There will be people in Western countries that will excuse what Abbas said here as something he ‘needed’ to say to allay the hardliners on the Palestinian side. That sort of quarter hasn’t been given to Netanyahu, even though the domestic pressures he has faced have been displayed all over Western media (as opposed to Palestinian domestic divisions, which aren’t in mainstream Western newspapers day in and day out). That being said, whatever treatment, understanding or accommodation Abbas gets for supposedly being flexible in private but inflexible in public should be equally afforded to whomever the Prime Minister of Israel happens to be.
But clearly there’s an issue with Israel trying to come to some sort of agreement on Palestinian refugees when the Palestinian Authority feels no obligation to let Israel simultaneously negotiate for the compensation of its own already-absorbed refugee population from Arab states who instigated the situation that ended with 700,000 Palestinians leaving their houses behind in 1947-49. Even though the two refugee populations are only partially related, the relationship between the Palestinian Authority and the Arab League in this peace process is pretty inextricable (not all Sephardi and Mizrahi refugees from Arab countries fled their homes during or immediately as a result of the Israeli War of Independence, but many left in the late 1950s and 1960s). The fact the Palestinians don’t even have this on the radar signals that they’re even further away from an arrangement with Israel on Palestinian refugees than most of the world realizes.
Israel can’t let in a single Palestinian refugee without creating a legal precedent independent of an agreement that might allow for more to come. Abbas wants that option open so that Palestinians can emotionally tell themselves they can maintain a legal right to strip Israel of its Jewish majority with future forced negotiations, even if a Palestinian state were created in the West Bank (with Gaza or not).
Look, I’ve grown up in a time where “Jordan is Palestine” is illogical because it (apparently or supposedly) disenfranchises West Bankers and Gazans of their own state where they have representation (assuming an authoritarian government would adequately represent their interests). I live in a time where political independence is still attached to the territory in which your country has sovereignty, so seeing Israel annex the West Bank but those West Bankers only receiving citizenship from Jordan is still kind of ludicrous to me, even if it’s just ludicrous because an arrangement like that on this scale is merely unprecedented. I get it. West Bankers and Gazans might not have adequate representation in Amman – because, frankly, they didn’t have it when the West Bank and its Palestinian residents were considered Jordanian citizens before the Six Day War from 1949 to 1967, nor after 1967 until 1988 when Jordan relinquished all its claims to the West Bank.
BUT, the Palestinians are trying to utilize a stage division strategy to continue to impose Arab population pressures on the State of Israel, even though it would either 1) diminish Israel’s Jewish majority or 2) diminish the territory under Israeli sovereignty. I say this because what happened with Jordan is part o a long series of events. In 1922, the British divided their mandate into two territories, declaring the eastern half “Transjordan” to be a state reserved for Arab interests and the western half a state for Jewish interests. I think it’s fair to say that division was not plausible, fine, since large chunks of the Western half were still mostly Arab. But by 1947, the lines that were created at the UN demonstrated further subdivision or territorial compromise would have made a Jewish state completely indefensible and perhaps economically not viable. That Israel and the Arab League rearranged those borders to be more practical – giving Israel territorial contiguity and separating the largely Arab areas of the West Bank and Gaza – pretty much resolved the issue of division or border realignment. Those ceasefire lines were considered permanent because it was practical, consolidated the Jewish and Arab areas, and provided a context where further subdivision was not necessary. If a large swathe of Arab refugees were imposed on Israel, that context would be destroyed, the divisions between Israel and the Palestinian regions blurred, and a context created to theoretically merge Israel with Gaza and the West Bank with the pretext that since large Palestinian Arab populations exist in all three territories, those territories could be merged with the Jewish population becoming a minority.
THAT is the context of Abbas’ current refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state because it would eliminate this entire theoretical scenario. Based on this, the United States, European Union, Russia, the UN and whoever else wants to join this party have an opportunity to say right here that this is more a pipe-dream than anything the Israeli right wing produces on annexing the West Bank and giving its Palestinian Arab residents Jordanian citizenship. It’s a pipe-dream that does not seek peace but the further erosion of Israel – it isn’t a context for peace because it imagines a strategy being employed against Israel with the objective of either erasing it or obliterating it.
I’m pretty aware that a lot of moderate Jews and moderate Arabs still harbor tension toward each other and might imagine a scenario where the opposite state would become non-viable and be ripe for later annexation by its rival. This is where the two State Solution is supposed to resolve the issue. but the Palestinians aren’t receiving pushback on this worldview. No one has said in public during these negotiations that making statements that hint at this scenario is disingenuous and a deal-breaker that won’t be tolerated by the mediators.
Israel cannot receive refugees and still consider this a Two State Solution. There can be no right of return for Palestinians. The onus must shift to the countries that currently house Palestinians and refuse to integrate them.
It’s ALSO not fair to force Israel to even compensate Palestinian refugees without Arab League recognition for crimes committed against its Jewish populations, the majority of whom are now Israeli. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is intertwined with the Arab-Jewish tensions of the 20th century that compelled Jews to leave Morocco, Iraq, Egypt, Syria and other locales.