A New Day for Mideast Negotiations

With President Obama’s reelection, prospects for progress in Middle East disputes have brightened but no one expects the resolution of crises in Syria, Iran, Israel, Palestine and elsewhere to be easy. An offhand remark by a Palestinian leader shows how complex some issues remain, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas received attention the other day with a remark about the possible return of Palestinian Arabs to Israel. He was asked in an interview whether he wanted to return to the town in the Galilee region where he grew up and from which he had been driven as a 13-year-old during the war in 1948 that accompanied the establishment of Israel.

Abbas replied that he would like to visit the town but not live there. Although he described himself as a refugee, he referred to the boundary that lasted until a later Arab-Israeli war in 1967 and said that Palestine is on one side of that border and Israel is on the other.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas.

The comment, despite being an apparently unscripted answer to an interview question, was seized on in various quarters as a significant concession on the longstanding issue of “right of return.” Some Israelis hopeful of meaningful peace negotiations, including President Shimon Peres, lauded Abbas’s remark.

Abbas’s Palestinian rivals in Hamas denounced his comment, saying he had no right to make such a “concession” on behalf of the Palestinian people. Both sorts of reactions vastly overstated the significance of the remark.

Abbas hasn’t really made any formal concessions on this issue. The official Palestinian position is still that there is a right of return, but when commenting at other times about the right of return Abbas has shown himself to be realistic.

He has observed that if all the Palestinian refugees and their descendants, now numbering several million, were to return to Israel that would effectively destroy Israel, and he has no desire to do that, wanting instead to live alongside Israel. He has also appropriately questioned how many Palestinians would want to go back to live in their old home towns. Many say they would in principle, but if the reality would be to live as a minority in the Jewish state, most would have preferences similar to Abbas’s own.

What the reactions to Abbas’s comment illustrate, besides an overplaying of the comment itself, is a common tendency to confuse a position maintained for bargaining purposes with some kind of intractable bottom line demand. Some elements may have an interest in promoting such confusion — such as in this case Hamas, which tried to use the issue as a stick with which to beat Abbas. Partly because of such promotion, others may genuinely but mistakenly believe that a negotiating position is a rigid demand.

In any conflict with multiple major issues in dispute — and that is certainly true of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians — it behooves each side not to make concessions even on issues on which it is willing to concede until and unless it gets something in return on other issues.

Everyone concerned has long realized that a reasonable resolution of the issue of right of return would be some formula that lets Palestinians claim the right has been recognized but that involves only a symbolically small number — no more than a few thousand — actually moving to Israel, perhaps with monetary compensation provided to the rest.

Palestinian leaders, however, would be foolish to offer such a formula without getting anything on other issues of concern to them, including borders and the status of Jerusalem.

Similar situations arise all the time, including on other matters of concern to Israel. Why should Hamas, for example, make unilateral concessions involving something such as recognition of Israel if it does not get in return something as basic as recognition of Hamas?

On that all-preoccupying matter involving Iran’s nuclear program, the Iranians have given ample indication of flexibility on restricting their enrichment of uranium and on much else. But they would be foolish to make unilateral concessions with no prospect of getting anything in return on matters of importance to them.

When someone seems to be adhering to a position that ought not to be a vital interest to them, we should not make the mistake of interpreting this as a mark of obduracy and unreasonableness. More likely it means they are willing to bargain.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post  at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)


  11 comments for “A New Day for Mideast Negotiations

  1. Rehmat
    November 7, 2012 at 1:56 pm

    I will let American writer and blogger from Philadelphia, Linh Dinh, whom I just watched on RT’s “Cross Talk” show – to answer what’s store for the Muslim nations in the Middle East.

    Linh said that American elections are fraud which only allow American voters to keep electing war criminals and protectors of the filthy-rich Wall Street bankers.

    “America does not have a representative democracy. If you vote for someone for his rhetoric and promises, which he promptly ignores after the election, then you’re not being represented, I’m sorry, though with your votes, you’ve just sanctioned (Obama) him to go on abusing you and the rest of the world. Ignoring his kill list, undeclared wars and other violations of justice, you’ve chosen to swallow whole his sound bites, so you will fully deserve what’s coming to you, though it’s unfortunate that so many other victims will have to suffer also”.


    • Otto Schiff
      November 10, 2012 at 3:25 pm

      The usual Rehmat crap.

