(photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s rambling two-hour-plus speech before a gathering of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s aging leadership in Ramallah this week was another depressing reminder that the leader of the Palestinian people is more comfortable in the role of paranoid rejectionist than as a leader with a vision for the future.
The speech, which might be one of the octogenarian president’s last, was a sad testament to over a decade of failed leadership that has led Palestinians nowhere.
Though he managed to curb the anarchy and violence that nearly led to the implosion of Palestinian society after he took over Palestinian leadership from Yasser Arafat in 2004, he has done little since.
The PA remains corrupt, riddled with cronyism and intolerant to criticism. Abbas is an unpopular leader who has lacked a democratic mandate since January 2009, when his four-year term as president ended. No elections have been held in the West Bank and Gaza since 2006, when Hamas won a plurality of the vote.
Abbas has failed practically every challenge. He has not unified the Palestinian people who are split between the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Fatah-controlled West Bank; he skirted his responsibility as leader by not reacting to then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s serious peace overture in 2009; he has failed to take advantage of his extended stint as president to present his people with a vision for the future that includes a more pragmatic and moderate approach to peace that emphasizes quality of life and economic stability; he has not even set in place contingency plans for the day after his departure from the political stage though he is in poor health.
And yet Abbas seems convinced that everyone conceivable – except Abbas of course – is responsible for Palestinians’ plight. Colonialist Europeans – including the 17th-century English leader Oliver Cromwell – were responsible for ruining Palestinian society by sending European Jews to Palestine. The creation of the State of Israel was a ploy instigated by Europeans to force the Palestinians to pay the price for the Holocaust perpetrated by the Jews.
The Palestinians, meanwhile, are, according to Abbas, passive victims, not the intransigent and violent populace that rejected partition, resorted to terrorism long before 1967 and voted into power Hamas, a terrorist organization that seeks to destroy Israel and replace it with a Islamic caliphate that punishes apostasy with death, delegates non-Muslims and women to a subordinate status, and justifies suicide bombings as a legitimate response to the Jewish people’s realization of political self-determination in its historic homeland.
Abbas made it very clear this week what he rejects: recognition of the Jewish people’s historic and religious claims to the Land of Israel; acceptance of the US as the principal broker in peace negotiations with Israel; making painful concessions for the sake of peace; normalization of relations with Israel as a precursor to peace; stopping the transfer of foreign aid to terrorists and their families.
But he gave no reason for hope, no sense that he was leading his people toward a goal.
Perhaps Abbas is under the impression he is restoring the Palestinians’ lost honor by lashing out at the US president with epithets such as “May God destroy your house,” or by vowing not to cooperate with the US in its peace initiative or by shouting bluster at Donald Trump such as “Damn your money!” But the opposite is true. Abbas’s pitiful performance is yet another missed opportunity to lead his people into a better, more promising era. Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt have been pressuring him to adopt a more pragmatic stance toward peace negotiations.
Instead of using Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital as an opportunity for more intransigence, use it as a chance to extract more concessions in negotiations with Israel. Instead of focusing on self-pity and victim-playing, Abbas should be taking advantage of the changing attitudes toward Israel to enlist Arab nations’ support for a comprehensive peace agreement that would improve the lives of Palestinians.
Unfortunately, Abbas seems incapable of changing course. He has thrived under the status quo of protracted conflict for so long that he cannot imagine a better reality. Doing so would be tantamount to admission of his own failure.