What makes PLO chief and Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas tick?
In 2008, when Abbas rejected then prime minister Ehud Olmert’s expansive offer of Palestinian statehood, he did so for the same reason that Yasser Arafat rejected then prime minister Ehud Barak’s expansive offer of Palestinian statehood at Camp David in 2000.
In both cases, the PLO chiefs believed that if they waited, they could get everything they demanded from Israel – and more – without giving anything away.
As Abbas and Arafat both saw it, eventually either the Israeli Left would successfully erode Israel’s national will to exist, or the Europeans and the US would join forces to coerce Israel into giving up the store. Or both. So there was no reason for the PLO to give up anything.
To get everything in exchange for nothing all they had to do was continuously escalate the PLO’s political warfare against the legitimacy against Israel internationally, and escalate its subversion of Israeli society through political intrigue and terrorism.
Back then, Abbas and Arafat looked forward to the day when they could frame Israel’s unconditional surrender and nail it to their wall.
But things have changed.
The rise of the revolutionary forces in the Islamic world since December 2010 has transformed the political landscape.
The Syrian civil war, the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, the resurgence of al-Qaida franchises, the US’s abandonment of its traditional Arab allies in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood and President Barack Obama’s aspiration to reach a meeting of the minds with the Iranian regime have completely upended the political calculus of all regional actors, including the PLO and Abbas.
As Palestinian affairs expert Reuven Berko wrote in an article published by the Investigative Project on Terrorism last week, if in the past Abbas wouldn’t make a deal with Israel because he could get more by saying no, today Abbas cannot make a deal with Israel.
Any deal he concludes will lead to his overthrow.
Noting that Abbas was recently threatened by al-Qaida chief Ayman Zawahiri who called him, “a traitor who is selling Palestine,” Berko explained, “The threats, veiled or not, by radical Islamists...
and a quick look at Arab-Muslim world, especially Syria, have made it clear to the Palestinians what the future has in store for them, and it now appears that in the meantime, they prefer the status quo to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.”
As Berko sees it, Abbas’s primary problem is the residents of the UN refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and beyond. Israel’s unwillingness to accept a so-called “right of return,” which would enable millions of foreign Arabs residing in terrorist-controlled UN-run refugee camps to immigrate to a postpeace agreement Israel means that in an era of peace, they will move to the newly created state of Palestine.
Berko rightly notes that these immigrants will not regard Abbas as their savior. To the contrary.
“The Palestinian leadership knows that if their demand for Palestinian control of the Jordan Valley crossings were accepted, the operative result would be floods of people seeking entrance into ‘liberated Palestine.’ They know that among them would be operatives of all the Palestinian terrorist organizations, to say nothing of the armed jihadists currently active in the Arab-Muslim world, especially in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, who would stream in ‘to liberate all Palestine.’ “The new Palestinian state would have no grounds to refuse entrance to the ‘jihad heroes,’ or to close its borders to all those attracted by the prosperity in Judea and Samaria, or to those who hoped to enter Israel or to those who intended use ‘Palestine’ as a convenient base from which to attack Israel.”
The new immigrants would overwhelm Abbas and his comrades, making the Hamas ouster of Fatah forces from Gaza in 2007 look like a walk in the park.
Berko limited his discussion to a scenario in which these foreign Arabs are confined to “Palestine.” But if Israel were to agree to his demand that they move into its sovereign territory, Abbas’s future would be no different. If Israel were to publicly renounce its right to exist, cancel the Declaration of Independence and adopt the PLO Charter as its new constitution, Abbas would be no better off than if he conceded Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, compromised on the so-called “right of return,” and accepted the settlements.
In both cases, he would end up like Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi.
It is because he knows this that he will do anything to prevent a peace deal with Israel.
Some Israelis are pleased with Abbas’s stand. As they see it, his position enables Israel and the Palestinians to operate under the status quo more or less unchallenged for the foreseeable future.
There are two problems with this view. First, neither the Americans nor the Israeli Left are willing to let the peace process go. US Secretary of State John Kerry’s decision to devote two hours to yet another meeting with Abbas last week, despite Abbas’s unity deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad shows that Kerry is constitutionally incapable of disengaging.
Likewise, Justice Minister Tzipi Livni’s wildcat diplomacy, which involved an unauthorized meeting with Abbas in London last week, demonstrates that like the Americans, Israel’s Left cannot relent. Livni and her comrades have no issue other than the Palestinian one.
Their political survival is tied to the peace process.
The second problem is Abbas. Whereas he needs to prevent a settlement to keep the jihadists at bay, he needs to escalate the conflict to keep the local Palestinians at bay and maintain the support of the Europeans and the American Left.
Only by scapegoating and criminalizing Israel worldwide can Abbas maintain his relevance to the international Left. And only by enabling and glorifying terrorism and actively inciting for the destruction of Israel can Abbas maintain what is left of his credibility among the Palestinians – five and a half years after his term of office legally ended.
The two-state model is his life preserver.
The policy paradigm is based entirely on the false claim that the cause of all the region’s ills is the absence of a Palestinian state. That state, it is believed, would exist save for Israel’s land greed.
Those who uphold Abbas and the status quo ignore the consequences of Abbas’s own imperatives. In the international arena, preserving the status quo requires Israel to maintain its allegiance to the two-state paradigm’s inherent and malicious slander of the Jewish state. This allegiance in turn makes it impossible for Israel to defend itself effectively against the Palestinian-led campaign to deny its right to exist.
In its internal affairs, maintaining faith in the two-state model and in Abbas as a legitimate and moderate Palestinian leader makes it almost impossible for Israel to take effective measures to defend against the Palestinian terror infrastructure. That infrastructure relies on the Palestinian security forces, which Abbas, our purported peace partner, controls. Israel cannot discredit its “peace partner,” without disowning the phony peace process and rejecting the two-state paradigm. Consequently, it cannot to take the necessary measures – like demanding that the US military stop training the Palestinian security forces – to effectively protect its citizens.
The time has come for Israel to show Abbas the door. It would be best if we can do it quietly – offering him the opportunity to relocate to somewhere warm and retain all the loot he and his cronies have siphoned off for their personal use.
Once Abbas is gone, Israel will have to choose between applying its laws to parts of Judea and Samaria and offering the Palestinians outside those areas a limited form of autonomy, or applying its laws to the entire region, conferring permanent residency status on the Palestinians and offering them the right to apply for Israeli citizenship.
Alarmists argue that without Abbas, Israel will go broke having to finance the Palestinian budget. But this is ridiculous.
Once you subtract the hundreds of millions of dollars that go missing every year, and you take into account that Israel managed to govern the areas for 24 years, you realize that this is just one more empty threat – like the demographic threat – made by people who have no political existence without the façade of a peace process.
Abbas is not an asset. He is a liability. It is time to move past him.
The writer is the author of The Israeli Solution: A One State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.