  2. borat
    November 7, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    as with most medievalists they don’t get it. rehmatshit needs instant teleportation back to the year 1000 or a free one way ticket to iran

  3. Rehmat
    November 7, 2012 at 9:52 pm

    “Mahmoud Abbas is arguably the most extraordinary the double agent in the Middle East…. Most of what he does for Israeli and the US masters he does in plain sight,” Jefrey Blankfort, an American Jewish writer.

    When Fatah President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) called Israeli President Shimon Peres to wish him ‘Happy Rosh Hashana’ – Peres pleaded with Abbas to trust Benji Netanyahu, calling him the best ‘negotiating partner’ the Palestinians living under Jewish boots ever had. ” Don’t abandon the talks before peace is achieved. There is no one more suited than you to achieve peace for your people, and for the entire region,” Peres told Abbas on the phone.


    • borat
      November 12, 2012 at 10:23 am

      ‘Moderate’ Fatah Encourages Child Martyrdom

      According to Palestinian Media Watch, the official facebook page for Fatah’s Information and Culture Commission in Lebanon posted a picture of a mother placing a suicide belt on her young son. Beside this photo, an imaginary conversation between the two is written where the mother encourages her son to die as a shahid (martyr).

      According to the text, “My mother dressed me in a strange belt. I asked her: ‘What is this, mother?’ She said: ‘I will put it on you and you will go to your death!’I said to her: ‘Mother, what have I done that you want me to die?’ She shed a tear that hurt my heart and said: ‘The homeland needs you, son. Go and blow up the sons of Zion.’ I said to her: ‘Why me and not you?’ She said: ‘I will stay in order to give birth to more children for the sake of Palestine.’ I kissed her hand and said to her: ‘Keep it up, mother, for you and for Palestine I will kill the impure and the damned.’”

      This facebook posting is not the first time this year that Fatah has encouraged children to become suicide bombers. Earlier this year, Palestinian Media Watch cited PA TV as declaring, “Our children are our honor and glory, they were created to be fertilizer for the land of Palestine, and for our pure land to be saturated with their blood.”

      Also this year, Palestinian Media Watch reported that PA TV broadcast a children’s song. The song proclaimed, “Don’t cry, Palestine, stand tall for your heroes. Let the cowards see that your kids didn’t surrender to fear in the midst of horror. Oh children of the stones, teach the sinners that shooting doesn’t scare you, that your dignity is preserved, and that death for the sake of the country is not terror. Terror is the occupier and his helpers, not those who saw and tasted death but were not humiliated, and not the child who nurses fear and expulsion, yet surrenders not. He vows that when he grows up, he will follow the same path. Don’t be sad, oh great nation, Allah is with you. Don’t be sad with Allah’s help.”

      Fatah has a long history of encouraging suicide bombings. Within Palestinian society in general, promoting suicide bombings is the norm. Children are not spared from such propaganda. According to Maria Alvanou’s book, Palestinian Women Suicide Bombers, Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian national poet who enjoys the same stature as Bialik within Israeli society and whose poems are taught in Palestinian public schools, wrote a poem praising suicide bombings titled “Blessed be that which has not come.” In this poem, Darwish writes of suicide bombings, “This is the wedding without an end; In a boundless courtyard; On an endless night; This is the Palestinian wedding; Never will lover reach lover; Except as martyr or fugitive.”

      Furthermore, a popular children’s game within the Palestinian areas is called Shuhada (Martyrs), which includes a mock funeral for suicide bombers. Palestinian teenage rock groups sing songs about suicide bombers and in the 1990’s, there was even a Palestinian teenage rock band called “The Martyrs.” It is common for Palestinian youngsters to decorate their bedrooms with pictures of suicide bombers, to get tattoos with the names of Palestinian suicide bombers, to trade pictures of suicide bombers like baseball cards, and to spray-paint graphic murals in the streets of various suicide bombings.
      Indeed, within Palestinian society, it is impossible for young people to escape the suicide bomber cult. It is taught within schools, promoted in the media, preached in sermons in the mosque, part of the popular culture, and even proudly proclaimed in street names. While the intensity of this suicide bomber cult abated in intensity somewhat since the conclusion of the Second Intifada, contrary to popular images within the west, it has definitely not gone away.
      Reported by: Rachel Avraham for United With Israel

  4. borat
    November 13, 2012 at 11:43 am

    Now what arab paradise has ever sent assistance to us after a natural disaster?

