President Rivlin with PA President Abbas.
(photo credit: Mark Neiman/GPO)
The death of former prime minister and president Shimon Peres provided Israeli and Arab commentators with a golden opportunity to speak and write about the nonexistent peace process once more. From both sides of the political map, both in Israel and in the Arab world, the papers were covered with views about one of Israel’s most distinguished and globally recognized leaders. And as his body was put into the ground, the same pages became rife with opinions, slander and praise for the attendance of one man – Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.
Abbas, persuaded to attend the funeral by Peres’s daughter, put together his band of merry men and made his way to Jerusalem. When he arrived at Mount Herzl, Abbas made an unexpected yet inevitable gesture – he shook Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hand, and the merry men all followed his lead. Throughout the solemn event, Abbas was attentive, stern and at times even mournful.
The keen editors of the region did not miss a beat. As the headlines about Peres faded, new ones appeared about Abbas’s gesture to Israel. Abbas became the target of scores of journalistic arrows, some of Mars and some of Cupid. Lingering columns speculated about what compelled the PA president to make the precarious journey all the way to Netanyahu’s arm(s).
The word “Oslo” skyrocketed on Google’s Trends analysis.
Superlatives were thrown around like pies at a country fair, ranging from “courageous” and “visionary,” to “despicable” and “traitorous.” Hamas’s swift tweets managed to edit out a picture of Abbas leaning his forehead on his head, scorning him for sobbing at the Zionist leader’s funeral.
There is but one thing both sides were disregarded, and it has been the reality of this region as far as the elders of Zion can remember: real conversations, genuine gestures and true understandings are achieved behind closed doors, in rooms with no reporters. The latest rapprochement between Israel and Turkey was not initiated with a photo-op of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu. The rumored revolution in Israeli-Saudi relations was not televised. Israeli humanitarian aid to Syria’s southern residents is not plastered all over daily newspapers. Whatever advancements are made toward normalization between Israel and its neighbors, the public will be made aware of them only after the fact.
And as far as Abbas’s appearance next to Netanyahu for the first time in the past six years, that was merely a courteous gesture to a distant acquaintance, next to the grave of a mutual friend and foe. Both were simply attending the ceremony that laid to rest the architect of the Oslo accords, and possibly envisioned the accords themselves being covered in earth next to him.The author is founder of the Middle East Learning Academy, and is pursuing a PhD in Middle East history at the Tel-Aviv University.