Abbas the peacenik? He's just Arafat with good PR

09 September 2010

Published in The Jewish News: 9th September 2010

With the commencement of direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians, hopes have been raised for a major political breakthrough in the Middle East. Unlike at Camp David in 2000, Israel supposedly has a partner for peace in Mahmoud Abbas, a leader who condemns violence and Hamas and talks of two states.

Yet Abbas’s behaviour has been very odd for a leader desperate for a Palestinian state. Like a petulant child, he has insisted that Israel extend the moratorium on settlement expansion which was introduced by Netanyahu some 10 months ago. Every day has brought a fresh threat to withdraw from the talks unless the settlement freeze is maintained.

Long before the talks started, Abbas was demanding a series of preconditions for these talks. He wanted a future Palestinian state to be defined by the pre 1967 borders, all settlement building ended and a guaranteed time-frame for eventual statehood.

Naturally this was unreasonable behaviour for it was attempting to fix the outcome of negotiations before they had even started, regardless of his own side’s behaviour. What incentive would Abbas have had for agreeing to Israeli demands if a Palestinian state was a guaranteed outcome? The answer is none. Abba Eban’s famous adage that ‘Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity’ seems strikingly appropriate.

If Abbas wants a state so badly, why has he employed such provocative tactics? Perhaps the simplest answer is that he has little interest in a viable settlement, as his recent track record clearly indicates.

Abbas refuses to recognise Israel as a Jewish state and remains committed to the right of return of Palestinian refugees, the ‘respectable’ formula for the eventual destruction of Israel. He has not always been tactful about this aim, however. Earlier this year he told the Arab League: ‘If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favour.’

His Palestinian Authority regularly glorifies terrorist murderers, such as Dalal Mughrabi and Abu Jihad, by naming streets, schools and sports centres after them. This not only honours these despicable killers but serves as a lethal incitement to murder.

The PA’s media regularly launch hate filled diatribes against Jews and Israel. Programmes on Palestinian television demonise the Jews, likening them to poisonous animals and willingly reproducing the most vicious anti semitic images.

Palestinian textbooks still contain maps that describe Israel as ‘occupied Palestine’ and thereby blot out the existence of the Jewish state. PA appointed imams, including the Mufti of Jerusalem, describe the conflict as an ongoing ‘religious war’ (ribat) and demonise Jews as ‘the enemies of God.’ This frenzied hatred is the fuel that helps keep the conflict alive. It is the polar opposite of promoting a historic reconciliation between the two peoples.

But this is about more than the issue of Abbas’ good intentions (or lack of them). The moment that he signs up to a two state solution, he will be branded a traitor among hardline Arabs, including the secular Palestinian terror groups linked to Fatah. Indeed a collection of radical Palestinian groups has already called on Abbas to resign, furious that he has ‘capitulated’ to American pressure.

With his recent approval ratings in free fall, the Palestinian leader could suffer a dramatic and possibly irreversible fall from grace. Hamas could entrench their power in the West Bank, just as they did in Gaza after the 2006 elections. Their unequivocal rejection of talks was marked by the barbaric murder of four civilians last week.

With a Hamas led government in the West Bank, Israel would then face a trio of hostile enemies on all its borders. Iran would see its power and influence extended west of the River Jordan, while Israel’s deterrent capability would be lethally compromised. Tel Aviv would become as vulnerable to rocket attacks as Sderot. Meanwhile Abbas’ guarantees of security would be as worthless as Hitler’s promises in the Munich agreement.

But right now, Mahmoud Abbas has little to lose from being obdurate. He can count on America to pressurise Israel over settlements, knowing that this issue has assumed totemic significance in Washington. If he makes good on his threat to withdraw from the talks, he will claim that he stood his ground and refused to sell out the Palestinian dream.

He knows that President Obama will curse those ‘pesky’ Zionists, particularly Benjamin Netanyahu, rather than the Palestinian Authority. After all, Obama’s contempt for the Israeli leader is scarcely a state secret, even if he has hidden it for domestic political reasons.

Western leaders must stop deluding themselves. Mahmoud Abbas may not be about to launch the next intifada but he shows little willingness or ability to end this conflict. In some respects he is another Yasser Arafat - with good PR.


31 December, 2013

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"...if Israel really sought the genocide of the Palestinians, it would by now have eradicated every Palestinian in the occupied territories" (Morning Star)

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