Any early-January look ahead to the year in international politics would be incomplete without acknowledging the boldest diplomatic move of the year just ended. That move came when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas stole the spotlight from far more visible diplomats John Kerry, Mohammed Zarif and Sergey Lavrov by threatening unilateral withdrawal from the Oslo Accords. Speaking to the United Nations’ General Assembly on September 30, Abbas announced, “We cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements.” His speech was met with skepticism, laughter and counter-threats, but also a serious question: “When did the Palestinian Authority ever adhere to the Oslo Accords?”
After its September 1970 (Black September) defeat in Jordan, the PLO was sent north, where it precipitated Lebanon’s downward spiral from Mediterranean vacation spot to war zone. After their defeat in 1982 by Israeli forces, PLO leaders were mercifully allowed to leave Lebanon for Tunisia, where they remained in exile for over a decade.
The series of agreements collectively known as the Oslo Accords allowed the exiled PLO leaders to return from Tunisia and conferred legitimacy upon them as ministers of the Palestinian Authority. Their promise of a new moderation was rewarded with billions of dollars and euros from the “International Community.” In return for money, recognition as diplomats and territory, PLO leaders agreed to refrain from terrorism against Israel and to crack down on Hamas and other Islamic terrorists operating from the newly-sovereign PA-administered territories. They did neither. In fact, terrorism against Israelis by Palestinians increased after Oslo.
Prior to Oslo, Palestinian terrorism consisted of hit-and-run attacks, airplane hijackings, sniper fire, and knife attacks (now back in vogue). The operational security conferred by Oslo brought about the era of suicide bombing – not just from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but from PA/PLO-affiliated groups such as the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, Tanzim and even the PFLP.
Under Oslo, the PLO was supposed to amend its charter and become the non-violent PA, Israel’s purported peace partner. But this was a charade. The PLO never changed its ways. It pretended to crack down on Hamas when necessary, but allowed, and even orchestrated, suicide bombings against Israelis. It pretended to accept the existence of Israel, but when Arafat thought no one was watching, he continued to push for the murder of Israelis. The PLO never stopped being the PLO, and it never adhered to Oslo.
Abbas’ peculiar initiative deserves recognition for its originality. In his efforts to wrest further concessions from Israel, Mahmoud Abbas (a/k/a/ Abu Mazen) may in fact have spawned a bold and novel strategy, unknown in the history of diplomacy: threatening to stop doing what one has never actually done. If the scheme succeeds, 2016 might bring other bewildering developments.
Assuming the rest of the UN is as inspired by Abbas’ speech as the General Assembly was, the Human Rights Council (HRC) might soon lobby for a budget increase, threatening to stop protecting Israel from unwarranted harassment if it does not receive at least a 10% increase. The UNRWA might do the same, threatening to end its scrupulous investigations into the off-duty activities of its employees (none of whom are Hamas members, naturally).
Sensing a trend, eternal Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat might adopt the Abbas diplomacy in his fight over Israeli tax payments to the PA, threatening non-compliance with an end to the half-century pattern of compromise that has served as the guiding principle of the PLO.
Executives at the Gaza Civil Works Authority might use the tactic to gain more access to Western technology and free raw materials. If they don’t get their way, they can threaten to halt the ongoing construction of sewers, roads and factories and instead spend the billions of dollars in aid from the world on the construction of un-civil works that might be used for belligerent activities.
With his eye always on achieving full EU membership for Turkey, Recip Tayyip Erdogan might look to speed up the process by threatening to move away from the reforms instituted by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk – reforms he has fought so hard to uphold – if the decision doesn’t come soon.
The Saudis might take to the idea, too. Bowing to incessant pressure from prominent Western feminist organizations, King Salman of Saudi Arabia might threaten to suspend the much-anticipated merger of the Mecca & Medina Motor Club with the All-Women’s Saudi School of Driving if he is not recognized as a great supporter of women’s rights.
And if the Saudis are on board, soon the Iranians will follow. Attempting to secure an early release of the $100-150 billion promised to Iran under the JCPOA, supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei might threaten to rescind his promise to arrest scientists engaged in nuclear and missile research, a policy that began when moderate president Hassan Rouhani announced to the world that Iran had abandoned its missile program.
And finally, in a truly unprecedented move, former Pink Floyd front man Roger Waters might threaten to cancel his annual concert in Israel if authorities deny his request to perform The Wall at Israel’s wall – the structure separating Israelis from the suicide bombers whose 4,000-plus attacks killed 1,639 Israelis before it was built and effectively ended that threat.
In the 12th year of his 4-year term as Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas just might become a diplomatic trail blazer. Yasir Arafat would be proud.
A.J. Caschetta is a senior lecturer at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a Shillman-Ginsburg fellow at the Middle East Forum. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.