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.
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.
has a point. Over the past few months, Israel has taken significant steps to
warm relations with the Palestinians – steps that have not been
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
The PA president seemed bent on finding an excuse to bash Israel on
the highly sensitive subject of Jerusalem. And he found it.
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
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
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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