Does Mahmoud Abbas want his legacy to be the third intifada?

He decided years ago that he cannot, or will not, accept any realistic two-state parameters that could offer Israel reasonable security.

Palestinian youths hold weapons during a military-style graduation ceremony.  (photo credit: REUTERS)
Palestinian youths hold weapons during a military-style graduation ceremony.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
‘America is the land of solutions. In the Middle East, sometimes there are no solutions.”
A headline in The Jerusalem Post last week read, “Abbas may halt security cooperation with Israel unless Palestine is created.” Conventional wisdom says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ threat to end security cooperation with the IDF is simply empty rhetoric, because Abbas knows very well that without an Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, his PA security forces would be overthrown in short order.
He knows that they would likely follow the infamous path of their comrades in Gaza in 2005 after the Israeli disengagement, and be thrown off 10-story buildings by their “unity partner” Hamas. Both Israel and the PA know that the West Bank would likely become “Hamastan on the Jordan,” a security nightmare for Israel.
President Abbas knows that within a few weeks, or at most a few months, this would become a reality. But what if – this time – something is truly different, and President Abbas really is contemplating ending the security cooperation? Could Abbas have concluded that he needs to start thinking about his legacy and his place in Palestinian folklore?
He decided years ago that he cannot, or will not, accept any realistic two-state parameters that could offer Israel reasonable security, an end to the “Right of Return,” or any shared status on the Temple Mount. We know this because he never responded to prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2007 offer of 96-98% of the West Bank, land swaps, east Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount.
Yet America and the West, which continually pressure Israel and claim that the conflict is all about the settlements and borders, pretend that this offer never occurred. Unfortunately, not even the most critical analysis sees Abbas – or any Palestinian leader – as giving up the right of return, acquiescing to Israel’s minimum security concerns in the Jordan River Valley, or signing any end-of-conflict agreement.
So what options does Abbas really have? In America today, we debate the foreign policy legacy of President Barack Obama. Why? The president wants to be remembered for some foreign policy achievement. President Abbas also wants a legacy. His dream is not to be remembered as the man who gave up Muslim land (dar al-Islam) to the Jews, i.e. any of the land of Israel within the 1949 armistice line.
Perhaps his dream is to emulate his mentor, Yasser Arafat, and be remembered by the Palestinian people as a “freedom fighter.” He may feel he can rewrite history before his time passes, and be remembered as a hero, not as the man who presided over the failed Oslo accords and led a corrupt government that stole hundreds of millions of shekels from his own people.
Perhaps Abbas has come to the realization that even though he is in the 10th year of his four-year term, he is also entering the ninth decade of his life, and will not remain the Palestinian president forever.
Perhaps he would like to be revered in the Mukata in Ramallah, where Arafat lies. To the American Progressive organizations, and President Obama, Abbas is “moderate” and the best peacemaker Israel will ever have. As President Obama said in March of 2013: “Of course, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas.”
It is inconceivable to these progressives that if the right deal were offered with enough territorial concessions, Abbas would not accept it. (Of course, this ignores the 2007 Olmert offer.) They say it is all about the settlements, not the destruction of Israel. They are convinced that there must be a Western- style “solution,” and it simply means removing all the settlements and ending the “oppressive occupation.”
This reveals the schizophrenia of American foreign policy. On one hand, they see the Palestinians as part of the Arab world, where Islamism is on the rise, pushing the West’s “moderate” PA to join a unity government with the Hamas terrorists. On the other hand, America expects Israel to treat the Palestinians as if they were negotiating with Canada, and to trust a Palestinian culture that sees compromise with the West as weakness, or, at best, a strategic choice.
Unfortunately, Abbas lives not in North America, but in the Muslim world, and his predisposition clearly reflects that he is not prepared to accept a Jewish presence in any part of the Levant. The West refuses to acknowledge that in 2015, “secular” Arab leaders like Abbas never will accept the concept of compromise. A good part of the reason why American foreign policy is such a disaster in the Middle East is because it fails to acknowledge that most modern Islamic analysis cannot be reconciled with our Western perspective.
American is the land of solutions. In the Middle East sometimes there are no solutions, or no solutions right now. It is Israel that pays the price because only Israel can be pressured by the United States and the West, i.e. the threat of cutting off diplomatic protection in the international arena. This is a lethal threat for a tiny nation.
Could it be that America’s foreign policy analysts are the ones who are getting it wrong? Do they fail to acknowledge that the motivation of the Palestinians and Arab peoples may be based more on their Islamic religious outlook, and not on resolving centuries- old conflicts between clans and tribes, where nation-states identity is secondary? Despite Abbas wearing a western suit and tie, his words and his people’s actions are more aligned with the unyielding Islamist demands, than with the idea of Western compromise. We are blind to the fact that over the last 20 years Muslim religiosity has replaced a more moderate secular perspective. The result is that American and many Israeli leaders can’t explain the longevity of the conflict because they are married to the idea of compromise, a value embedded in the Western world order.
If you were President Abbas and you knew that you couldn’t bring peace to your people, would you want to be remembered as the impotent corrupt leader of the PA, or would you erase your past and become known as the leader of the glorious third intifada? All of this may be moot as the Palestinian Authority may not be able to dictate events. As the Jerusalem Post reported: “The army has told the government that at any given moment the Palestinian Authority can collapse...
In one of the scenarios that the IDF presented, a small localized security incident, like an altercation between settlers and Palestinians, or the throwing of a Molotov cocktail could quickly escalate to rioting in the Galilee and the Triangle area. With the weakened Palestinian Authority a situation like this is liable to lead to terrorist organizations taking control of the West Bank.”
What should America do? Understand that the chaos of the Middle East and the weakness of the PA make this an inopportune time for final status negotiations.
America’s goal should be to convince Abbas not to start a third intifada and to help the Palestinians build the foundations of a future democracy, with rule of law, tolerance, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech.
In short, America should lead conflict management, not impose solutions where none exist.
The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.