by Hugh Fitzgerald
Mahmoud Abbas has prepared a list of 15 demands that, the PA claims, must be understood as a prerequisite to negotiations with Israel. He apparently believes the Biden administration will be able to pressure Israel to accept, so eager is Washington to restart the negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, in order to revive the moribund peace process. I think he’s very wrong.
Here’s the entire list of demands as reported by Elder of Ziyon.
1. Reopening the Orient House and other Palestinian institutions in eastern Jerusalem closed since 2001
Orient House was used by the PLO as its Jerusalem headquarters before the Six-Day War. It has always been a center for Palestinian propagandists, a meeting place where Palestinian officials would meet with diplomats and Western journalists. It was a symbol of the Palestinian claim to eastern Jerusalem. Reopening it (and “other Palestinian institutions”) would strengthen the PA’s presence in, and claim to, East Jerusalem.
2. Restoring the old status of Al-Aqsa Mosque, which includes limiting the activity of the Israeli occupation police in Al-Aqsa and stopping settlers’ incursions.
This is the most outrageous of all the demands made by Abbas. He insists on the restoration of “the old status of Al-Aqsa Mosque” — by which is meant the Temple Mount as well — to what it was before the Six-Day War, when under Jordanian rule, no Jews were allowed to visit the Temple Mount. Abbas wants to remove the Jewish visitors, even though they are prevented, by the Israeli police, from saying, or even silently mouthing, prayers at the Temple Mount. He wishes to prevent all Jews from visiting the holiest site in Judaism, visits which he terms “settlers’ incursions.” When Abbas says he “wants to limit the activity of the Israeli occupation police,” he means that for now they should continue to prevent Jewish visitors from uttering Jewish prayers – until such time as those visitors can be permanently barred from Temple Mount. And then the police would no longer be necessary — if there are no Jews visiting the Temple Mount — to prevent their prayers. The Israeli police, however, must remain, for they are needed to suppress Arab rioters on the Temple Mount, who throw rocks and Molotov cocktails on Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall far below, or at the Israeli police themselves. Their removal would lead to chaos and constant threats to the wellbeing of Jewish visitors at the Western Wall.
3. Stopping the evacuation of Palestinian homes in Occupied Jerusalem, especially the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
The Sheikh Jarrah dispute is about four parcels of property, that have been owned by Jews since 1875, as the title deeds show, and as the Arabs themselves admit are valid. It is nothing more than a landlord-and-tenant dispute. The Jewish owners of the property want to evict several Arab families who have refused to pay rent. This is not part of some sinister Israeli plot to “Judaize” east Jerusalem; it is a simple property dispute that the Palestinian propaganda machine has decided to blow up into a Zionist effort to push Palestinians out of east Jerusalem. This rings hollow, since under Israeli rule, the Arab population of east Jerusalem has ballooned from 44,000 in 1967 to 350,000 today.
4. Releasing the fourth batch of pre-Oslo prisoners, which includes women, the sick and the elderly.
Israelis learned a lesson from their last prisoner exchange, when Gilad Shalit was released by the PA in exchange for Israel freeing 1.027 jailed Palestinians. Some of those Palestinians returned to their terrorist ways, and were responsible for the deaths of other Israelis. These massively lopsided exchanges no longer find favor among Israel officials. However, by limiting its request for the release only of “women, the sick and the elderly,” the may score points by seeming to limit its demand for freedom for those who are unlikely to be any trouble. But it isn’t true that they would be innocuous. Just to take the category of “women,” one finds that such female arch-terrorists as Dalal Mughrabi, (who directed the Coastal Road Massacre), Leila Khaled (the head of a terrorist group that seized a Sabena Airlines plane), and Ahlam Ahmad Al-Tamimi (the mastermind of Sbarro pizzeria attack) are just as deadly as any male terrorist. As for Israel freeing “the sick” and the “elderly,” there are few examples of people who “retire” from terrorism, or from supporting terrorism. Mahmoud Abbas remains active at 85. The recently-deceased terrorist head of the PFLUP-SC, Jibril Rajoub, continued to plan terror attacks on Israel, though with less frequency than in his younger days, well into his 70s. Israel has been badly burned by its previous large-scale releases of terrorists, and no longer has the stomach for such huge releases of prisoners by the Jewish state in exchange for a handful or, in the case of Gilad Shalit, of only one, soldier.
