PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Jason Greenblatt, US President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, in Ramallah..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If the leaders of the Palestinian Authority had invested as much time, energy and other people’s money in building a flourishing society as they do in the pursuit of death and destruction, there would be no need for outside efforts to broker peace between them and their Israeli counterparts. It takes only about 30 minutes to drive from the Mukata presidential compound in Ramallah to the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem. Yet it is still easier for dignitaries from the United States and Europe to spend hours on flights to Tel Aviv for the purpose of talking about a two-state solution than it is for PA President Mahmoud Abbas to budge in any direction other than backwards.
Take last week, for instance, which began with the Palestinians’ refusal to host US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman – whom US President Donald Trump has included in his Middle East peace-making team, along with advisers Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner – in Ramallah. Friedman is too pro-Israel, as far as Abbas is concerned. As a result, the meeting between American and Palestinian officials on Tuesday took place at the King David Hotel in west Jerusalem.
On Thursday, Greenblatt joined fellow envoys of the Middle East Quartet – the US (which he represents), the European Union, the United Nations and Russia – in Jerusalem “to discuss current efforts to advance Middle East peace, as well as the deteriorating situation in Gaza.”
Also on Thursday, Greenblatt announced that Israel had agreed to sell the PA 34 million cubic meters of water. This, he said, in addition to an electricity deal reached between Israel and the PA on Monday, will improve the Palestinians’ standard of living.
Meanwhile, in Washington, DC, on Wednesday, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted a hearing on the proposed Taylor Force Act, named after the former US Army officer who, while on a trip to Israel in March 2016, was stabbed to death by a knife-wielding Palestinian on a rampage in Tel Aviv.
The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina), Dan Coats (R-Indiana) and Roy Blunt (R-Missouri), aims to halt American aid to the PA until it stops paying salaries and stipends to imprisoned terrorists and the families of those “martyred” while murdering Israelis.
Testifying before the committee on behalf of the bill, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations Elliott Abrams – who served as deputy assistant to the president and deputy national security adviser in the George W. Bush administration – railed against the “Palestinian practice of making payments to individuals convicted of acts of terror, and their families or survivors, in accordance with the severity of their acts and the length of their sentences.” The “predictable effect of this practice,” he said, “is to reward and incentivize acts of terror.”
Pointing to the billions of dollars that the US has poured into the PA since its establishment in the 1990s, Abrams said, “As long as the Palestinian government is in effect rewarding terror, we need to be sure we make our objections – our condemnation – known, and that cannot be merely in words. Our assistance program must reflect our feeling of repugnance.”
He then proposed a revision to the bill that would enable the US to continue funding hospitals and other projects that benefit the Palestinian people, while preventing the money from lining the pockets of corrupt bureaucrats.
Whether this carrot-and-stick approach to the PA was purposeful or inadvertent is unclear. What is certain, however, is that the PA president is not turning over a new leaf. Earlier this month, as Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) reported, Abbas was quoted on Fatah’s official Facebook page as proclaiming: “Even if I have to leave my position, I will not compromise on the salary of a martyr or a prisoner, as I am the president of the entire Palestinian people, including the prisoners, the martyrs, the injured, the expelled and the uprooted.”
This sentiment was echoed recently by PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah. Hamdallah – who launched the first-ever Palestinian-owned power substation in Jenin with Israeli National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Minister Yuval Steinitz on Monday, and signed the electricity deal touted by Greenblatt – vowed last month to continue rewarding terrorists.
On June 16, according to PMW, the official PA newspaper quoted Hamdallah announcing: “On behalf of... Abbas and our Palestinian people, I salute all of the martyrs’ families... [and] emphasize to them that their rights are protected...We remember the sacrifices and struggle of the pure martyrs, guardians of the land and identity, who have turned our people’s cause into a historical epic of struggle and resolve.”
Hamdallah’s reassurance came on the heels of US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s claim that the PA’s “intent is to cease the payments to the families of those who have committed murder or violence against others.” Ironically, both Israeli and Palestinian officials were incensed by the statement, and Tillerson was forced to modify it. Washington and Ramallah – he said the following day – are engaged in an “active discussion” on the matter.
So far, however, all Abbas has done is call the shots on the venue of a meeting between his honchos and Trump’s team, agree to water and electricity deals that benefit the PA and give the White House cause for false optimism. Undoubtedly, he has already figured out how to get around the Taylor Force Act, if and when it passes. A revised, bipartisan version of the bill, in particular – geared toward guaranteeing that ordinary Palestinians are not robbed of humanitarian services as a result of their leaders’ violations – will provide him with sufficient loopholes to keep his “martyrs” in clover.
The distance between Ramallah and Jerusalem may be a mere 16 km, but it – like peace – is lightyears away.The writer is an editor at the Gatestone Institute.