Friday, December 14, 2012

The New Abbasids

The New Abbasids

By P. David Hornik

The Abbasids were the third great dynasty of caliphs, ruling West Asia and North Africa from Baghdad starting in the mid-eighth century.

These days there is an Abbasid camp in Israel. They are not Muslim Arabs and definitely not caliphs but, rather, Israeli Jews of a certain political persuasion.

At least, I’ve come to call them “the Abbasids” in my mind. The reason is that they’re staunch, unwavering acolytes of Mahmoud Abbas, the internationally high-profile president of the Palestinian Authority.

Israel is gearing up for elections on January 22. The right-of-center bloc, more unified and much more popular than its competitor, is heavily favored to win. The left-of-center bloc is fragmented into several factions, the major ones being led by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, former journalist Yair Lapid, and legislator Shelly Yacimovich.

The left-of-center, like any opposition, needs to differentiate itself from its rival. It is hard for this camp, though, to find much to criticize in the performance of the Netanyahu government—not stellar, but solid.

Its tenure has been much quieter in security terms than the tenure of previous, left-of-center prime minister Ehud Olmert. The public’s only complaint about the recent skirmish with Hamas was that the government ended it too soon. In the economic sphere, the skilled team of Netanyahu, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz, and Bank of Israel governor Stanley Fischer has made Israel an island of stability and low unemployment.

True, Yacimovich—alone among the opposition leaders—claims that what Israel needs is a good dose of the kind of statist socialism that kept it in economic shackles for its first four decades. At the same time, she hints that she may be willing to join the next Netanyahu-led coalition, “heartless capitalists” and all.

No, what’s left for the left-of-center to differentiate itself from the dominant camp is basically one man—Abbas.

The Abbasids acknowledge that Hamas and Iran are hostile and that the Middle East doesn’t look too pleasant these days. But in countless talk shows and TV panels, op-eds and speeches, they say Netanyahu has failed—because he hasn’t made peace with Abbas.

The Abbasids blew a fuse early last month when Abbas, in an interview—in English—to Israel’s Channel 2 TV news, said he would not want to go back and live in Safed, the Israeli town where he was born. This, the Abbasids shouted from the rooftops, proved that Abbas was ready to give up the Palestinian “right of return” and make peace with Israel—an opportunity Netanyahu was squandering.

The very next day—in Arabic—Abbas reassured the Egyptian Al Hayat channel that he viewed the right of return as “sacred and fundamental.” That did nothing to dampen the zeal of the Abbasids, and hasn’t to this day.

Of course, the Abbasid camp has never been too inquisitive about those it considers peace partners for Israel. They wanted Israel to hand back the Golan Heights to Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad, and after that to his son, Bashar. Neither Assad proved to be much of a humanitarian, and Syria has not proved to be a rock of stability. Yet the Abbasids (with an interesting exception) are not chastened by their error.

Similarly, the Abbasids were not concerned about the credentials, or statements in Arabic, of Abbas’s predecessor Yasser Arafat. As for Abbas himself, the Abbasids cannot be deterred in their devotion by the facts—among others—that: Abbas walked away from Olmert’s recklessly generous terms for a peace deal; presides over PA hate education; says nasty things about Israel from the UN podium; keeps trying to buddy-up with Hamas; has stonewalled Netanyahu’s offers of negotiations for four years; and did not condemn a single one of the 1500 rockets Hamas recently fired into Israel nor calls over the weekend for Israel’s annihilation by Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal.

After the January 22 elections some of the Abbasids may join the Netanyahu-led government, while the rest—including not only politicians but also journalists, academics, writers and artists, and so on—will remain outside of it. In any case, the Abbasids will continue—as long as Abbas maintains his increasingly shaky stewardship of the PA—to confirm all those outside of Israel, from U.S. and European top officials to ordinary, not too knowledgeable citizens, who think Israel is the recalcitrant party and could wrap up the problem by “negotiating with Abbas.”

The Abbasids, of course, live in Israel and should know better. Whether they are motivated by political expediency or really believe in the beneficence of Saint Abbas, it is hard to call them a loyal opposition.