JPost Editorial: Transformative meet

Perhaps for the sake of his own people, Abbas will rise to the occasion and agree to a transformative meeting with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu and Abbas (photo credit: LOIC VENANCE / AFP)
Netanyahu and Abbas
(photo credit: LOIC VENANCE / AFP)
Face-to-face meetings between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas have been few and far between.
Though there have been casual verbal exchanges between the two – for instance in 2015, during a UN climate summit in Paris – there probably has been no substantive dialogue since 2010.
At the time, Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership had acquiesced to a demand by US President Barack Obama to impose a 10-month building freeze in Judea and Samaria as a confidence-building step. However, no headway was made – nine months into the building moratorium, Abbas remained intransigent. Netanyahu offered to extend the moratorium on condition Abbas recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Abbas refused. The opportunity was missed.
Meeting face-to-face with rivals has the potential to be transformational. Sitting at the negotiating table across from one’s enemy, one is faced with his or her humanity, and can sense a human being with needs and aspirations and desires like anyone else.
Too much cannot be expected of every face-to-face meeting.
Yitzhak Rabin’s historic handshake with Yasser Arafat came to nothing. Shortly after their meeting, the Palestinian leader orchestrated a wave of terrorist attacks. But there were other historic meetings, like the one between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat. Elsewhere, the faceto- face meeting between Richard Nixon and Mao Zedong, or between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, seem to have been transformative both symbolically and as an expression of deeper geopolitical currents.
Unfortunately, while Netanyahu has made it clear on numerous occasions that he is willing to meet with Abbas “anytime, anywhere,” Abbas has insisted on yet another settlement freeze and the release of Palestinian prisoners as preconditions for meeting face-to-face with Netanyahu.
In recent days however, stories of direct talks between the two men has reemerged. On Wednesday, The Jerusalem Post led the paper with a report that according to PLO Executive Committee member Ahmad Majdalani, Abbas was ready to meet in Moscow with Netanyahu without preconditions.
Abbas’s real position is unclear. The PA president claimed he had agreed to a request by Russian President Vladimir Putin to meet with Netanyahu without preconditions.
However, Abbas went on to claim that the meeting would not take place because Netanyahu had not agreed. Is Abbas ready to meet with Netanyahu without preconditions, or is he attempting to project his own intransigence onto Netanyahu? Not only has Abbas failed to prepare his people for reconciliation with Israel by arguing convincingly of its importance, he has continued to demonize the Jewish state and its inhabitants, while glorifying terrorists who have used indiscriminate deadly violence against Israeli civilians.
As a result, Abbas has contributed to an antagonistic political atmosphere in which direct dialogue with Netanyahu would be seen on the Palestinian street as tantamount to betrayal of the Palestinian cause.
Is Abbas capable of making a turnaround? Even if Putin manages to bring the two men together, negative Palestinian perceptions about Israel – which Abbas himself helped foster – create a reality in which a peace agreement with Israel is politically unfeasible from the point of view of the Palestinians.
Abbas is not getting any younger. The heavy-smoking octogenarian will not be active politically forever. Municipal elections in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip slated for October, which are seen as a precursor to presidential elections, have now been postponed. But eventually Abbas’s leadership will be challenged, even if the man’s health does not fail.
This is probably the last chance Abbas will get to negotiate a deal with Israel. It is a moment of truth. The man has squandered opportunities to end the conflict in the past, most notably during the 2008 peace talks with then-prime minister Ehud Olmert, during which Abbas was offered a near-total withdrawal from the West Bank, withdrawal from Arab neighborhoods in east Jerusalem and placing the Old City under international control.
It is unrealistic to think this time will be any different.
But perhaps for the sake of his own people, Abbas will rise to the occasion and agree to a transformative meeting with Netanyahu.