5. Stopping the expansion of settlements, including constructions in East Jerusalem, and evacuating all settlement outposts on Palestinian lands.
Another absurd request. Israel is being asked to stop all construction In what has been the capital of the Jews since the time of David, some 3000 years ago. East Jerusalem has been formally part of Israel since 1980, when it was formally annexed, with the total approval of the Israeli Jewish public. When Abbas calls for “evacuating settlement outposts on all Palestinian land,” he means all settlements on the West Bank, which to him is forever “Palestinian land.” He is asking for the evacuation from their homes of half a million Israelis. It’s a preposterous request.
6. Stop demolishing homes in the Jordan Valley.
Israel demolishes homes in the Jordan Valley that are built illegally – i.e., without a permit. Much of the Jordan Valley is a live fire zone used by the IDF, and in those places homes are not allowed. That has not stopped the Palestinians from illegally building houses in the Valley. In November 2020, the Palestinians made a gigantic fuss when Israel demolished the tents pitched for an illegal Bedouin settlement at Khirbet Humsa, in a live-fire zone. It Is for their own safety that Palestinians – and Jews too — are forbidden from building in these zones, and those who disobey the law have their homes, or in this case their tents, demolished .What else should or could Israel do to prevent harm to Palestinians refusing to leave the IDF’s live-fire zones?
7. Stop incursions into Palestinian cities.
Has Mahmoud Abbas lost his head, or does he think that the Israelis have? The Israelis enter Palestinian cities for only one reason: they are in pursuit of terrorist suspects. They go in quickly, find their suspect, and just as quickly leave with him. They are not there to disturb the tenor of life, but to get in, and get out, as swiftly as possible. If Abbas has his way, they would no longer be able to do so. Didn’t the PA agree, under the Oslo Accords, to cooperate on security matters with Israel? Surely that includes giving the IDF the right to search for suspects wherever their leads take them, and sometimes, in hot pursuit, those leads take them inside Palestinian cities. Were Israel to agree to this seventh demand by Abbas, terrorists would need only to hightail it back to Hebron, or Ramallah, or Jericho, and they’d be safe. The Israelis would not be able to enter. It’s a preposterous and life-threatening demand.
8. Returning weapons confiscated by the Israeli occupation authority from the Palestinian security forces.
Israel has tried to have as cooperative a relationship with the Palestinian security forces as it can. Some of the Palestinian police do indeed cooperate, as they are supposed to under the Oslo Accords. Others, however, not only do not cooperate, but have been known to help terrorists hide in the West Bank from the Israelis, and it is these Palestinian officers from whom Israel confiscates weapons. In other cases, as in October 2020, Palestinian officers have had weapons confiscated not when they were believed to be aiding or hiding terrorists, but when they violated the prohibition on carrying weapons in Area C, which is under the sole control of the Israelis. Having confiscated weapons from those Palestinian police who have demonstrated they are not to be trusted, why should Israel return the weapons to the offenders? On what theory? That they won’t do it again?
9. Restoring the process of Palestinian family unification.
This may be an area where Israel might be willing to discuss Abbas’ demands. As of now, West Bank Palestinians who marry Israeli Arabs are not allowed to become Israeli citizens and to move into Israel proper, though there is no ban on the spouse that is an Israeli citizen from moving to the West Bank. The Israelis are naturally worried that what is called “the Family Reunification Law” might be a way for there to be a large increase in the number of Israeli Arabs, which would be worrisome for Israeli Jews. A lot depends on the demographic data: if Palestinians in large numbers are believed to have married, or are planning to marry, Israeli Arabs in order to be able to live in Israel, then the ban should continue; but if it is only a question of hundreds, then perhaps Israel can live with this “family reunification.” In any case, Abbas has no right to decide to whom Israel should offer citizenship, any more than Israel is dictating to him who is a citizen of the PA.
10. Increasing the number of work permits in the occupied territories.
This is an area where Israel might be willing to meet Abbas’ demand. Israel already employs more than 100,000 Palestinian workers from the West Bank and even Gaza, and is not averse to hiring more. No number is given, so Israel would not be committing to a sum certain. It might reply that “we will make every effort to increase the work permits for Palestinians.”
11. Returning Palestinian police, officials and customs officers to the Karama Bridge, as was the case after the Oslo Accords.
