Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (R) and US President Donald Trump listen to anthems during a welcome ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem on May 23, 2017.
(photo credit: THOMAS COEX / AFP)
On Thursday, Bloomberg quoted a Palestinian Authority official saying that PA President Mahmoud Abbas is willing to forgo his usual preconditions for negotiations with Israel – such as a freeze on all settlement construction – in order to give the administration in Washington “a chance to deliver.”
In addition, according to the report, Mohammad Mustafa, Abbas’s senior economic adviser and former deputy prime minister, said that the Palestinian leader will “tone down his campaign to prosecute Israel for alleged war crimes and to rally condemnation of the Jewish state at the United Nations.”
This claim came mere days after Fatah Central Committee member Jibril Rajoub, head of the Palestinian Football Association and Olympic committee, declared in an interview on Israel’s Channel 2 that the Western Wall in Jerusalem “must be under Israeli sovereignty, but the Temple Mount is ours.”
Rajoub proceeded to praise US President Donald Trump for his “clear intentions for an ultimate deal to end the suffering of both peoples.”
Neither Mustafa nor Rajoub was telling the truth, of course. Rajoub even issued a firm denial in Arabic the day after the interview. But the relatively mild rhetoric used by each was highly significant, as it was the direct result of a tongue-lashing that Trump gave Abbas less than three weeks ago in Bethlehem, for being deceitful about his role in incitement to violence.
Buoyed by the warmth with which he had been greeted at the White House on May 3, and familiar with the previous American administration’s continual appeasement, Abbas was stunned by the reprimand.
Although Trump should have been informed by his advisers that Abbas is and always has been a bald-faced liar – professing to seek statehood and peace, while funding and glorifying terrorists and infusing hatred for Israel and the Jews into the PA education system and media – he was apparently taken aback when shown very recent concrete examples.
Trump’s surprise at something so self-evident was disconcerting, particularly in light of his faith in his ability to facilitate a deal between Israel and the PA, and his backtracking on his promise to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. His response to being manipulated by the aging despot, however, was heartening.
In a global context, Trump’s dressing down of Abbas constituted a welcome shift in the attitude of the administration in Washington to its place among nations. One shudders to remember, for instance, that former US secretary of state John Kerry allowed Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to browbeat him shamelessly and with impunity during the negotiations that led to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action – the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers signed in July 2015.
More specifically, Trump’s bark caused Abbas and his henchmen to fear that a bite might follow. Whether any pain is actually inflicted remains to be seen, but in the Middle East, perception often carries more weight than reality.
This is not to say that all an American president has to do to force the Palestinians to make peace with Israel is flex his muscles. On the contrary, even if Abbas does end up agreeing to resume dead peace talks toward a two-state solution, nothing will come of it. The PA is a corrupt, failed entity that has squandered every opportunity – and billions of dollars – on blocking both coexistence and statehood. As Evelyn Gordon wrote in Commentary on Thursday, “[T]here’s one very simple reason why Israel still controls the West Bank: The Palestinians have consistently refused repeated offers to give it to them.”
Indeed, this week marked the 50th anniversary of the Six Day War, the start of the Israeli occupation that Abbas constantly decries. Yet he and the rest of the Palestinian leadership openly bemoan the “catastrophe” of the establishment of the Jewish state in 1948, and promote the “liberation of Palestine, from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea.” What they want just as badly, however, is to maintain a stranglehold on their people and keep their hands in the till.
Trump may not be versed in the complexity of the conflict, but his gut reaction to Abbas’ two-faced machinations served a happy purpose: to cut the terrorist-ina- tie down to size.The writer is an editor at the Gatestone Institute.