Middle Israel: To Mahmoud Abbas

Like Israel's Moshe Sharett, you were too much of a diplomat and too little of a warrior.

amotz asa el 88 (photo credit: )
amotz asa el 88
(photo credit: )
You were no Yasser. First, you won our respect because you were a real refugee, one whose origins were clearly local and whose departure from this sorry land as a 13-year-old boy in 1948 was neither your fault nor your choice. In times when refugees were routinely impersonated by hypocrites like Edward Said and abused by a slew of Arab governments, good Jews knew to identify a real refugee and respect his cause. You also were no Arafat because your career was less violent than his. Arafat never did anything like teach in an elementary school, as you did in Syria during your twenties, and you are not known to have personally taken to the battlefield, as Arafat did in the 1970s in Jordan and in the 1980s in Lebanon before ending his life in that physical and metaphorical bunker, the one where you have tried, and now failed, to turn a new leaf in your people's history.
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You spent several years roaming academic corridors in communist Moscow, where you ultimately collected what passed there for a PhD. Arafat never had time, or appreciation, for that kind of endeavor, preferring instead to focus on generating mayhem. You are believed to have generally shunned that part of the Palestinian cause, with the notable exception of having reportedly financed the Munich massacre. If anything, as head of Fatah's Department of International Relations, you were a man of soft-carpeted diplomatic corridors. That is why, in such an antithesis to Arafat's grotesque Castro-like appearance, you would always be seen wearing suits and ties. And on a more substantive note, you said the magic words "no to violence," in Arabic, to your people, even in Arafat's red face - a brave move that even Ariel Sharon was compelled to admire, particularly as you stuck to it even while it made Arafat fire you from the premiership. In short, you really began to look like our conflict's long-overdue breath of fresh air. What, then, went wrong? SADLY, the most determinant factor in your failure has little to do with where you were headed and more to do with where you came from. You were too much of a diplomat and too little of a warrior. Though there were some exceptions - Thomas Jefferson comes to mind - diplomats rarely made charismatic leaders, let alone ones who could face up to raging mobs and make them throw away their pistols. Israel, too, was once led by a born diplomat. His name was Moshe Sharett, and his opposition to the commando raids led by a young major called Ariel Sharon, and to defense executive Shimon Peres's grander war designs, rendered him, if you'll pardon the expression, politically irrelevant. After hardly two years on top he was sidelined in order to never matter again. Had he been with us, Sharett would have told you that when the mob is dancing drunken around golden calves, there is no use in the eloquence of the Aarons of the world; what is needed is resolve of the sort possessed only by leaders as bold as Moses, or as ruthless as Ben-Gurion. Yet the problems were not only in your character, but also in your thoughts and deeds. In your thoughts, you were painfully wrong to assume it would suffice to just tell your people that killing Israelis "does not serve the strategic Palestinian interests." Middle Israelis wondered from the outset: if murdering Jewish babies in their mothers' arms had served your strategic aims, would it then have been OK? It takes no Arabist to understand that in your phrasing, certainly in the way the average Palestinian understood it, our blood continued to be let. Your words, Mahmoud, were better than your predecessor's, but they still fell so short of what was needed; if not for the sake of ending this conflict, then at least for your people to respect you. Worse than what you said was what you did, or rather what you didn't do. As our departure from Gaza approached, you had the whole world at your feet. Everybody, from America, Europe and Japan to China, Russia and Canada would have come to Gaza and helped you make it an oasis. It was so doable, with a nice coastline, major seaports nearby and a potential one of your own, the sky would have been the limit. Instead, in your frequent visits abroad you wasted all your limited ammunition accusing Israel of this, that and whatnot, while doing nothing to build even one new factory, mall, bank, resort, hotel or even just a kiosk in your newly liberated domain. In other words, just like you failed to confront Hamas on the battlefield, and just like you never scolded it for celebrating death, you never showed you cared more than them about generating life. With this kind of non-record, you really had nothing with which to convince the people not to vote Hamas. THE JEWISH state, Mahmoud, employs thousands and spends billions in an ongoing effort to understand the Arabs. A day will come when your people will try that hard to understand us. And when that day arrives, you will hopefully still be around, and take stock of the fact that in the very Safed where you were born and raised, there lived centuries before you a Jewish mystic called Yitzhak Luria. Better known by the acronym Ari (lion), he too operated within a circle that lived through a major trauma of displacement: the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, where they had lived for more than a thousand years. His circle's conclusion was that the world demanded mending. Many Jews eventually came to disagree, arguing that the world is too big for one nation to mend, but all agreed that bettering one's wretched lot begins with searching one's own soul. Had you spoken to your people in that spirit - reminding them that the Jews did not come here to displace anyone, that the Jews belong here at least as much as anyone else, that the Palestinians' displacement was first and foremost the result of their own rejection of diplomatic opportunities and attacks on the survivors of the Holocaust (which you once tried to deny), then your people would have at least begun to understand their tragedy, embrace the future, and respect you.