Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Editorial: Mahmoud Abbas’ folly

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Colin Rubenstein

 

On October 22, Palestinian terrorist Abd al-Rahman al-Shaloudi ploughed his car into a packed light-rail stop in Jerusalem, murdering newborn Chaya Zisel Baron and Ecuadorian student Karen Yemina Mosquera and injuring eight other Israelis. Al-Shaloudi, who was shot and killed by Israeli police, appears to have been affiliated with Hamas. However what was particularly worrying was the response by official media and senior officials in the supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority (PA), led by Mahmoud Abbas.

Abbas' Fatah movement published an online tribute describing al-Shaloudi as a "heroic martyr" to be saluted for his "Jerusalem operation, in which settlers in the occupied city of Jerusalem were run over." A senior aide to Abbas, Sultan Abu al-Einein, hailed him as a "heroic Martyr" who was "murdered in cold blood."

This is part of a larger trend. Since the Gaza war, and especially since Abbas gave a particularly bellicose and rejectionist speech at the UN General Assembly on Sept. 26, there appears to have been a return to the bad old days of relentless PA incitement against Israel and Jews.

In his UN speech, Abbas accused Israel - which he called the "racist occupying State" - of waging a "war of genocide" and perpetrating "state terrorism" and unequivocally rejected further peace negotiations saying, "It is impossible, and I repeat - it is impossible - to return to the cycle of negotiations." The speech was so harsh and uncompromising it earned a rare public rebuke from Washington.

Then, days before the Jerusalem attack, Abbas called upon Palestinians to prevent Jews from visiting Jerusalem's Temple Mount - holy to both Jews and Muslims and open to non-Muslim visits since 1967 - "by any means." Abbas said, "This is our Noble Sanctuary... they have no right to enter and desecrate it." For a hundred years, claiming that Jews are endangering the mosques of the Mount has been one of most inflammatory forms of incitement employed by Palestinian leaders.

Not coincidentally, al-Shaloudi's final pre-attack post on Islamist social media called on Muslims to launch "a crusade to protect the Al-Aqsa mosque."

Meanwhile, rejectionism, antisemitism and incitement in official PA media - always present at varying levels - appear to also have increased dramatically in recent weeks.

The host of a children's program on the PA official TV station admonished a guest who mentioned Israel by saying, "What Israel? It's our land!"

The PA-appointed governor of Ramallah accused Israel in a TV interview of deliberately addicting Palestinians to drugs.

A PA TV news program accused Israel of injecting poison into the wells in Gaza.

A column by a member of Fatah's leadership committee published in the official PA daily not only cited the infamous antisemitic work, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, but indulged in blood libel - claiming that Jews offer their God "sacrifices during Passover in the form of Matzah - unleavened bread - made from the blood of our children."

This incitement spike coincides with Abbas' new diplomatic strategy unveiled during his UN speech. He is trying to force a vote in the UN Security Council that would impose a deadline for Israel's withdrawal from the West Bank to the pre-1967 lines, regardless of whether or not the Palestinians agree to make peace.

Such a resolution - which Abbas recently agreed to delay introducing until January at the US' request - would clearly contradict not only the Oslo Accords but the landmark 47-year-old Resolution 242 that calls for Israeli withdrawal from territories captured in its defensive 1967 war to "secure and recognised boundaries" in the context of a "just and lasting peace in the Middle East."

The unilateral withdrawal Abbas is demanding would remove the idea of peace from the equation altogether. If implemented, it would at best create a grossly unstable and violent three state situation: A likely failed PLO state on the West Bank, Hamastan in Gaza and, in between, an increasingly threatened Israel - all mutually hostile.

With the impossible claim of a Palestinian "right of return" to Israel - which has become so central to Palestinian identity - very unlikely to be resolved, the respective Palestinian entities would almost certainly be a constant source of intermittent, open violence against Israel.

It is a recipe for many lives to be lost on both sides for generations.

It is extremely doubtful, of course, that the veto-empowered United States would forget why it has always supported Resolution 242 and agree to such a plan. Abbas' latest threat therefore seems to be yet another in an endless string of delaying tactics he has employed over the years to avoid substantive negotiations requiring the difficult compromises necessary to sustainably end the conflict.

Whether any Palestinian leader could actually manage to sell peace in the short term to a Palestinian society that has been incited for decades to hate Israel and oppose any achievable peace agreement is a valid question. Yet the 79-year-old Abbas is now apparently either encouraging or allowing his official media to make this problem worse, thus sabotaging hopes his successors might achieve the two-state breakthrough both Israelis and Palestinians require.

Abbas has some definite achievements as Palestinian leader - including the renunciation of terror as a tactic and the institution of close security cooperation with Israel (though the latter has also been to Abbas' benefit, protecting him from serious Hamas efforts to take over the West Bank). And there is no doubt he is currently under pressure because of the popularity of Hamas among Palestinians following the Gaza war.

Nonetheless, his current course appears to be the sheerest folly.

However, the Palestinian Authority is financially and diplomatically dependent on outside support. It is now incumbent upon international donors who want a genuine peace to either use their leverage to convince Abbas to turn aside from that course, or else seek ways to throw their support to different Palestinian leaders who can lead their people away from incitement and hatred and towards realistic compromise, mutual respect, and peace.

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