Friday, January 18, 2013

Abbas Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

Abbas Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution

by Prof. Efraim Inbar

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY:  Though much of the international community sees Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as a serious partner for peace, Abbas’ words and actions prove that he is interested in nothing less than the ruin of the State of Israel. Instead of preparing his people for painful concessions and peaceful coexistence with Israel, Abbas glorifies  armed struggle, insists on Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to Israel, and acts to criminalize and demonize Israel.

A little-noticed Reuters  story on January 10, 2013, reports that Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), rejected a conditional Israeli offer to let Palestinian refugees in war-torn Syria resettle in the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas rejected Israel’s offer because  he thought  it would compromise the claims of these refugees to return to their homes in Israel lost during the 1948  war. According to this report, Israel agreed to  the resettlement  on  the  condition the refugees sign a statement  relinquishing claims of return to Israel. Yet Abbas rejected this condition and said  “it is better they die in Syria than give up their right of return.”

Instead of helping his people in distress, Abbas prefers to cling to “the right of return” – a demand that no Israeli government will ever accept. Palestinianleaders have  for years  rejected attempts to alleviate the condition of their refugees by resettling them  in  proper housing in  Gaza and the West Bank, instead preferring to keep the refugees and millions of their descendants  in shanty towns and camps, as political pawns in the struggle against Israel. 

These refugees constitute an important element in the Palestinian  self-image of victimhood and martyrdom.Most of the international community rejects this Palestinian demand, understanding that a mass influx of Palestinians could destroy Israel’s Jewish character, and  that this is a deal-breaker issue. No Israeli-Palestinian peace can develop if the PA insists on the  “right” of return.  Yet nobody in the international community spoke out against Abbas’ obstinate and radical refusal to take up Israel’s offer to resettle Syrian refugees in the West Bankand Gaza.

The Palestinian leadership missed another opportunity to demonstrate that it can behave in a constructive fashion and be of help to its people. Instead of pragmatic politics, we once again  see Palestinian adherence to radical goals that prolongs Palestinian suffering and produces obstacles to peace. 

Another recent display of this typical Palestinian preference for intransigence was provided by  the so-called  “moderate” Abbas  when he addressed his countrymen  on  a Fatah movement anniversary on January 4, 2013.  Abbas avoided mentioning the land-for-peace formula or the establishment of a Palestinian state beside Israel that could bring an end to the conflict and the suffering of his people. He did not prepare his people for the need to make concessions for the sake of peace. Instead, Abbas stressed the perennial need to adhere to the path of  armed  struggle in order to realize  “the dream of return” of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

The only explanation  for this behavior is that the Palestinian national movement is very serious about the  “right of return.” Despite  attempts  of pundits  who suggest  that goodwill and Israeli territorial concessions can bring about a Palestinian flexibility on this issue, there is no evidence that the PA is ready to put aside its long-term goal of “return.”

Dismissing Palestinian behavior and rhetoric, or belittling its importance with regard to the refugees, amounts to  ostrich-type behavior  of sticking  one’s head in the sand.  The international community, either due to naïveté or wishful thinking, has never recognized that so long as Palestinians insist that refugees have a right to settle in Israel, they are not prepared for meaningful negotiations nor will Israelis believe that they are. People do not easily give up their dreams, and over the past twenty years since the Oslo accords were signed, the PA has not moderated its demands one bit.

The  insistence on  a “right of return” complements Abbas’ refusal to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state and  his denial of any links of the Jews to their ancestral homeland. Moreover, Abbas is conducting a campaignat home and abroad to demonize Israel and to portray Israelis as colonialistsnd war criminals. These  acts do not indicate moderation  or  a quest for coexistence with Israel.

Abbas  is  also taking measures to encourage armed struggle against Israel,even if these measures  undermine the state-building efforts of the PA. He supported several December 2012 parades of armed members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the militia of Fatah, in honor of the anniversary of the founding of the Fatah movement. Tolerant attitudes toward Palestinian militias run counter to the main litmus test of a state, which is the monopoly over the use of force. Turning a blind eye to the reemergence of armed groups in Palestinian society erodes the main
achievement of the PA in recent years –the restoration of law and order, following the formal dismantlement of militias.

The Palestinian armed groups may be tempted to engage in violent clashes with Israel, which  will turn out to be disastrous for Palestinian selfdetermination and peaceful  coexistence. While  declaring  his  preference for non-violence, Israeli leaders suspect that Abbas is hoping that a third Intifada will bring better results than the second. 

Abbas promised negotiations and moderation after  the winning by “Palestine” of an upgraded status at the UN as an “observer state.” However, since that November 2012 vote, Abbas has only ramped up his inflammatory rhetoric and irresponsible policies. The Palestinians continue to be in urgent need of  better political leadership to extricate themselves from pathological patterns of self-destructive behavior.