Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Abbas' UN "Bombshell"

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Update from AIJAC

October 1, 2015
Number 10/15 #01

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave his much-foreshadowed speech at the UN General Assembly yesterday, and it only partially contained the "bombshell" that Palestinian sources repeatedly said it would. Amid a litany of accusations against Israel, and a rejection of renewed negotiations, Abbas did make a rather ambiguous statement that " we cannot continue to be bound by" the Oslo Accords which he accused Israel of violating. However, he failed to offer any sort of specifics as to what this implied, turning this claim into more of a threat than a genuine change on the ground. This Update is devoted to analysis of Abbas' claims and supposed "announcement".

We lead with top Israeli Palestinian Affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who describes Abbas' "bombshell" as "much noise and little damage." He say what Abbas did was another conditional threat, a threat repeatedly made before, and not a genuine abrogation of the Oslo agreements and therefore it will change little or nothing on the ground. He said that to have made a real splash, Abbas would have needed to dissolve the Palestinian Authority and hand back responsibility to Israel or else end security cooperation with Israel, but to do either would be to risk his own survival. For the rest of Abu Toameh's analysis, CLICK HERE. A more concerned analysis of the implications of what Abbas has done comes from American columnist Ben Cohen but analyst Barry Shaw agrees with Abu Toameh that the "bombshell" was a dud.

Next up is American writer Jonathan Tobin who looks in more detail at both the claims advanced by Abbas as justification for abrogating the Oslo Accords, and the implications of Abbas' strategy for US policy. He particularly takes on Abbas' claims that construction in settlements is a violation of Oslo, that Israel is trying to change the religious status quo on the Temple Mount, and that Israel is solely responsible for the Oslo Accords failing to lead to a two-state resolution. He then notes that, while Abbas cannot really make good on his threats because of the reality that the PA is dependent on Israeli security cooperation, the biggest danger is that the US Administration will counter-productively back destructive Palestinian moves at the UN as part of their ongoing disagreements with Israeli PM Netanyahu and his government. For all of Tobin's article, CLICK HERE.

Finally, American-Israeli writer Liel Leibowitz makes the point that if Abbas wants to abrogate the Oslo Accords, perhaps the PA should consider returning the billions of dollars that it was granted as a result of those Accords - or at least those substantial parts of it that have been proven to have been lost to mismanagement and corruption. Leibowitz argues that wasted money should be re-allocated directly to Arab refugees, especially from the Syrian conflict, including 560,000 Palestinian refugees UNRWA is having trouble keeping supplied with aid. At the very least, he suggests, Abbas' declaration suggests it is time for governments to question whether their ongoing aid to the PA, granted under Oslo, is being spent to genuinely build Palestinian governance or could be better spent addressing urgent humanitarian needs, such as in Syria. For Leibowitz's complete argument, CLICK HERE.

Readers may also be interested in:

  • The Israeli government's response to Abbas' statement - denouncing it as deceitful but calling for renewed direct negotiations - is reported here.
  • How exiled Palestinian leader Mahmoud Dahlan may shake up Palestinian politics.
  • Palestinian writer Bassam Tawil argues that Palestinian anti-normalisation activists - who demand the complete boycott of any contact with Jews - are making Palestinians behave like Nazis.
  • Isi Leibler writes about ongoing problems with Israel's chief rabbinate.
  • For those who didn't see it in today's Australian, a very perceptive article on the debate about Syria, Assad, Russia and the fight against ISIS from former senior US Presidential advisor Elliott Abrams.
  • Meanwhile, as many predicted, the first Russian airstrikes in Syria are not against ISIS, which Putin promised to fight, but against a US-sponsored relatively moderate anti-Assad rebel group.


Analysis: Abbas’' empty bombshell

By KHALED ABU TOAMEH

Jerusalem Post, 30/09/2015  
 
Abbas did not announce his resignation or the dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority, as many predicted he would do.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has finally dropped his long-awaited bombshell at the United Nations General Assembly, but it turns out that the bombshell is not as serious as many thought. It’s a bombshell that makes much noise and little damage.

