A-little-noticed Reuters item published January 10 reported that Mahmoud Abbas,
the leader of the Palestinian Authority, has rejected a conditional Israeli
offer to let Palestinian refugees in war-torn Syria resettle in the West Bank
and Gaza, because it would compromise their “right of return” to homes in Israel
lost during the 1948 War.
According to this report, Israel agreed to
allow refugees’ descendants to resettle in Gaza and the West Bank on the
condition they sign a statement waiving the right of return to Israel. Abbas
rejected this condition and reportedly said: “It’s better they die in Syria than
give up their right of return.”
This is nothing new; in the past,
Palestinians have rejected attempts to alleviate the conditions of their
refugees by resettling. They kept the refugees, and millions of their
descendants, as a political card. Moreover, the refugees constitute an important
element in their self-propagated image of victimhood and
Instead of helping his people in distress, Abbas, in the best
Palestinian tradition, prefers to cling to the right of return – a demand that
no Israeli government is ever going to accept. Moreover, most of the
international community rejects this Palestinian demand, understanding that
there is broad consensus in Israel against a mass influx of Palestinians that
could destroy its Jewish character.
The Palestinians just missed another
opportunity to demonstrate that they can behave in a constructive fashion and be
of help to its people. Instead of pragmatic politics we see once again
Palestinian adherence to radical goals that continues Palestinian suffering and
that produces obstacles to peace.
ANOTHER RECENT display of such typical
Palestinian preference was provided by Abbas, the “moderate,” when he addressed
his countrymen on January 4. He avoided mentioning the land-for-peace formula,
or the establishment of a Palestinian state beside Israel that could bring an
end to the conflict and the suffering of his people.
He did not prepare
his people for the need to make concessions for the sake of peace. Instead,
Abbas stressed the perennial need to adhere to the path of struggle in order to
realize “the dream of return” of the Palestinian refugees and their
The only explanation for this behavior is that the
Palestinian national movement is very serious about the right of return, despite
the attempts by pundits to propose that goodwill and Israeli territorial
concessions can bring about a Palestinian flexibility on this issue. Dismissing
Palestinian behavior and rhetoric, or belittling its importance in regard to the
refugees amounts to putting your head in the sand. Unfortunately, the DNA of the
Palestinian national movement contains the unrealistic demand for the right of
return. Genetic engineering might be possible to induce some pragmatism, but it
may take generations.
People do not give up easily upon their
THIS IS why Abbas met Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas leader, in Cairo
on January 10. Despite their fundamental ideological differences, they share the
same dream – the destruction of the Jewish state. They may find a way to
cooperate in an attempt to attain this objective, even if this could doom
prospects for Palestinian statehood.
This explains why Abbas insists on
not acknowledging that Israel is a Jewish state and on denying any links of the
Jews to their ancestral homeland.
Abbas also takes measures to encourage
armed struggle against Israel, even if they undermine the state-building efforts
of the PA. He condoned at the end of December 2012 several parades of armed
members of the Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the militia of Fatah, in honor of the
anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement.
toward Palestinian terrorists run counter to the main litmus test of a state –
the monopoly over the use of force. Turning a blind eye to the reemergence of
armed groups in Palestinian society erodes the main achievement of the PA in
recent years – the restoration of law and order following the formal
dismantlement of militias.
The Palestinian armed groups may be tempted to
engage in violent clashes with Israel that will turn out to be disastrous for
the Palestinian selfdetermination and peaceful existence.
non-violence, Abbas is inciting to violence, in the apparent hope that a third
intifada will bring better results than the second.
negotiations and moderation after the upgrading of the PLO to observer state
status by the UN General Assembly in November 2012.
Instead, we get
inflammatory rhetoric and irresponsible, self-defeating policies.
Palestinians, like much of the Arab world, continue to be in urgent need of
better political leadership to extricate them from pathological selfdestructive
The author is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan
University, the director of the Begin-Sadat (BESA) Center for Strategic Studies
and a fellow of the Middle East Forum.