The Karama Bridge (in Israel known as the Allenby Bridge), that is the link between Israel and Jordan, was closed this past January, by the Israeli authorities, after consulting with, and obtaining the agreement of, both the Palestinian Authority and the government of Jordan. It was closed to help limit the spread of COVID-19. There is no reason why Israel should not agree, once it has determined that the coronavirus has been brought under control in Israel, the Palestinian territories, and Jordan, to reopen the Karama Bridge and allow the PA to return with its full complement of police, officials, and customs officers. They must, however, not be given sole control of the land bridge, but must be willing to work side by side with Israeli police who, of course, will want to monitor who and what leaves Israel, and still more important, who and what comes into the Jewish state from Jordan. If Abbas means to demand that the Palestinians alone should monitor the Karama Bridge traffic both ways, that is something that, for security reasons, Israel cannot possibly grant.
12. Allowing the establishment of an international airport in the West Bank, and a free trade zone near Jericho and permission to build railways.
An international airport in the West Bank may be too much of a security risk, allowing the possible smuggling in of weapons to the West Bank from abroad, and Israel is unlikely to agree. For the Palestinians it’s a matter of pride: how humiliating it must be not to have your own airport, and have to rely instead on an airport in Amman for all your air travel. But Israel’s security needs must trump the wounded pride of Palestinian Arabs.
A free trade zone near Jericho, on the other hand, is simply an economic measure that might increase economic activity in the West Bank, and Israel should have no objection to that. He construction of a railway, too, seems to be – at least at first impression – relatively benign, although the beginning and end points of the trains’ trajectories may raise security problems, and the route would have to be carefully vetted by Israel.
13. Allocating areas in Area C – for factories, power stations and tourism projects, and enhancing activities in Areas B.
This demand is a case of overreaching. Area C, which contains 61% of the West Bank’s land area, and is where 400,000 Israeli Jews live, outnumbering the Arabs by 100,000, is supposed to be administered solely by Israel, unlike Area A, which is completely under Palestinian control, and Area B, where the Palestinians have control over domestic affairs but Israel retains control of security. Abbas is trying to chip away at Israel’s control over Area C, by demanding that the Israelis build infrastructure for the Arab inhabitants – factories, power stations, and tourism projects – something he has no right to demand. He is trying to turn C into something akin to Area B, where the Palestinians decide on domestic matters, including the building of infrastructure.
14. Amending the “Paris Agreement” so that goods destined for the West Bank are released from customs.
If this demand is accepted, then Israel will no longer be collecting customs duties for the PA, and that means it will not have any way to withhold funds in order to pressure the PA to curtail its “Pay-For-Slay” program by which subsides are given to terrorists and, if they are dead, to their families. That’s why Israel needs those customs duties, and its role in collecting them, to remain in place.
15. Allowing a 4G cellular network in the West Bank.
This appears to be a reasonable request. No increased threat to Israeli security will result. Why not give Abbas what he wants on this, as a way of showing good faith?
Elder of Ziyon concludes:
Some of these demands are direct attempts to weaken Israel’s security and endanger Jews, such as [failing to meet]the needs of the IDF… Others are attempts to keep Israel from exercising its sovereign rights, such as having the Temple Mount open to Jewish visitors, or to build freely in east Jerusalem, Abbas wants to increase the number of Palestinian Arabs who can work and live in Israel, and to release terrorists from prison. Before negotiations, he wants Israel to give up all of its stances on Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria.
Apparently, Abbas sees in the Biden administration people who would be as friendly towards him as the Obama administration was – meaning that he wants the US to pressure Israel on these demands on his behalf.
If these are the prerequisites, what would the actual negotiations cover? Presumably whether Israel would be allowed to remain in existence.
Abbas has combined a list of 15 demands that range from the outrageous, including #2, demanding an end to any Jews visiting the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism; #5, which would require Israel to end all settlement expansion, including any building in East Jerusalem, and an end to outposts in the West Bank; and #7, which would prevent the IDF from pursuing terrorist suspects in Palestinian cities, to the acceptable, such as part of #12, calling for a free trade zone near Jericho, and #15, asking for a 4G cellular network to be built in the West Bank. Israel could say that it will “carefully study the proposal” and then it should present, in written form, its detailed answer to Abbas, with a CC to Biden and Blinken – which would be, I allow myself to believe, almost exactly what I have written just above.