Abbas did not announce his resignation or the dismantlement of the Palestinian Authority, as many predicted he would do. Such a move would have been considered a real bombshell.

Instead, he repeated his old threat to abandon signed accords with Israel “as long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements with us.”

His assertion that the Palestinians “cannot continue to be bound by these agreements” is perhaps the only dramatic statement he made in his speech. But again, this should be seen as nothing but another threat, not the bombshell that Abbas promised a few weeks ago.

However, it doesn’t seem to be the kind of bombshell that causes real damage. It’s a bombshell that consists of a threat that has previously been made by Abbas and other senior Palestinian officials. This is another conditional threat by Abbas and not a straightforward announcement abrogating the Oslo Accords and other agreements with Israel.

In his speech, Abbas did not abandon the peace process with Israel, as some have mistakenly argued.

He did not dissolve the Palestinian Authority and “return the keys” to Israel. He did not even go as far as suspending security coordination with Israel – without which the Palestinian Authority would not be able to survive in the West Bank.

In short, Abbas did not close all doors with Israel. He put the pistol on the table instead of firing it. His message to Israel and the rest of the world: Next time I won’t hesitate to use the pistol if I don’t get everything I want.

For now, it’s clear that Abbas’s speech is not going to change anything on the ground. Abbas is going nowhere, and so is the Palestinian Authority.

Apart from the harmless bombshell, Abbas’s speech did not include anything new. In fact, this was the same charge sheet he and his senior aides have been bringing forward against Israel for the past few years.

His fiery anti-Israel rhetoric, especially concerning the holy sites in Jerusalem and settler violence, are mostly intended for internal consumption. The charges he made against Israel are designed to appease his critics and other Palestinians who are skeptical of his intentions and policies.

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Will Obama Call Abbas’' UN Bluff?

Palestinian Authority sources told the media that Mahmoud Abbas’' speech to the United Nations General Assembly would be a “bombshell” and he did his best to live up to that claim. The PA leader told the world body that he no longer considered the Palestinians bound by the Oslo Accords. Israel’s violations of that pact rendered it null and void, and he therefore demanded that the UN vote to accept the Palestinians as a full-fledged member rather than its current observer status. That sounds like a very big deal since — in theory — the PA abandoning Oslo means that it would end security, economic, and civil cooperation with Israel. That might force the Jewish state to administer the West Bank directly as it did before Oslo set up the autonomy regime that first Yasir Arafat and now Abbas have ruled. But those expecting such a revolution on the ground shouldn’t hold their breath. Even the Palestinians are conceding that any changes on the ground will be put on hold as Abbas pursues UN recognition without the PA being forced to first make peace with and recognize Israel. Which is to say that it is a gigantic rhetorical bluff since Abbas benefits as much if not more from that cooperation than the Israelis. The only real question about this stunt, which was delivered in a speech that ignored the reality of routine Palestinian terror and the PA’s refusal to make peace, is whether the Obama administration will fall for it.

Let’'s first dispense with the notion that, as Abbas claims, the failure to convert the Oslo Accords into a two-state solution with a peace treaty is solely the fault of Israel.

The chief claim that Israel has violated the Oslo terms is the “growth” of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. It is true that the Israeli population in the West Bank has grown since 1993. But when people hear of growth and the Palestinian claims that their land is being “stolen” they assume that means the number of Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank has grown along with the population. But that is a lie. The actual number of settlements in the West Bank has remained largely unchanged. No new vast areas of land to which the Palestinians can assert ownership have been taken from them. All that has happened is that new houses have been built inside existing settlements or in Jerusalem, which Israelis consider their united capital city. The Palestinians may not like the fact that there are more Jews in the West Bank, but with few exceptions Israeli governments of both the left and the right have maintained the status quo in the West Bank in terms of land under their control.

