“Palestinians hand Netanyahu letter, Fayyad absent” – I think this was the Reuters headline, but whoever composed it had it retweeted solid for over two hours this evening (and possibly for the rest of the night) on the “Twitsphere” (or is it “Tweetiverse”?).
So Mahmoud Abbas is sending Bibi love-letters and Fayyad is jealous – no, I don’t think so somehow. But we do know, because the letter was conveniently “leaked” earlier today, that much of the content is the same old same old. Just a week ago, the Quartet (see here) encouraged both the Israelis and the Palestinians to sit down again without preconditions (something Bibi has said so often that maybe we should believe him) – and now the long-awaited letter is sent, containing the same old preconditions (settlements, Jerusalem, ’67 borders, return of refugees…). The Daily Beast summarised the alleged contents of Abbas’ letter to Netanyahu here.
This time, the threat if these preconditions are ignored is that the PLO will return to the UN and seek recognition for a state from the General Assembly; something they would almost certainly get but which would mean little in reality from the point of view of seeing a real nation state come into being. What it would do is give the PA some leverage in using UN agencies and bodies in their ongoing political campaigns against Israel.
You may have missed it, but the PA suffered a setback in this area when the International Criminal Court gave a ruling last week on charges brought by the PA of supposed Israeli war crimes in the 2009 Gaza war (Operation Cast Lead). The PA brought these charges some three years ago and the court has spent this time deliberating. The final judgement rightly finds that, while many countries recognise a Palestinian state and the PLO/PA have become members of various UN bodies, the UN itself has not given recognition as a state to the Palestinians and they remain observers. Therefore the Court cannot offer a judgement. Good try, Mr Abbas! You can see one analysis of the Court’s ruling here.
So why was the PA’s Prime Minister, Salaam Fayyad, absent from a meeting publicised as being between two Prime Ministers? As Ha’Aretz points out here, he does not believe the letter given to the Israelis will do any good, so why be the one handing it over? He’s also a bit miffed that his boss has repeatedly said that Fayyad would be at the meeting and Fayyad is getting a little fed up with being pushed into things he doesn’t agree with. To his credit, Salam Fayyad may be the nearest we will find to a true “moderate” in the PA and has done more to enhance the economic progress of ordinary Palestinians than any other top PA or PLO leader.
Prime Minister Netanyahu has promised an answer to Mahmoud Abbas’ letter within two weeks, but will this be the start of more talks or have we reached a complete cul-de-sac in diplomacy to resolve the conflict? As we have seen before, dead ends can lead to a resumption of violence as the only perceived alternative. Most of the outstanding issues unfortunately consist of red lines for one or both sides (Jerusalem, PA/Hamas unity, borders, Jordan Valley, Palestinian refugees returning, water and more) leaving little hope for compromise. Perhaps the continued delays will allow more time for Palestinian men, women and families to prosper further in the economic growth of the PA economy to the extent that the majority become so tired of conflict that peace grows from the grass roots upwards. To this end, the more Palestinians are employed in settlements, the more freely flow goods and money in and out of Gaza, the more modern housing and amenities are built in Palestinian towns the more we may just see that grass roots peace happen before our eyes.