Encountering Peace: Abbas, man of peace

It is amazing – and telling – that Israeli media did not cover the extensive interview with Mahmoud Abbas on Channel 2 Saturday night, where the PA president reiterated his desire to end the conflict.

Palestinian Authority President Abbas faced the Israeli nation on Saturday evening on Channel 2’s Meet the Press and answered every question Israelis have regarding the seriousness of the Palestinians regarding peace. To me, it is quite amazing that none of the Israeli newspapers wrote anything about the interview on Sunday morning. I am quite sure that if Abbas had spoken against peace it would have made headlines.
If Abbas did not say he wanted to reach a full comprehensive agreement that would end the conflict and end all historic claims, as he did, it would have made news.
If he did not say he was against unilateral declarations of independence, maybe the media would have paid attention.
If he did not say that as long as he was president there would be no return to violence and terrorism, perhaps the interview would have been mentioned on Israel Radio. If Abbas didn’t once again condemn the terrorist attack in Itamar, and say that slaughtering children was an inhuman and immoral act, then his remarks would have surely been covered.
But Abbas said all those things and added that he wanted to negotiate a permanent and final-status peace agreement. He said that from the point reached with Ehud Olmert, finalizing the agreement could be completed in one week. He said that if Binyamin Netanyahu would only signal that he is serious about negotiating peace by saying the border would be based on the 1967 borders with agreed swaps, he would show up immediately for negotiations. Abbas said several times that he is opposed to unilateral Palestinian steps, even though more than 120 countries already recognize the state of Palestine within the 1967 borders.
It doesn’t matter who is on our side, he said, we want a negotiated peace agreement, we want to reach an agreement for two states living side-by-side in peace. He repeated this message throughout the interview. Abbas said he would never agree to a state with provisional borders, but was quite ready to accept incremental implementation of a permanent-status agreement.
When asked about his desire to negotiate unity with Hamas, Abbas responded that when the PA is divided, Israel uses this as an excuse for not negotiating, but if he speaks to Hamas about unity, this too is used as an excuse for not negotiating. Abbas said that only he has the legitimate right to negotiate on behalf of the Palestinian people, and that Hamas accepts this.
He further said Hamas accepts a Palestinian state in the June 4, 1967 borders, and that in his opinion Hamas could be moved to accept peace. Hamas is part of the Palestinian people, as is Gaza, despite the fact that Hamas has committed serious crimes against Palestinian.
The Palestinian people must have the right to decide whom they want to lead them.
If Abbas fails to deliver on his promises for statehood and peace, he will resign. He said there will be new elections, and the people will decide what to do. He said he cannot guarantee what will happen then. He did say that one possibility is that the PA would cease to exist, making Israel fully responsible for what happens in the territories.
Dana Weiss, the Channel 2 interviewer, pushed Abbas on why he refuses to sit with Netanyahu. Abbas replied that he spent more than 15 hours with Netanyahu, but that the prime minister rejected the two main conditions for reaching agreement: accepting the June 4, 1967 borders with agreed swaps as the basis for the two states, and a moratorium on settlement building while the negotiations were going on.
So what is there to negotiate? There has never been a Palestinian leader who has spoken so directly, so clearly or with such determination about making peace. Dov Weissglas, director of the prime minister’s bureau under Ariel Sharon, also said Abbas was a man of peace, and that reaching an agreement with him was possible. Weissglas placed the full responsibility for no negotiations today on Netanyahu.
Netanyahu’s cabinet secretary, Zvi Hauser, gave a rather pathetic response, saying Abbas was detached from reality, because how would it be possible to reach an agreement on a 100-year conflict in one week? Hauser again blamed him for not being credible.
OUR SITUATION is much like a Greek tragedy, where the timing is never right and everyone ends up dead in the end. We really do need Netanyahu to be the leader who makes peace with the Palestinians, but we don’t have time for him to have an epiphany, as Olmert, Sharon and Yitzhak Rabin did . September is rapidly approaching, and that will be a critical time.
The Middle East is raging with people who are no longer willing to accept an existence without freedom, liberty and dignity. The main target of the Palestinian people is not their own regime, although almost all want new elections. Their main address is the occupation.
The international consensus backing the two-state solution sees Israel as responsible for it not being implemented.
The occupation is rejected by the whole world.
Israel’s isolation is growing. Dissatisfaction with Israel’s policies is even growing among world Jewry. Refusal to make peace along the 1967 lines with agreed territorial swaps is unacceptable.
Palestinians have agreed to concessions which make the two-state solution possible and desirable. With leaders like Abbas on the Palestinian side, it is criminally irresponsible not to end the conflict.
The writer is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and is now founding the Center for Israeli Progress (http://israeli-progress.org).