If Israel had a dollar for every time it was told that there is no better partner for peace than Mahmoud Abbas, the budget deficit could be significantly reduced. Similarly, the tremendous efforts by US Secretary of State John Kerry and the Quartet to bring about peace in the Middle East are accompanied by promises of economic benefits and international aid. It’s not hard to persuade Israelis of the benefits of peace.
We’re not looking for the economic boost; that’s a pleasant bonus.
What we dream of is a quiet life free of fear. And this is something that world leaders cannot promise and Palestinian Authority head Abbas is not interested in delivering.
Abbas might be as good as it gets, but herein lies the rub. The president of the Palestinian Authority is 79 years old and his four-year elected term in office should have come to an end in 2009. Even if Abbas were a marvelous partner (which he’s not), the question remains: Who’s next? While there’s not much to be said in favor of holding this round of general elections in Israel only two years after we last went to the polls, at least it shows a tendency to err in the direction of democracy. That’s a more positive trend than the Palestinians have demonstrated.
Abbas, the darling of the Western world, cannot claim to be the democratically elected representative of the Palestinian people (and defining “the Palestinian people” is a minefield in its own right).
It’s easy to see why Abbas is considered a “moderate”: compared to his Hamas rivals, he is. That’s why he avoids elections and his possible defeat by Hamas by ballot. But part of his strategy of survival is to nurture the climate in which extremists thrive: praising “martyrs,” financing the families of terrorists, and educating the next generation to hate.
This week he turned to the UN Security Council in an apparent bid for recognition of Palestinian statehood.
In September, just after the end of Operation Protective Edge, the same Abbas took a particularly belligerent tone in the UN General Assembly. He was evidently more interested in seeking recognition than seeking peace.
He took a gamble when he established the unity government with Hamas this summer and he lost.
All of us lost. Abbas assumed that it made sense to try to assert his leadership over Hamas in Gaza so that (elected or otherwise) he could at least claim to represent both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
He seemed genuinely shocked at the rapid deterioration into war as Hamas increased the rocket attacks on Israel in response to the arrests of Hamas affiliates after the kidnapping and murder of the three Israeli teens in June.
In a speech he gave soon after the outbreak of hostilities (I heard it on the radio a few hours after the first siren in Jerusalem had warned of incoming missiles), Abbas decried Hamas’s actions, saying it was not “written” that Hamas should launch a war on Israel every two years. Crucially, he was speaking in Arabic (the word he used was “maktub”); this was not for a foreign audience and sensibilities.
Despite his repeated threats to stop the security cooperation with Israel, Abbas is well aware that this, too, could backfire. Without Israeli assistance, he would soon find himself in the blood-soaked hands of Hamas, which is waiting for an opportunity to do to the West Bank what it did in Gaza: Take away hope for a better future and replace it with a Shari’a-compliant entity.
Abbas’s failed bid for recognition in the UN Security Council this week should be seen in this context.
Part of his reasoning was to try to regain credibility among the Palestinians after Hamas’s street cred rose with every missile fired and every building destroyed.
Hamas has mastered the winwin strategy based on martyrdom – fire from within urban centers, including homes, schools and hospitals, and not only does it gain from any damage caused to Israel, it also gains the benefit of being the victim when Israel fires back. It’s monstrous, but it works – more fool the world. Abbas has a tough act to compete with.
He, too, wants a victory: either a diplomatic victory which would allow him to skip all the awkward stages of negotiating borders and recognizing the need for Israel’s security, or to be recognized as the eternal victim, turned down by the states that support the right of Israel to exist. (Or the states that least abstain from a move leading to Israel’s destruction.) It is interesting to note that Abbas hastily pushed his bid at the end of 2014, a day before the Security Council panel composition changed to one more favorable to him. Perhaps he felt he couldn’t lose either way: He is either victor or victim. This wasn’t a bid for recognition of statehood. It was a bid for recognition of Abbas as leader.
No sooner had he lost in the Security Council, than Abbas looked toward “lawfare” and took steps to pave the way for him to further perpetuate Palestinian victimhood by prosecuting Israel in the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes.
Like cultivating terrorism at home, Abbas might find it a double- edged sword.
When he signed a unity government deal with the devil in the summer, Abbas also assumed responsibility for Hamas’s behavior – and that includes the 3,000-plus missiles that were indiscriminately launched from Gaza on Israel during the 50 days of Operation Protective Edge; the existence of the terror tunnels, prepared with the concrete and cement meant to rebuild Gaza; and the “lone wolves” who carry out acts of terror against Israelis and are rewarded by the Palestinian Authority with fame and relative fortune.
Abbas is not interested in justice.
And he’s not interested in peace.
His regular threats to dissolve the PA and return control of the Palestinian- controlled territories to Israel are part of his bluff. The last thing he wants is to go down in history as the Palestinian leader who gave up the fight. Sadly, from his point of view, reaching a real peace agreement with Israel would mean just that. Abbas would rather be remembered as the leader who fought for independence than the statesman who actually achieved it. The price he would have to pay is too high.
And here lies the ultimate tragedy of the Palestinians. Instead of having leaders who boldly make the decision to pursue peace, they have leaders who find it easier to boost their popularity through acts of war; instead of choosing to make progress and build solid foundations for a future state, they’d rather perpetuate the narrative of Palestinian victimhood while trying to bring Israel down.
Instead of open normalization and the benefits of cooperation, Abbas purposely rejects ties, despite the financial crisis that threatens to bring him down more effectively than anything Israel could do.
Were the would-be peacemakers from Europe to stop passing empty resolutions recognizing a nonviable, nondemocratic state within undefined borders, Abbas and his pals might have an incentive to actually make an effort to work for a state instead of simply declaring its existence.
By removing Hamas from the list of terrorist organizations and calling for a special session of the Geneva Convention membership to discuss Israel’s “war crimes,” Europe last month took a step away from peace and did nothing to boost the security of either Israel or the Palestinian Authority.
Given the ascendancy of Islamist streams within Europe and the West, they did not, in fact, make anybody in the world any safer.
There’s a huge difference between declaring statehood and actually building a peaceful, thriving country.
Abbas knows it and so do his potential successors, democratically elected or otherwise. Abbas sees no need to make concessions when taking unilateral steps and threatening Israel is just as effective.
If peace could be imposed, there would be no wars. If Abbas wanted peace, he could have it – and a state too. What he’d do with it is another matter. Hamastan in Gaza should serve as a painful lesson to us all.
If the world really wants to create a new Muslim state in the Middle East, it should be investing its efforts and money in Kurdistan, whose embattled forces are fighting Islamic State, rather than the Palestinians who are partnering with the jihadists. And, Mr. Abbas, to paraphrase a well-known quote: If you want to talk, talk; don’t shoot.
The writer is editor of The International Jerusalem Post.