Washington Watch: Abbas as Netanyahu’s campaign manager

Abbas' continuing campaign to deny any historic Jewish ties to Jerusalem is perhaps most offensive and destructive in the hope for reconciliation.

Binyamin Netanyahu (photo credit: REUTERS)
Binyamin Netanyahu
(photo credit: REUTERS)
If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wants to win the snap election he called for next March he will need the continued cooperation of his de-facto campaign manager, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. It is hard to find anyone who has done more to drive Israeli voters farther to the Right and to demoralize the Left. Abbas “seems to be doing everything he can to reelect [Netanyahu],” according to Prof. Steven Spiegel, speaking on a conference call organized by the dovish Israeli Policy Forum (IPF) to discuss the upcoming Israeli elections.
For added measure Netanyahu may try to bait US President Barack Obama into the fray. There have already been leaks – from the prime minister’s office? – that Obama is secretly plotting to prevent Netanyahu’s election to a fourth term. Obama may be dreaming, but he’s not that stupid. Not that it wouldn’t be poetic payback for Netanyahu’s meddling in the 2012 election when Netanyahu let his American supporters know that he’d prefer Republican Mitt Romney in the White House.
US Secretary of State John Kerry, himself a victim of strident attacks from Netanyahu’s circle, told the Brookings Institution’s Saban Forum this weekend that the administration will stay totally out of the Israeli election and “work with whatever government is elected, whatever its composition.”
But don’t be surprised if Netanyahu tries to provoke Obama with more settlement building, more home demolitions, arrest sweeps and more anti-Arab bombast. The administration needs to resist the temptation to take the bait and give Netanyahu an opening to proclaim he is the only leader who can stand up against an American president who is soft on Iran and biased toward the Palestinians.
Netanyahu last weekend asked for the release of imprisoned Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard in what some saw as a cynical political ploy to further his own reelection prospects.
For Obama to agree to such a request would be bolstering Netanyahu’s candidacy since the release would certainly be exploited as a political coup for the prime minister.
Early polls show a strong shift to the Right among Israeli voters. Driving that is volatility in the region, a fear that forces hostile to Israel will gain control of areas adjacent to its borders, spreading violence in Jerusalem and the West Bank and increasingly strident rhetoric from Abbas and leading Fatah figures.
Abbas said this week he will not wait until after Israeli elections to ask the UN Security Council to set a date for an end to the Israeli occupation. Palestinians are trying to craft the resolution so as to avoid a US veto, but it won’t work. Abbas said in that case he will press charges against Israel in the International Criminal Court. Politically that will afford Netanyahu and the Right grounds to complain once again that “the world is against us” and that it’s time to circle the wagons – not that that’s been his policy all along.
There is also the uncertainty over who will be running the PA in the coming years.
Abbas, 80, has said he wants to retire and as part of his reconciliation agreement with Hamas, hold new presidential and parliamentary elections. But he’s postponed them for many years.
Both sides of the conflict are guilty of incitement, as this column noted previously.
Netanyahu repeatedly inflames Palestinian anger with actions like expanded settlement construction, and uses the predictable response in Gaza and the West Bank to demonstrate that compromise with the Palestinians is dangerous.
Abbas, fearful of his extremists and desperate to remain in power, does the same thing, just with different words and actions.
Notwithstanding Shimon Peres’ warm endorsements of Abbas, the Palestinian leader has failed to convince most Israelis that a Palestinian state could ever live in peace alongside Israel and accept Israel’s claims to its homeland.
Instead he and his Fatah loyalists have been stirring anger against Israel – and among Israelis against him in return. He has been reluctant to condemn Palestinian acts of terror but quick to eulogize those responsible. He has accused Israel of fomenting “detrimental religious war,” committing “genocide” in the Gaza conflict, and called settlement construction an “act of war.”
But perhaps most offensive and destructive of hopes for reconciliation is his continuing campaign to deny any historic Jewish ties to Jerusalem. He contends there never was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, that Jews “contaminate” the site by entering it, and that the rest of the world should refer to it only as the Noble Sanctuary or Haram al-Sharif. When there is a Palestinian state, all Jews will be banned, he has said. “I will never allow a single Israeli to live among us on Palestinian land,” he declared.
A Palestinian cleric preaching at the Aksa Mosque last month had a message for the Jews: “We shall slaughter you without mercy” and “liberate this land from your filth.” Sheik Omar Abu Sara told worshipers, according to MEMRI, “The time to kill [the Jews] has come.”
That kind of incitement plays into Netanyahu’s hands and drowns out any Israeli party preaching peace, said David Horovitz, editor of The Times of Israel, in the IPF conference call.
Netanyahu is riding high right now but much could happen in next several months.
He remains very unpopular among the public at large and faces serious challenges for leadership within his own Likud party.
Nonetheless, no other individual comes close to him when voters are asked who would be the best prime minister.
He called this snap election because he felt he was in a dominant position, but his reelection is no slam dunk.
In 1996, following the Rabin assassination, Shimon Peres called a snap election in the hope of solidifying his leadership and support for his peace policies.
A wave of terrorism in the midst of the campaign sabotaged his peace platform, and by election day Netanyahu won by a bare one percent. Three years later when Netanyahu ran for reelection, it appeared chances for peace had improved and Netanyahu appeared to voters like he was the problem and not the solution; voters turned him out in favor of Ehud Barak.
They could do it again.
But right now it looks like Abbas is doing more than anyone to help Netanyahu.
Maybe that’s what he wants, because having Netanyahu back and with a more right-wing government will relieve any pressure on the Palestinian leader to cut a peace deal and make compromises that his own hardliners will oppose.