Arafat in a suit

Abbas has made a strategic decision to raise the negotiating bar too high for any Israeli leader to contemplate.

Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
TEN YEARS after Yasser Arafat’s death, it is time to ask how Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas differs from his revolutionary predecessor.
Western observers find it almost impossible to comprehend how Arafat, “the militant terrorist,” was able to garner more popular support in Israel for peacemaking than Abbas, “the moderate gentleman in a suit.” In Arafat’s heyday, 70 percent of Israelis backed the Camp David initiative in July 2000; today, public support for a deal with the Palestinians under Abbas has dwindled to 40 percent.
Part of the problem is that over the past decade public belief in the possibility of peace has declined sharply.
There are many reasons for this. The most obvious is Palestinian violence. After Camp David, Israel experienced a murderous fiveyear long intifada in which more than a thousand people, mostly civilians, were killed, and saw Palestinians turning the historic disengagement from Gaza in 2005 into a launching pad for terror.
The quality of Palestinian leadership also contributed to growing Israeli skepticism.
Arafat was regarded as a terrorist leader who had made a 180 degree turn toward peaceful coexistence, until it turned out that he had been lying and cheating all along. Today Abbas is paying the price of Arafat’s treachery. But he too has made a major contribution to the lack of faith Israelis have in the Palestinians. Many see him as a weak leader totally incapable of delivering anything worthwhile.
The main reason for this is the perception that Abbas will never sign a peace treaty with Israel. Abbas, it seems, wants to go down in history as the first president of an independent Palestine state, but not as the first Palestinian leader to append his signature to a historic compromise with the Zionist movement for the partition of Palestine. Abbas is afraid to touch an agreement even the Grand Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini and the Rais Arafat wouldn’t dare sign – an agreement that would be regarded by the Arab side as an “instrument of surrender” to the Jews and a betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
That is why Abbas presents unreasonable peace demands. He has made a strategic decision to raise the negotiating bar far too high for any Israeli leader to contemplate – just so that he, Abbas, will not be labeled as the man who ceded half of Palestine.
Abbas’s attitude to Hamas is also problematic. Before the fighting in Gaza in the summer, Abbas pressed for the establishment of a government of national unity with Hamas; now, however, he speaks of Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniyeh as bitter enemies, out to topple him. In this he resembles Arafat, who used Israel as a whip against Hamas. He needs to make up his mind: Is he embracing or shooting at Hamas? More importantly, as far as Israel is concerned, is Abbas an enemy or a genuine peace partner? How can he accuse Israel of “genocide” and at the same time cooperate with Israeli security forces across the West Bank? How can he incite against and threaten Israel while his security personnel coordinate closely with Israeli officers, exchanging intelligence and together stamping out Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror? In his battle against Hamas, Abbas relies almost exclusively on Israel. The day the security coordination ceases, he and other PA leaders will probably find their way to life in exile abroad.
Abbas was marketed by the Palestinians as the only leader with whom Israel would be able to make peace, and was seen by certain groups in Israel as an alternative Palestinian leader who came “very close to reaching an agreement” with former prime minister Ehud Olmert and then foreign minister Tzipi Livni. But, sad to say, he is far from being a man of peace. His current strategy, turning to the UN for a binding resolution, is designed to win statehood without having to sign a peace deal with Israel.
Indeed, the man who by “internationalizing the conflict” hopes to get the return of all the refugees, all of East Jerusalem, dismantlement of all the Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders and independence for the Palestinians without making peace seems more and more like Arafat in a suit.  Col. (Res.) Dr. Moshe Elad, a former military governor of Jenin and Bethlehem and a former head of Security Coordination with the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, lectures on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the Western Galilee College