The day after Israel celebrates its 69th Independence Day, US President Donald Trump will greet PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas at the White House. The date of their meeting, May 3, is notable not least for its timing.
The timing of the meeting presumes a linkage between the establishment of Israel and the establishment of a Palestinian state. This is not merely obnoxious, it is also blind to reality.
In reality, an independent state of Palestine has existed for the past 12 years in Gaza. Rather than build that up and declare independence, Abbas and his comrades surrendered Gaza to Hamas in 2007.
Hamas, in turn, transformed independent Palestine into a base for jihad.
Jibril Rajoub discusses Trump and Abbas conversation on March 15, 2017 (credit: SETH J. FRANTZMAN)
Abbas’s failure to declare independence in 2005 – and the subsequent failure of his US-trained forces to defend their control over Gaza in June 2007 from Hamas terrorists – is generally overlooked. But it is critical that Trump understand the significance of his behavior before he meets with Abbas.
Since the inception of the peace process between Israel and the PLO in 1993, the professed goal of the PLO has been to establish an independent Palestinian state on any territory over which it was able to take control from Israel. Yet 12 years ago, when Israel withdrew its citizens and military from Gaza, the PLO refused to take responsibility for the area insisting ridiculously that Gaza was still controlled by Israel.
Then 10 years ago, US-trained PLO forces fled to Israel rather than defend their control of Gaza when Hamas took up arms against them.
There are, it seems, two main reasons for Abbas’s behavior. The first is directly related to how he understood Israel’s decision to withdraw.
In December 2003, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon stunned the country when he adopted the platform of the Labor Party – which he had just massively defeated in the general elections – and removed all Israeli communities and military installations from Gaza, including from the border with Egypt, by the end of 2005.
Israeli society was nearly torn apart in the one year and eight months between Sharon’s surprise announcement and the expulsion of Gaza’s Jews in August 2005. The media hemorrhaged with continuous propaganda that demonized the Israeli residents of Gaza and the religious Zionist community in general.
A reminder of that toxic period came earlier this month, when Haaretz
published a column by veteran reporter Yossi Klein in which he alleged that religious Zionists posed a graver danger to the State of Israel than Hezbollah.
Abbas and his lieutenants viewed the domestic chaos that engulfed Israel at the time as proof of Israel being on its way off the stage of history.
If this was how Israelis reacted to the destruction of 21 communities in Gaza (and four in northern Samaria) and the dispossession of 10,000 Israelis, it was clear to Abbas and his comrades that Israeli society would collapse if Sharon carried out his plan to reenact the Gaza withdrawal tenfold in Judea and Samaria after the 2006 elections.
Why accept Gaza if all of Israel was about to be destroyed – by its own hand? The second reason that Abbas didn’t declare independence in Gaza, is because he had no interest in being held accountable for his behavior – as leaders of independent states are. If he accepted sovereign power, then the Palestinians as well as Israel and, presumably, the rest of the world would be able to hold him to account for what happened within the territory he controlled. His ability to blame Israel for his failures would be diminished, at least in theory.
Far better, Abbas concluded, to pretend that Israel’s withdrawal was meaningless and blame Israel for his failure to govern his own territory.
Both reasons for Abbas’s rejection of responsibility over Gaza are important because they also reflect the views of the Palestinians as a whole.
Dan Polisar, from Shalem College, summarized in a recent article in the online magazine Mosaic, his study of more than 400 public opinion surveys of the Palestinians in Judea, Samaria and Gaza taken by professional pollsters over the past 23 years.
Like Abbas in 2005, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians believe that Israel isn’t long for this world.
In one 2011 survey, for instance, a mere 23% of Palestinians said they were certain that Israel will continue to exist 25 years hence. 44% were certain it would not.
The fact that more than three quarters of Palestinians are uncertain if Israel will survive is not only a function of Israel’s own self-destructive behavior – it is premised as well on Palestinian ideology.
The vast majority of Palestinians reject Israel’s right to exist. Indeed, a mere 12% of Palestinians believe that Jews have ties to the land of Israel.
Polisar showed that, whereas a plurality to a bare majority of Palestinians accepts the premise of a twostate solution, the overwhelming majority reject any deal that would leave Israel intact as a viable state capable of defending itself. Equally importantly, 68% of Palestinians believe that even if a Palestinian state is established in Gaza, Judea and Samaria with Jerusalem as its capital, they should continue to aspire to Israel’s destruction.
In other words, even if the PLO signs a deal with Israel that says the conflict has been resolved, for 68% of Palestinians the conflict will continue. They oppose ending the education of their children to seek Israel’s destruction and accepting Israel as a peaceful neighbor.
This then, brings us to Trump’s visit with Abbas, the day after Israel’s 69th birthday.
What does he intend to discuss with Abbas? From media reports, it appears that Trump intends to discuss the Palestinian Authority’s subsidization of terrorism to the tune of $300 million each year, which it pays out as salaries to terrorists in Israeli prisons and as stipends to their families.
In an interview with Sean Hannity on Fox News earlier this week, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu urged Trump to hold Abbas to account for his massive budgetary outlays to terrorists and their families. He asked that Trump demand as well that Abbas stop the PA ’s indoctrination of the Palestinians to seek the annihilation of Israel and the murder of its citizens.
This is well and good. But it seems a bit beside the point. The point is that 69 years ago, the Jews established our state. A Palestinian state was not established then or since, not because Israel was unwilling for such a state to come into being, but because the Palestinians refuse to accept Israel’s right to exist.
If any good is to come from Trump meeting with Abbas – on May 3 or at any other time – then he should send the following message to Abbas and to the rest of the world.
To date, the US has supported the goal of Palestinian statehood, because it convinced itself that the Palestinians were interested in a state that would live at peace with Israel. The US pressured Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians in order to encourage them to accept Israel. And the US funded the PA thinking that doing so would advance the cause of peace. It trained and armed PA security forces for the same reason.
To date, the Palestinians, the PLO and the PA have not lived up to their side of the bargain – on anything.
They have not come to terms with Israel’s existence; they have not abjured terrorism; and they have not accepted responsibility for the areas under their control, either in Gaza, or in Judea and Samaria.
Since his is a new administration, Trump is willing to give Abbas the benefit of the doubt for three months. In that time Abbas needs to stop all financial transfers to terrorists and their families – in and out of prison; he needs to change the names of all the public sites now named after terrorists; and he needs to purge all anti-Jewish content from his PA -controlled media and mosques.
If Abbas fails to do all of these things by August 3, then the Trump administration will abandon its support for Palestinian statehood and its recognition of the PLO .