.
Even worse, the Arab League proposal is being viewed by many Arabs and Palestinians as part of an “American-Zionist conspiracy” to force the Palestinians to accept Israeli “dictates.”
Abbas and the Palestinian Authority leadership in the West Bank seem to have absorbed the message and are now back to demanding a full Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines, which were never official borders.
For Kerry, who has taken it upon himself to try to resume the peace process, this is all bad news.
It is bad news that the Palestinian Authority still does not have the courage to tell the Palestinians that without some form of compromise there will never be real peace with Israel.
It is bad news because it has once again become clear that the Arab countries, including the wealthiest and most influential, have no influence on the Palestinians.
Judging from their reactions to the land swap idea, many Palestinians continue to despise the Arab regimes, accusing them of serving as pawns in the hands of the US and Israel.
The US Administration needs to understand that the Arab League is an incompetent and ineffectual body that has long been ridiculed by most Arabs. This is a body that has never played an instrumental role in solving Arab crises such as the Lebanese Civil War, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait or the ongoing bloodshed in Syria.
It now remains to be seen whether Kerry and President Barack Obama will ever notice that they are betting on the wrong horses. Neither the Arab League nor the Palestinian Authority leadership has a mandate to offer any concessions to Israel or recognize its right to exist.