Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Abbas goes Radical

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In a speech on January 4, marking the occasion of the anniversary of Fatah's establishment, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority President and leader of both the PLO and the Fatah movement, expressed a political vision about the aspirations for the future of Palestinians.

The speech was described by leading Israeli analysts as espousing "a radical political doctrine" expressed "using extremist rhetoric" that "may have marked a turning point in the relations between the Palestinian Authority president and the State of Israel". It was certainly a far cry from the language used by Abbas in a much-debated interview with Israel's Channel 2 on Nov. 1, which included moderate personal views regarding the claimed right of return for Palestinian refugees. Also gone was the vague and general language about two-states and negotiations used in drafting the resolution for the Palestinian UN bid for "non-member observer state" status, which sucessfully garnered support for its apparent moderation, especially in Europe.

Abbas' speech was delivered via telephone from Ramallah to a crowd which had gathered in Hamas-controlled Gaza. Arguably, taking into consideration his audience, used to the kind of rhetoric used by Hamas leader Khaled Meshal in his recent visit to the Gaza Strip, Abbas also had to "step up his game."

In the speech, Abbas emphasised that in order to achieve Palestinian national dreams and aspirations, and to achieve "historical justice," the "dream of return" must be realised, and the path of "struggle" must be pursued. This message was expressed by reinforcing and reiterating Fatah's commitment to its founding principles (which were in fact violent and rejectionist), deaclaring that "the Fatah of yesterday is the Fatah of today," and by linking Fatah with a long list of "martyrs." Among those martyrs were not only leaders of the prominent terrorist groups such as Hamas's Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi, Fathi al-Shikaki from the Islamic Jihad, George Habash and Abu Ali Mustafa from the Popular Front, but also figures associated with the "resistance" against the Jewish Yishuv during the British Mandate, such as Izzadin al-Qassam and the notorious Mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Huseini. Al-Husseini is remembered for the alliance he forged with Nazi Germany, and for his active encourgement and support for Hitler's "final solution" for Europe's Jews:

"On the anniversary [of Fatah] we renew with a faithful heart the pledge to the heroic martyrs to walk in the path of the brother-martyr Abu Amar [Arafat] and his brother-friends, the leaders of all the national forces: Abu Jihad, Abu Iyyad, Abd al-Fatah Hamud, Abu Ali Ayyad, Abu Sabri Saydam, Abu Yusuf al-Najjar, Kamal Adwan, Kamal Nasser, Abu al-Walid Saad Sa'il, Faisal Husseini, Abu al-Hol, Abu al-Mondhir, Abu al-Said, Ahmed Yassin, Abd al-Aziz al-Rantisi, Ismail Abu Shanab, Fathi al-Shikaki, Majed Abu Sharar, Suleiman al-Najab, Bashir al-Barghouti, Hani al-Hassan, Abu Ali Mustafa, Abu al-Abbas, Samir Rusha, Abu al-Abd Khatab, and tens of thousands of heroic martyrs, and here it is obligatory to mention the first pioneers: the Mufti of Palestine, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, Ahmed al-Shukeiri, Yehiyeh Hamuda, Izzadin al-Qassam. These left on our shoulders and on our conscience their last bequest to continue in the path and to act in unity, and there is no other alternative than unity for achieving the national objectives and arriving at victory."

In what could perhaps be seen as a desperate attempt at promoting "unity" among the Palestinian political groups and factions, Abbas avoided mentioning any commitment to a negotiated agreement or even diplomatic action on a global level, but rather tied his vision with that of murderous arch-terrorists. Also absent was any condemnation of terrorism or denunciation of "armed resistance" as a path to the promotion of the Palestinian aspirations.

Abbas also failed to mention negotiations, compromise with Israel, previous peace agreements, a two state outcome or recognition of Israel as part of his political vision to the resolution of the conflict and the promotion of Palestinian national goals. This is especially apparent in his statements about Jerusalem, which appeared to exclude the possibility of any future Jewish presence in the city and would only acknowledge only Muslim and Christian residents:

"Brothers and sisters, all of our Palestinian people lives under occupation and blockade, while our eyes and our hearts are directed at Al-Quds [Jerusalem], which is being subjected to an enormous settlement campaign, in which the occupiers compete with time and think it is an opportunity [for them], and under these circumstances the obligation falls on all of us... to unite our efforts, our hearts, and our resolve for the rescue of Al-Quds, our eternal capital city, and this by providing the means and elements of steadfastness, and support for the residents of the city, righteous Muslims and Christians."
"In the near future, with the help of Allah, we will achieve our unity on the road to ending the occupation so that the flag of the state of Palestine will wave over the churches of Al-Quds and the minarets of the mosques."

This led strategic analyst Jonathan D. Halevi from the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (Abbas Reinstates a Radical Political Doctrine, 10.1.2013- also see full translation of Abbas' speech) to conclude that:

"Anyone who expected that Abbas would follow a more moderate course after the UN General Assembly resolution of November 29, 2012, upgrading the status of the PLO's Observer Mission to that of an observer state, was undoubtedly disappointed with Abbas' remarks. He was not preparing the Palestinian people for making peace, but rather reverting to rhetoric perpetuating and even escalating the conflict."

Former Israeli UN Ambassador Dore Gold, also a prominent strategic analyst, commented on Abbas' speech (What's Behind Abbas' new tone?, Yisrael Ha-Yom, 11.1.2013). He noted that the various elements of the geopolitical reality of 2013 - the rise to power of anti-Western, anti-American Islamists in the region, such as in Egypt and Tunisia, the changing nature of American presence and influence in the Middle East, the enhanced influence of Iran and the internal Palestinian power struggle between Fatah and Hamas (with the latter now supported by the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt) - all seem to be leading to a hardening of positions and rhetoric:

" What is important is not the vapid debate over whether Abbas can still be regarded as a partner for peacemaking, but rather understanding the hard fact that conditions have changed influencing the declared intentions of leaders."

Yet the bottom line is that adopting a line of perpetual "struggle", linked to destructive figures of arch-terrorists and Nazi-collaborators, while avoiding the possibility of negotiation and compromise will do little to advance Palestinian aspirations for self-determination and statehood. It is worrying that in the name of narrow political interest and internal competition over influence and power, under the guise of advancement of unity, Abbas is selling the crowds in Gaza false dreams of heroism and martyrdom instead of honestly and pragmatically talking about real and viable solutions. Moreover, it also highly concerning that the promised potential return to negotiations that the Palestinians offered as a carrot to the Europeans and others for their support prior to the UN votes seems to be looking more distant by the day.

Or Avi-Guy