Peace divide

The capacity to make peace depends on changing perceptions – including the national narratives we tell ourselves and our peoples. The fallout from Abbas’s Channel 2 interview is yet another dismal indicator that the Palestinian people have yet to be prepared by their leadership for such a change.

November 4, 2012 20:55
3 minute read.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2

Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2. (photo credit: Screenshot)


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In an interview last week with Channel 2’s Udi Segal, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas presented a surprisingly moderate stance vis-à-vis Palestinians’ “right of return.”

Though he clarified that the issue would have to be settled in negotiations, Abbas admitted that he personally had no “right” to return permanently to his birthplace in Safed.

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“Palestine now for me is the [June 4], 1967, borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital,” he said. “This is now and forever.... This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah.”

Abbas even went on to reject references in official Palestinian television to places such as Acre, Ramle and Jaffa – all cities well within sovereign Israel – as “Palestine,” and added, “I believe that [the] the West Bank and Gaza is Palestine and the other parts [are] Israel.”

Abbas’s comments for Channel 2 were reminiscent of statements the PA president purportedly made during negotiations in 2008 with then-prime minister Ehud Olmert and then-foreign minister Tzipi Livni.

According to the “PaliLeaks” documents apparently leaked by the Palestinian Negotiation Support Unit to Al Jazeera and The Guardian and made public in January 2011, Abbas admitted that “on numbers of refugees, it is illogical to ask Israel to take 5 million, or even 1 million – that would mean the end of Israel.”

Both the Channel 2 interview and the PaliLeaks documents seemed to reveal a refreshing pragmatism and willingness to compromise among the Palestinian leadership.


One of the major obstacles to peace – the issue of the Palestinian insistence on the “right of return” for millions of “refugees” – appeared to be eminently soluble.

Unfortunately, as in the aftermath of the PaliLeaks revelations, high-ranking Palestinian officials rushed to “clarify” Abbas’s comments, revealing once again the yawning divide that continues to separate our two peoples.

Rather than using Abbas’s comments on the “right of return” as an opportunity to show the world that Palestinians are willing to show flexibility on a maximalist demand that would mean the end of Israel as a state with a Jewish majority, the official PA reaction was the complete opposite.

Nabil Abu Rudaineh, a spokesman for Abbas, responding to sharp criticism of the PA president on the Palestinian street, reiterated Palestinian intransigence on the refugee issue.

“The position of the Palestinian leadership remains fixed,” Abu Rudaineh said. “The refugees and the right of return are among the final-status issues that will be negotiated with the Israelis.” He went on to say that Abbas’s interview was nothing more than a tactical move aimed at “affecting Israeli public opinion.”

Even if we are to take Abbas’s comments at face value and believe that he and others in the PA are responsible leaders sincerely interested in working toward a sovereign Palestinian state living in peace alongside the Jewish state of Israel, this is not enough. Abbas is paying for his own and his leadership’s insistence on saying one thing in public and something else altogether behind closed doors or in an interview aimed at the Israel public.

When speaking to the Palestinians, the Abbas-led PA has consistently marginalized or outright denied the Jewish people’s historic, religious and cultural ties to the Land of Israel. It has glorified terrorists who have massacred Israelis, while depicting the Jews of Israel as evil and rapacious.

Given the narrative they are fed by their leaders, why would the Palestinian people agree to compromise with an ostensibly illegitimate Zionist entity on the refugee issue? Why would they be willing to give up a “right of return” that has become an integral part of Palestinian identity? Abbas and other Palestinian leaders could and should have worked to prepare their people for peace with Israel.

They could and should have adjusted the public messages to the Palestinian people to reflect the types of sane and realistic statements made to Channel 2 or behind closed doors in negotiations with Israel.

The capacity to make peace depends on changing perceptions – including the national narratives we tell ourselves and our peoples. The fallout from Abbas’s Channel 2 interview is yet another dismal indicator that the Palestinian people have yet to be prepared by their leadership for such a change.

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