Israel’s record isn’t perfect but it kept its side of an Oslo bargain that was based on the idea that it could trade land for peace but instead brought only terror. The deal signed on the White House Lawn 22 years ago brought the PLO back from exile. It handed it control of the West Bank and Gaza, allowing first Arafat and now Abbas to rule as unaccountable and corrupt autocrats, replete with numerous “security” services and the ability to skim billions in American and European aid into the bank accounts of the Fatah leadership and their families. In exchange, the Palestinians were supposed to cease terrorism and promote peace rather than foment hatred for Jews and Israelis in the official media and schools they control.

That is something they have consistently refused to do.

Of course, Abbas’s obituary for Oslo is 15 years too late. The accords collapsed in 2000 when then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton offered Arafat an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, and Gaza. Arafat turned them down and launched a terrorist war of attrition known as the second intifada. He turned down another such deal in 2001, and Abbas fled the negotiating table in 2008 when Ehud Olmert made an even more generous offer in 2008. In 2014, Abbas blew up another round of negotiations when he trashed Oslo again by seeking to go around the U.S.-led talks by asking the UN to recognize Palestinian independence.

So there’s nothing actually new here except for the incendiary nature of Abbas’s rhetoric. Nor did Abbas mention that fact that his Fatah Party hasn’t governed part of the putative Palestinian state in eight years. Israel withdrew completely from Gaza in 2005 as part of Ariel Sharon’s disastrous peace experiment. Hamas seized control of the strip in 2007 and has since used it as a terrorist launching pad for rocket and cross-border attacks. Those wondering what an independent Palestinian state would look like in practice need only ponder the reality of Gaza which operates as such a sovereign entity in all but name, albeit under the rule of an Islamist terror group backed by Iran. If the Palestinian goal was just statehood, they could have had it a long time ago. Instead, they have stuck to their refusal to recognizing the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn because to do so would mean ending a conflict they intend to continue so long as Israel exists.

Nor do the other alleged Israeli outrages detailed in Abbas’ speech amount to a reason for the international community to grant Abbas’s wishes.

Contrary to his assertions, Israel has not altered the status quo on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. To the contrary, it is the Palestinians who are seeking to exclude Jewish visitors to the holiest site in Judaism. Abbas has cynically sought to exploit this issue in order to whip up Palestinian resentment of Jews as part of his failing effort to compete with Hamas. Though he is doomed to always fall short in a contest based on which group is more hostile to Israel, he has nonetheless not hesitated to endorse terrorism and to encourage the upsurge in small-scale attacks on Jews in Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Nor do his complaints about checkpoints in the West Bank (which Israel relaxed in the last year) or the blockade of the Hamas terror state in Gaza ring true. Those measures, along with the construction of the West Bank security fence, are a response to the constant threat of Palestinian terrorism that was supposed to cease in 1993.

But the real reason why the international community should yawn at Abbas’s threat is that he will never cease cooperation with Israel because, without it, he and Fatah are finished. Now serving the 11th year of the four-year term as president of the PA, Abbas relies on Israel for security to ensure against a Hamas coup as well as for the money he needs to keep his kleptocracy propped up. Though he is always threatening to resign or to dissolve the PA, it will never happen because that would mean the end of Fatah’s ability to control West Bank life and leave the area open to Hamas.

But though none of this will change the situation on the ground, Abbas’s bluff might influence President Obama to abandon Israel at the United Nations. If the United States signals that it will no longer veto a resolution recognizing Palestinian independence in the Security Council that would fit nicely with Obama’s desire for more daylight between the U.S. and Israel as well as constitute revenge for the Netanyahu government’s stand on the Iran nuclear deal. But it would also pave the way for more chaos and violence as well as undermine America’s dwindling prestige since it is the guarantor of an Oslo process that Abbas and the PA have consistently flouted. Tempting as it may be for an administration that is increasingly hostile to Israel, being fooled by Abbas in this manner would be a disaster for American diplomacy and not advance the cause of peace one bit.

It remains to be seen whether Obama is sufficiently motivated by animus for Netanyahu to fall for Abbas’s bluff. But other than that dangerous possibility, the world would do well to ignore Abbas latest attempt to avoid doing the one thing that might bring the Palestinians a state: negotiate in good faith with Israel and recognize Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state.

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Want To Really Help Refugees?

