The real source of Abbas’s ‘Swiss cheese’ revulsion

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert praised the very Palestinian leader who had snubbed his own generous-to-the-point-of-suicidal offer.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York, U.S., February 11, 2020. (photo credit: REUTERS/SHANNON STAPLETON)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a Security Council meeting at the United Nations in New York, U.S., February 11, 2020.
At a session of the UN Security Council on Tuesday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas held up the map of US President Donald Trump’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan and referred to the proposed borders of the state he has spent his career pretending to seek as “Swiss cheese.”
Abbas was altogether out of sorts that day, since he was forced to withdraw a resolution, introduced by Indonesia and Tunisia, to reject the “Deal of the Century” unveiled at the White House exactly two weeks earlier. Unfortunately for PA chief, who had grown accustomed to an American administration that bought his lies about Israel being to blame for his people’s plight, Team Trump entered the picture three years ago with an entirely different outlook.
Suddenly, Abbas’s usual tricks were met with scorn from Washington. Even the new State Department was not engaging in diplomacy at all costs with the aging terror-master-in-a-tie. And when he made a public point of refusing to meet with Trump staffers, their response was not to coax and kowtow, but to shrug at his petulance and get on with the business of bolstering relations with Israel.
Yet despite the rebuffs – and proud “pay for slay” policy – Trump and his advisers were working arduously to craft a blueprint for a viable Palestinian state. That Abbas rejected the plan before having a clue what it contained was to be expected, which is why few people in Israel had faith in it either. Most Israelis were stunned, however, by Trump’s many measures to strengthen the security of the Jewish state and embrace its historical rights to its ancient homeland.
Indeed, after each additional step – starting with the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the US Embassy relocation there from Tel Aviv – Israelis quipped that Trump would win by a landslide if he were to run for the Knesset.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert was not among them. At a joint press conference with Abbas at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City on Tuesday, he praised the very Palestinian leader who had snubbed his own generous-to-the-point-of-suicidal-for-Israel offer in 2007 and 2008 as a “man of peace... opposed to terror... [and] the only partner that we can deal with.”
It was tough to keep one’s jaws from dropping while observing the duo behave as though Abbas hadn’t rejected Olmert’s offer.
Now confronted by what Jared Kushner, Trump’s adviser and son-in-law, recently called the “last chance to establish a contiguous Palestinian state,” Abbas is saying he wants to use Olmert’s offer as a starting point for negotiations, overseen by an “expanded Middle East quartet.” As though he has not been able to come to the table with Israel at any moment during the past 12 years – especially during the two-term tenure of former US president Barack Obama, whose secretary of state John Kerry gained nothing for his repeated overtures other than an exorbitant number of frequent-flier miles.
No wonder much of the world has grown weary of Abbas’s mantras, believed by nobody, except maybe Olmert, whose hatred for his successor, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seems to have caused a memory lapse.
Not that it really matters. Olmert has no authority to make a deal and Abbas has no desire to live alongside the Jewish state, whose existence he has been inciting his people to eliminate.
Which brings us to the current situation. With the fast approach of Israel’s third round of Knesset elections, and the Trump administration setting up committees to tweak the plan, US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman is spending a lot of time defending his boss’s vision for Palestinian-Israeli coexistence and explaining how it differs from that of previous American presidents.
Addressing academics and journalists at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on Sunday, Friedman quoted US Homeland Security Under Secretary David Glawe, who, at the most recent 9/11 memorial in Jerusalem, said “Israel keeps America safe.”
Friedman expounded: “For generations, the Americans’ support for Israel very much came from the heart, and it still does... But over the last five to 10 years, I would say it also comes from the head. We are, without question, better off when Israel is strong and secure and stable and prosperous. So it is very much an American interest to support Israel in all ways.
“When we got into office, we couldn’t help but notice that 52 years after the Six Day War, many of the issues were still... lingering and very little had been done about them. There had been a treaty with Egypt and... with Jordan. But the thorniest issues – Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, Yehuda ve’Shomron [Judea and Samaria] – were still completely up in the air... so we... tackled them one by one... first Jerusalem, which was perhaps the easiest, because there had been a law on the books for the past 25 years that compelled the United States to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of Israel.
“With regard to the Golan Heights, given the enormous threats that Syria represented and the competing claims... between the democratic state of Israel, an important American ally, and the brutal regime of Bashar Assad, it didn’t seem like a close call.
“We’d been working for years on the issue of settlements... just trying to really understand the legal... arguments, because whenever I talked about it, somebody from the media would push back and say, ‘the whole world recognizes that settlements are illegal; they violate international law.’
