In a letter to the Middle East Quartet – the US, UN, EU and Russia – Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman called for long overdue Palestinian elections that would oust Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Liberman went on to enumerate a list of positive Israeli gestures toward the PA, which have been answered by the Palestinian leadership with legal and diplomatic warfare, instead of constructive dialogue.

This is not the first time Liberman has blamed Abbas for being an obstacle to peace. Earlier this month, during a meeting with Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr, Liberman stated: “There will be neither diplomatic progress nor an accord with the Palestinians as long as [Abbas] remains in power.”

However, the letter to the Quartet – apparently timed to preempt a new round of diplomatic pressure on Israel expected after the summer – has received more media attention than his past statements, probably because this time Liberman’s critique of Palestinian leadership was put down in writing and sent to the Quartet.

And Liberman has a point. Over the past few months, Israel has taken significant steps to warm relations with the Palestinians – steps that have not been reciprocated.

A particularly blatant example of how the Palestinians have rejected Israeli goodwill was provided on Tuesday.

The same day Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Netanyahu’s special envoy Yitzhak Molcho and Defense Minister Ehud Barak spoke by phone with Abbas, as part of an attempt to reach out to the Palestinians after the Id al-Fitr holiday, the PA president launched a diatribe rejecting the Jewish connection to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount. Israeli excavation work in Jerusalem “will not undermine the fact that the city will forever be Arabic, Islamic and Christian,” Abbas said.

The PA president seemed bent on finding an excuse to bash Israel on the highly sensitive subject of Jerusalem. And he found it.

Apparently, Tuesday was the 43rd anniversary of the attempt by a deranged Australian Christian – Denis Michael Rohan – to set fire to al-Aksa Mosque. Though the attack can certainly not be blamed on Israel or Israelis, Abbas unearthed the unfortunate incident to the revisit the preposterous claim, articulated on numerous occasions by various PA leaders, including Abbas’s late predecessor, Yasser Arafat, that the Jewish people has no ties to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount.

Unfortunately, Liberman’s suggested solution – holding Palestinian elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip – is unlikely to change the situation. The problem is not only the flaws in Abbas’s leadership. The problem is also with the majority of Palestinians who support him.

According to a poll conducted at the end of June by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 49 percent of Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip said they would have voted for Abbas as president if he ran against Ismail Haniyeh, who would have received 44%. No other candidate besides the jailed terrorist Marwan Barghouti is more popular than Abbas. In parliamentary elections, 40% said they would have voted for Abbas’s Fatah party, while just 29% said they would have voted for its rival, Hamas, which controls Gaza.

Abbas’s policies are also popular among his people. Some 73% of those surveyed said they supported the PA’s decision to turn to the UN for international recognition of Palestinian statehood within the entire territory of the West Bank and east Jerusalem. And 58% supported a unilateral declaration of statehood. Nonviolent popular resistance was supported by 57%. Just 49% supported a two-state solution achieved through dialogue. (A surprising 37% supported launching an armed intifada.)

Liberman might be right that Abbas is an obstacle to peace. But, regrettably, Abbas is just a reflection of public opinion on the Palestinian street. Until that public opinion reconciles itself to living in peace alongside a Jewish and democratic Israel, the resolution of the conflict will remain unattainable. A strong leader, such as South Africa’s former president Nelson Mandela, has to lead his followers away from violence and toward peaceful reconciliation, rather than allow himself to be dragged along by his people.

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