Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

Scribblings: Listening to Abbas

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Tzvi Fleischer


Listening to Abbas

When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas was in Washington in mid-June, he made headlines for his meetings with US President Barack Obama, and for something he said at a meeting with American Jewish leaders. He reportedly said “I would never deny [the] Jewish right to the land of Israel.” If accurate, this is certainly very positive, because past Palestinian leaders, including Arafat, have repeatedly denied precisely that, as has the state-run Palestinian media.

However, Abbas’ statement would be of much higher value if he were willing to make it in Arabic to his own people, which unfortunately seems unlikely. Just a week after Abbas was in Washington, PA TV, an official public broadcaster under the auspices of Abbas’ own presidential office, broadcast a documentary claiming the Israeli cities of Haifa, Acre, Ashkelon, Jaffa, as well as the Sea of Galilee as Palestinian, and referred to how Haifa “fell to the occupation in 1948”. In other words it claimed all of Israel is “occupied Palestinian land,” something which stands in stark contrast to Abbas’ positive statement in Washington. If Abbas refuses to even stop such claims in the media he controls, it is hard to see how he can tell his people about the “Jewish right to the land of Israel.” In fact, Jewish leaders questioned Abbas about incitement in the Palestinian Authority and were reportedly not able to get a very satisfactory answer from him.

However, Abbas reportedly did say something else at the meeting with Jewish leaders which should help inform anyone who doesn’t understand why there are now only indirect Palestinian-Israel talks, when there have been direct talks for most of the past 17 years. According to the reputable Washington news website Politico (June 10), Abbas was asked why he would not resume direct talks with Israel. Politico’s Ben Smith reports “Abbas blamed the hold-up in talks on the White House, noting that they had raised the issue of settlements: ‘They are the ones who requested for the Israelis to stop settlements, what do you expect of me? Less than them?’ he was quoted saying in paraphrase.” In other words, Abbas confirmed what most analysts have long argued – White House mishandling of demands for Israeli confidence-building measures on settlements are the culprit which prevented renewed direct talks, to the discomfort of both the Israelis and the Palestinian Authority.

It is worth noting one more thing that Abbas said in Washington, not to the Jewish leaders this time to but to President Obama. According to Haaretz (June 13), he reportedly told the President he is opposed to lifting the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip because this would bolster Hamas. Analysts have been saying as much, despite what the PA says in public. Informed observers should be aware that, privately, Mahmoud Abbas reportedly wants the Gaza blockade to remain, as the analysts allege.


Hamas Still Hurting in the Polls

Meanwhile, the Palestinian public is also telling everyone, via polls, something that many commentators seem reluctant to hear. Namely, that it is not true that Israel’s blockade of Gaza is only strengthening Hamas, as is often claimed. In fact, suprisingly even the recent flotilla incident has apparently not stopped an ongoing haemorrhaging of public support from Hamas to Fatah.

According to a poll conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research between June 10 and 13, “despite the events associated with the Free Gaza flotilla and the Israeli attack on it,” there was “a significant improvement in the status of Salam Fayyad and his government.” Of those Palestinians surveyed, 45% said they would vote for Fatah and 26% for Hamas. Interestingly, among Gazans, support for Fatah was even higher, 49% to 32% for Hamas. Moreover, Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad, who had virtually zero public support when he assumed office three years ago, would beat Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in a presidential election, while Mahmoud Abbas would win easily, 54% to 39%. All these numbers represent improvements for Fatah and Fayyad since the previous similar poll in March.

The same poll showed that 60% of Palestinians oppose bans on Palestinians working in West Bank settlements that the Palestinian Authority is trying to impose as part of their boycott of West Bank settlement industries.


Global Poll: Don’t let Iran get nukes

I want to call attention to one more recent poll which demonstrates something that might startle many readers – there is support for using military force to stop Iran getting nuclear weapons in a surprising number of countries.

A Pew Institute survey polling 25,000 residents of 22 states found that majorities in 21 of them (the exception being Pakistan) opposed Iran getting nuclear weapons, and majorities in all 21 also support tougher sanctions on Iran to prevent this. Moreover, in 16 of them, including in Egypt and Jordan, majorities preferred military action as a last resort in preference to allowing Iran to gain nuclear weapons. Even a plurality of Lebanese favoured this – though, as one would expect, the Shi’ite segment of the population had very different views.

In other words, while everyone should hope it never becomes necessary, there is considerable global support for military action to stop a nuclear Iran if every other alternative is exhausted.

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