    Aid for “Sandy” victims from Israel !

    “Israel Flying Aid” has been distributing gas, food, etc., to “Sandy” victims in the greater New York area. APPEARS IN GOOGLE !!!

    Have you seen this reported in the media ?

    More Aid for the USA from Israel :

    New York, NY — November 4, 2012 … Israel Flying Aid, the Israeli global humanitarian organization, which was first to land in Haiti following the 2010 earthquake, has been distributing large supplies of gas to hospitals, food, batteries and generators to Hurricane Sandy victims.

    “We have many years of disaster relief experience,” said Israel Flying Aid North American Operations Manager Moti Kahana. “Israel Flying Aid, in having Israelis on the ground here in New York and New Jersey, have made Israel the only foreign nation to provide humanitarian assistance to the US during this disaster. We are working in coordination with FEMA, local police, the American Red Cross and Jewish communities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.”

    Kahana said that most of the efforts had been donated by Israelis living in the US, and this enabled gas to be distributed to hospitals in New York and New Jersey.

    Joel Leyden, an Israel Flying Aid Operations Specialist who was with the IFA in Haiti, has been working with the Greater Hartford Jewish Community to distribute both food and generators on Long Island .

    “We had a convoy of food and generators move out of the Greater Hartford area early yesterday morning,” said Leyden. “The food had been donated by Panera Bread and Dunkin Donuts in the Hartford, Manchester Connecticut area. This food was distributed to hurricane victims on the south shore of Long Island, the Nassau County Police, the Free-port Fire Department and the Red Cross Shelter which is set up at Nassau Community College.”

    Leyden said that when they spotted hundreds of people lined up at gas stations to pour gas into their containers, they would get out of their cars and feed these people as they waited. The donuts and bread created smiles and positive moods which replaced the trauma of suffering in the dark and cold, he said.

    “We are so very proud to see you, to welcome you to New York,” said Dr. Jason Mallin, who normally practices neurology at North Shore University Hospital but was now volunteering with the Nassau County Department of Health. “We read about Israel and the great work you did in Haiti. We have thousands here that need you. It’s awesome that you are here!”

    Michael Duarte, a Red Cross volunteer from California who was supervising the Long Island shelter, hugged the Israel Flying Aid team as they arrived.

    “We had some bad press as a result of misunderstandings,” said Duarte. People in Staten Island, New York were looking for us but due to a New York State law, we could not start operations until after three days . We are now operating at full capacity throughout New York City and this Red Cross shelter at Nassau Community College with over 900 clients. These people have lost their homes. Lost everything. We are here for them and so very pleased to receive your good help.”

    Duarte, who hadn’t slept in three days, had coordinated a first class shelter and his staff could not have been more professional. Sleeping cots, Red Cross blankets, a cafeteria and even a play area for children had been carefully put into place. The fresh food from Israel Flying Aid was served as dinner that evening.

    Super storm Hurricane Sandy, which was also referred to as Frankenstorm as it became one huge storm from three separate systems, slammed New York, New Jersey and the southern Connecticut shore with 100 mph winds. The devastation was historic as over 100 people perished, thousands of homes were destroyed and millions were left without electricity.

    “As Israelis, we know how to react to such disasters,” said Kahana. “We are trained in the military to be prepared and ready at a moment’s notice. This edge is what enables us to go places where others don’t and get the job done with little or no bureaucracy. We are proud to help the New York, New Jersey and Connecticut communities, people who have provided assistance to Israel throughout the years. What we critically need now is donations for our staff and volunteers to continue their life saving efforts as temperatures drop and people critically need generators and fuel for heat.”

    Israel Flying Aid, which is a non-profit, non-governmental organization that assists global communities after earthquakes and other natural and man made disasters, have saved lives in Japan, Haiti, Iraq, Turkey, South Sudan and the US after Hurricane Katrina.

    • borat
      November 14, 2012 at 9:44 pm

      So much for the peace loving palestinians:

      President Shimon Peres and The Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with President Barack Obama today about Israel’s response to the attacks launched by Gaza terrorists on Israel.

      The Prime Minister expressed his deep appreciation for President Obama’s support of Israel’s right to defend itself.