“I was skeptical about that proposition, but I didn’t think it mattered what I said. I thought it really mattered what the United States said as a body... [and] after a very thorough analysis, Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo concluded that settlements were not violative of international law. So, we put all that together and said, ‘ok, now how do you take all those things and extrapolate and export all the thinking that went behind [them] into a peace plan?’”
Friedman then asked rhetorically, “Why bother with a peace plan? What’s the point?”
One answer, he said, is “that it’s clearly in Israel’s best interest in the long run. These issues aren’t going away... [T]he Palestinians in 52 years have done nothing to create any type of a political movement that provides Israel with any sense of certainty or calm or assurances that if [they]... were to achieve statehood, they wouldn’t be a threat. But the issues are out there... on college campuses in the United States with the [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement [and] with the nations around the world raising [them] constantly.”
Friedman stressed, however, that any resolution to the conflict would involve “first and foremost protecting Israel’s security.”
But who would provide that security? Friedman listed three options: an international force, American troops or Israel itself.
The first and second were ruled out. “Israel... could never accept an international force, nor could we,” he said. “We see what happened in Lebanon, just 14 years ago, when there were 10,000 rockets in the arsenal of Hezbollah, and the war ended [with] UN Resolution 1701... [which] required that Hezbollah disarm, and that the disarmament was going to be overseen by UNIFIL. How did they do? Well, they failed, because today we know that Hezbollah has 40,000 rockets, instead of 10,000. International forces don’t work.”
Having US troops take security responsibility also wouldn’t fly.
“The best way to jeopardize the relationship between the United States and Israel is to have American soldiers dying on Israeli soil,” he explained. “One of the great decisions made by the state of Israel in the beginning of its existence was that [it] would defend itself by itself... So, if you eliminate [the first two options], you’re left with one choice, which is that the State of Israel will defend this region. [Israelis] are by far the best equipped to do it. They are by far the best incentivized to do it. And security is not a game; it’s not a political issue... It’s life and death.”
OTHER POINTS that Friedman raised were population transfers and borders.
“We learned from the past [that] evacuations [are] inhumane,” he said. “They don’t work and place enormous stress upon the fabric of Israeli society. In 2005, 8,000 Israelis were living in the Gaza Strip, about as remote from central Israel as you can get. You would think that if there’s any place where you could easily evacuate 8,000 people, it would be in Gaza. [But] it was the farthest thing from easy. I watched those videos of soldiers crying with the residents and the enormous strain it visited upon the Israeli people. Why would we ever want to put Israel through that again? I mean, you’re talking about the biblical heartland of the State of Israel. It’s just not going to happen.”
As for borders, Friedman said: “The notion that the 1949 armistice lines are anything other than armistice lines is something that we never understood. What happened in 1949? Israel’s enemies agreed to stop fighting along a certain green line with the understanding that they were not recognizing any of Israel’s borders to the west of that green line. They were going to rearm, and... take another shot at destroying Israel whenever they felt like it, which they [did] in 1967 and 1973. These armistice lines have somehow morphed over time into some kind of a natural border, and we just don’t accept that. What we do accept is that there are several million people living today in Samaria who do not accept Israeli rule [and] whose life is sub-optimal. This is a dispute that both they and Israel would be better off resolving, not as a matter of legal principles – because there really aren’t any that would end the dispute – but as a basis of direct negotiations.”
FRIEDMAN CONCLUDED by asserting that despite the world’s view of the plan as tilted in Israel’s favor, “it is not a gift to a political leader. This is a gift to Israel. It’s a gift to Palestinians. It’s a gift to the region... and [gives] the Palestinians the opportunity to more than double their existing footprint in Area A and B; the ability to expand Gaza beyond its existing borders; [and] to connect Gaza to Judea and Samaria”
Friedman described some Israelis gasping when they first saw Trump’s map, because the Palestinians “have made it very easy for the Israelis just to ignore the prospects or the possibility of a Palestinian state. It’s not politically easy to do this. [It requires] creating enough of the right structures – [such as] a system of laws in place to protect human rights, freedom of religion and freedom of the press – to create a real democratic society. The Palestinian people should understand that America stands with them in what I believe is their desire – a desire they have a hard time expressing because it’s a repressive society – to achieve [such a] state. And we’re not putting our fingerprints on any state that doesn’t have those characteristics.”
Herein lies the real “Swiss cheese” that’s putting Abbas’ nose out of joint.