Kerry may not want Netanyahu back as premier, but Abbas sure does

The PA leader’s actions over the last few months – indeed, over the last few days – indicate that he is interested in keeping Netanyahu well-ensconced in power.

Netanyahu and Abbas (photo credit: REUTERS)
Netanyahu and Abbas
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Long-time State Department Middle East hand Aaron David Miller wrote a piece on Foreign Policy’s website this week under the entertaining headline “All John Kerry Wants for Christmas Is an Israel Without Bibi.”
In this piece, Miller – for the third time this month – warned the US against intervening in the upcoming Israeli elections, saying such intervention could lead to the opposite of what Washington really wanted. And what the US really wanted, said Miller, who retired from the State Department in 2003 after more than two decades of involvement in Israeli- Arab issues, is very clear.
“Given how much Kerry cares about and wants to achieve an Israeli-Palestinian breakthrough (possibly more than anything else on the US diplomatic front), what Kerry really wants for Christmas is Bibi gone and Tzipi Livni – his real peace partner – back on top if not as prime minister, then as key negotiator,” he wrote.
But what about Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas? What is his wish list? What does he want for Milad un Nabi (the day marking the birth of Muhammad), which for Sunnis will be celebrated in the PA on January 3. To steal Miller’s headline, “All Mahmoud Abbas wants for Milad un Nabi is an Israel With Bibi.”
That’s right, as counterintuitive as it might seem, the Palestinian leader’s actions over the last few months – indeed, over the last few days – indicate that he is interested in keeping Netanyahu well-ensconced in power.
Everything from Abbas saying that the Jews must be kept from “contaminating” the Temple Mount, to his inflaming the situation in Jerusalem, to his pushing forward with unilateral moves at the UN Security Council and elsewhere in the international arena, plays into Netanyahu’s hands and reinforces the feeling among wide swaths of the Israeli public that the Palestinian leader is indeed not a partner, and that the world is stacked up against the Jewish state as perhaps never before.
And this is a narrative that plays well into Netanyahu’s hands and strengths, and which he will use to gain support at the polls But why? Why in the world would Abbas – who claims that all he wants is a little state of his own within the 1967 lines, with Jerusalem as its capital and a fair accommodation for descendants of Palestinians refugees – want Netanyahu to remain in power? Because only if Netanyahu remains in power will the world keep up the intensity of its heat on Israel. Only if Netanyahu remains in power does the Palestinian tactic of getting the world to impose an agreement on Israel have a chance of working. Only if Netanyahu stays in power will the current momentum against Israel in the international arena continue. And that is all good for Abbas.
A government headed by Isaac Herzog or Tzipi Livni or Yair Lapid or even Moshe Kahlon (but not Avigdor Liberman), would relieve some of the world’s pressure, even if only temporarily to see where things were headed.
But the last thing Abbas wants right now – when he feels he is just one or two turns of the screw away from getting the world to impose its will on Israel – is for a presentable Israeli face (not the constantly lecturing and hectoring face of Netanyahu) to relieve the heat.
Since the beginning of the Oslo process in 1993, the Palestinian goals have remained the same, only the tactics have changed.
In 1993, Yasser Arafat decided that the best way to achieve those goals was to stop hijacking planes and throwing elderly Jews off cruise liners, and to negotiate. So he negotiated. For seven years the negotiations went on intermittently in what is know as the Oslo process, until he came up at Camp David against a left-wing prime minister in Ehud Barak.
And what Arafat found with Barak was that the most he could get from a left-wing leader still did not meet his minimum goals. There was still a gap.
Arafat at Camp David in the summer of 2000 was faced with an option: either compromise on the goals, or change tactics.
Not exactly known as the “The Great Compromiser,” Arafat changed tactics, and shortly after Camp David broke down, the second intifada was born.
The logic seemed simple: if you can’t get from the Israelis what you want through negotiations, then bomb ‘em, bloody their lip, then they’ll give it to you.
But that, too, didn’t work. Terrorism failed to move the Palestinians to their goals, so it was back to square one.
The goals remained the same, and there was no indication of any compromise, but a new tactic was needed.
And that new tactic is now bearing fruit – getting an impatient world to step in and impose a solution on Israel.
With parliament after parliament in Europe recommending the recognition of Palestine, with the High Contracting Parties to the Fourth Geneva convention meeting in a special session to blast Israel, with the UN Security Council poised to discuss a resolution calling for an Israeli withdrawal within three years, it is very convenient for Abbas to have at the helm in Israel a leader the world widely blames for any lack of movement in the “peace process.”
The very last thing Abbas needs, therefore, is for Netanyahu to lose.
Abbas negotiated with both Ehud Olmert and Livni, and he knows that the most they offered – like Barak to Arafat – did not meet his minimum needs. They could not deliver the goods then, and there is no reason to believe Livni and Herzog can deliver them now.
But the world, Abbas is betting, can deliver Israel, and the momentum is currently in his favor. That momentum might be slowed if one of Netanyahu’s opponents would win the elections, which is why Abbas – counter-intuitively – seems to be comfortable with Netanyahu in power for a few more years. His current actions, in any event, seem to be pointing in that direction.