      President Peres: “Our intention is not to raise the flames, but for days already, day and night, they are shooting rockets at Israel. Mothers and their children cannot fall asleep. I was there today with the children. There are limits to what Israel is able to absorb.”

      Ambassador Michael Oren: “Israel has the right and duty to defend itself from terrorist attacks designed to kill thousands of its citizens. “We are sending an unequivocal message that our citizens will not be hostage to terrorist missile fire and cross-border attacks. The scope of the IDF’s defensive operation depends on Hamas and whether it takes the decision to cease firing missiles on our neighborhoods and homes.”

      State Dept.: “There is no justification for the violence that Hamas and other terrorist organizations are employing against the people of Israel. We call on those responsible to stop these cowardly acts immediately.”

      • paschn
        November 15, 2012 at 2:34 pm

        Hmm, by cowardly acts, is the toady including these? Mavi Mamara, USS liberty, King David Hotel, Lavon affair, 9/11 if I missed any of the plethora of cowardly acts, you might find ’em listed here;


        These are just the ones they were caught committing.

        Can someone explain to me why Israel, the icon of love/justice/brotherhood still hasn’t adopted a constitution or Bill of Rights? If anything, it would give them one to violate and shred as their D.C. sycophants have/are doing in AmeriKa.
        As an aside, since the son-of-a-terrorist Rahm was given the reins of power in Chicago has anyone noticed an enormous spike in truth/justice and the AmeriKan way?

        • borat
          November 15, 2012 at 4:54 pm

          paschnshit another medieval terrorist from his paradises in the sand..

          UPDATE: The situation in pure numbers.

          1,000,000 – Number of Israelis spending the night in a bomb shelter

          20,000 – The number phone calls the IDF made to Gaza residents to warn them about the military operation. (The IAF also dropped flyers throughout the Gaza Strip calling for the people to distance themselves from
          known terrorists, weapons stores and launching sites)

          12,000 -The number of rockets launche
          d by Hamas since 2000

          2005- The year Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip

          822- Number of rockets launched this year alone

          274- Number of rockets launched since November 10th!

          52- Number of Israelis wounded

          3- Israeli civilians were killed when a rocket fired from Gaza hit their home in the town of Kiryat Malakhi

          0 – Number of times it’s ok for terrorists like Hamas to attack Israeli civilians

          • paschn
            November 15, 2012 at 9:34 pm

            0 – # of israeli olive groves destroyed

            0 – # of israeli homes bulldozed

            0 – # of israeli date groves stolen

            0 – # of Israeli “peace activists crushed to death protecting crippled palestinians

            0 – # of IDF barracks bombed to pieces in Beirut

            0 – # of israelis murdered on 9/11

            0 – # of unarmed Israelis murdered on the high seas by acts of piracy/cowardice

            0 – # of Talmudic Rabbis spat upon daily as they walk the streets of the peaceful, Christian/Muslim loving Israel

            0 – # of U.N. resolutions obeyed by Israel

            0 – # of human organs stolen from Ashkenazi Israelis over past decades

            0 – # of children safe from Talmudic sanctioned pedophelia

            5 – # of Mossad agents laughing/high fiving/celebrating as they filmed the collapse of WTC.

            5 – # of Mossad agents ordered repatriated by dual citizen Chertoff.

            2 – # of those same 5 shown on israeli t.v. discussing how they were sent to AmeriKa to “…film the event.”

            0 – # of pounds of functioning grey matter per 100,000 “Goy” in Amerika.

  5. paschn
    November 15, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    So much for the gentle, poor victimized Israel…

    This man was a captain in the IDF until he learned, (through troubled research), the truth about Israel. Peruse his sight, you might get information other than the pablum fed you by the lame-stream media.


    You may also want to revisit the light-hearted party Israeli lackey Bush attended where he waxed comedic over WMD your husbands/sons/daughters/wives died trying to find and lost their immortal souls for their efforts….the same bunch of boot-lickers lying you into invading and ruining yet another nation, (Iran), unwilling to allow a Central Bank into their lives;

    Here’s a great one to gauge Israel’s deep appreciation over their latest occupied territory, (Washington D.C.), lavishing them with money/blood/reputation;


    The above must have been filmed during a break in attacks on Christian and Muslim clergy, eh?

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