As Abbas speaks at the U.N. General Assembly, demand the Palestinians return the aid money they’ve mishandled for decades

By Liel Leibovitz

Tablet, 
September 24, 2015

Forget the pope: The only truly important dignitary visiting New York for the United Nations General Assembly this week is Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. That'’s because Abbas, unlike most of his powerful peers, may actually hold the key to world peace.

Don’'t laugh. If the strong signals coming from the rais’ office are to be believed, Abbas is likely to take the stage next Wednesday and declare the Oslo Accords dead. This, to all but a handful of sentimentalists, nearly all of whom live in Tel Aviv, is a major opportunity. If Abbas truly believes the age of Oslo to be over, there’s a good argument to be made that he ought to give back every shekel his people have received in international aid for the past 21 years.

If this strikes you as ridiculous or cruel, take a moment to revisit the financial records. That is, if you can find them: In 2013, the European Court of Auditors, an independent E.U. regulatory body set up to monitor the union’s income and spending, discovered that $2.64 billion of European aid investment in the West Bank and Gaza between 2008 and 2012 alone was squandered—lost to mismanagement and corruption. Look back further, to Oslo’s early, euphoric days, and you’ll discover many more billions you just can’'t find.

Where did all the money go? Recent leaked documents give two anecdotally instructive looks into the lifestyles of the Palestinian rich and famous, paid for by the kindness of strangers. In one instance, Majdi al-Khaldi, a close Abbas adviser, asked Bahrain’'s foreign minister for $4 million to pay for the construction of a luxury gated community for top P.A. officials. This, al-Khaldi wrote, was necessary in order to resist nearby settlements, even though there were no settlements nearby. For Nazmi Muhanna, the general director of the Palestinian Crossing and Borders Authority, the political was personal: He syphoned off nearly $10,000 to send his daughter to a fancy private school in Jordan. Still, he was better than the former leader of Fatah in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, who celebrated the nuptials of his son in Cairo earlier this summer with a modest party that cost $2 million, including an Oscar de la Renta gown inlaid with hundreds of jewels and pearls. Even if you take into account the economic hardships of a society struggling against foreign military presence in its midst, the P.A. has still received, to use a technical term for a moment, oodles of cash, several Marshall Plans’ worth, and has no schools, no roads, and no other forms of infrastructure to show for it. The cash spent on fancy homes and bejeweled designer dresses is now lost to us, but if we do our due diligence, it’s possible we’ll still find much of the foreign money piled, undisturbed, in Swiss bank accounts belonging to Abbas and company.

Which is why we ought to demand that the Palestinian Authority give the money back.

Not, heaven forbid, back to the kind Americans or the nice Europeans who signed all those checks. Instead— - and this is where the world peace bit comes in— - Abbas should stand up at the General Assembly and announce that he’'ll be repaying all of the money he and his cronies have stolen or squandered to the Arab refugees everywhere scrambling for shelter these days. This, too, isn’t much of a stretch. There are currently 560,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria. The international aid agency charged with caring for them, UNRWA, requires $415.4 million to meet its minimum needs. If Abbas gave back only the cash the European Court of Auditors could prove had been misplaced during one four-year period, he could cover that amount more than six times over and get a Nobel Prize to match Arafat’'s.

Such a moment— - a leader using his resources to alleviate the suffering of his own people— - would be truly transformative. But on the off chance that it fails to materialize, given the slight possibility that the gathering in New York this week fails to produce global harmony and prosperity, we may want to question our policy toward Palestinian aid and heed the warning of our smartest Jeremiahs, who, like Jonathan Schanzer, have long been warning that ignoring the question of Palestinian governance, or the lack thereof, is a mistake we can’t afford to repeat.

Instead of throwing good money after bad, let’'s treat the billions funneled to the P.A. as a long-term option that has, like Oslo, just expired. We’ve much more deserving recipients waiting on deck in Yarmouk, floating on dinghies in the Aegean, crowding train cars in Germany and elsewhere in Europe. True champions of progressive ideals should love everything about this plan: This is what a righteous redistribution of wealth truly looks like.

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