Written by Khaled Abu Toameh
It is hard to see how Abbas would be able to retract his position now that the Arab League has also rejected Kerry's ideas. Kerry will now have to launch a new diplomatic campaign to convince the Arab League to change its position. And for the Arab countries to do that really would take a miracle.
The Palestinian Authority does not like U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's latest ideas for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis.
The Palestinians especially do not like Kerry's proposal that Israel maintain a military presence in the Jordan Valley if and when a Palestinian state is established next to Israel.
Kerry, however, does not seem to be impressed with the Palestinians' rejection of his ideas. He appears convinced that immense pressure on the Palestinians will eventually force them to succumb.
Palestinian Authority officials complained this week that Kerry is obviously not taking them seriously. "Although the Palestinian Authority leadership has turned down his ideas, Kerry continues to exert heavy pressure on us because he thinks he can impose his will on us," remarked a senior Palestinian official in Ramallah. "Of course, Kerry is living in an illusion if he thinks we would change our position."
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who briefed Arab foreign ministers in Cairo on December 21, repeated his opposition to Kerry's ideas. Before that, Abbas sent a letter to President Barack Obama expressing reservations about Kerry's proposals.
Abbas has even won the backing of the Arab League for his stance. So it is not only the Palestinians who are now saying no to Kerry, but the Arab countries too. "The U.S. proposals achieved Israeli expansionist demands, and guaranteed [Israel's] continued control of [the Jordan Valley] on the security pretext," said a statement released by the Arab League.
Arab League Secretary-General Nabil al-Araby said that not one Israeli soldier could stay in the West Bank.
The Arab League's position is a severe blow to Kerry's ongoing efforts to persuade the Palestinian Authority to accept his ideas. Having won the backing of the Arab countries, Abbas now feels more confident to say no to Kerry and his proposals.
When Kerry next returns to the region, Abbas will once again tell him that he doesn't accept his ideas, particularly in the wake of the Arab League's having also rejected them.
Abbas, however, seems to have a problem not only with the idea of maintaining an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.
A Palestinian official, who also said that Abbas had won backing from the Arab countries for his stance, revealed that Abbas continues to stick to his positions on a variety of issues pertaining to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict -- positions that openly contadict most of the Israeli and American demands.
The official summed up Abbas's position as follows:
The only two things that Abbas and the Arab League are prepared to accept is a timetable for an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines that does not exceed three years, and an exchange of land "equal in size and value" with Israel in cases where Israel retains any land beyond the pre-1967 lines.
Until recently, the Palestinian rejection of Kerry's ideas was expressed in a rather polite manner.
In the past few days, however, senior Palestinian Authority officials have begun launching a scathing attack on Kerry, with some accusing him of "endorsing" Israel's position on most issues related to the conflict with Israel.
PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo said that Kerry's proposals on security will lead to the "total failure" of the peace talks with Israel. Kerry's ideas, he added, have provoked a "real crisis." Abed Rabbo said that Kerry "only wants to win over the Israelis and [allow] settlement expansion at our expense."
In an interview with Voice of Palestine radio, Abed Rabbo continued his unprecedented criticism of both Kerry and his proposals. "Washington does not have the right to determine where our borders would be," he declared. "We won't allow Israel to slice off any parts of our land. If the Americans want, they can give Israel parts of California and Washington. This land belongs to the Palestinians."
The Arab League's rejection of Kerry's ideas not only complicates his efforts to achieve a deal between Palestinians and Israelis, but also ties Abbas's hands. It is hard to see how Abbas would be able to retract his position now that the Arab League has also rejected Kerry's ideas.
Kerry will now have to launch a new diplomatic campaign to convince the Arab League to change its position. And for the Arab countries to do that really would take a miracle.
Khaled Abu Toameh
Distinguished Senior Fellow, Gatestone Institute