Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

The two faces of Abbas

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With negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) seemingly at a stand-still, an analysis suggests there are not two parties to the conflict, but three - Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu, and two versions of PA President Mahmoud Abbas: the version experienced by the Arab world, and the one witnessed by the West.

Indeed, these two versions of Abbas share a face and a name but contradict one another in almost every other way. The West sees a moderate Arab leader, one of few in the Middle East, geared towards rebuilding from the ruins of a broken people; who sees peace and compromise with their neighbours as the only tool for achieving this. The Arab world, and most importantly the Palestinian people, see an angry leader, who not only shares but helps fan their violent fervour towards the entity upon whom they place sole blame for their hardships - the Zionist movement, the Jewish people, the State of Israel.

David Pollock of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy recently published a political analysis of the changes in messaging from the Palestinian Authority and on the streets of the West Bank and Gaza. Exploring changes in tone since the formation of a unity government with Hamas, the conspicuousness of the increasing absence of terror condemnation, and a consequently growing support for armed resistance, Pollock's "policy focus" highlights that the two versions of Abbas appear intermittently, sometimes consecutively, but never to the same audience.

The West-oriented Abbas most recently appeared after the bus-bombing on April 25 - the first bombing on public transport in Israel for many years, but coming amidst a wave of terror characterised mainly by stabbings and the use of vehicles to run over Israel.

Pollock notes that: "As of early 2016, official PA and ruling Fatah Party media and cabinet-level officials continue to praise Palestinians who shoot or stab Israeli civilians to death as ‘heroes' and ‘martyrs.' PA president Mahmoud Abbas does not publicly endorse that violence, but neither does he condemn it anymore, as he did on several occasions in past years." Though he claims to have "said it over and over again", Abbas's condemnation of the bus bombing in Jerusalem last week was the first he has expressed since the escalation of violence began towards the end of 2015. Abbas asserts that whilst he is "against all forms of terrorist activity that affect Israeli and Palestinian civilians", he believes that ultimately, Palestinians have reached a point where they "don't care if I condemn their deeds".

Furthermore, in an interview a few weeks ago with Ilana Dayan on Israel's Channel Two television station, Abbas declared that he is committed to stopping the surge of violence amongst Palestinian youth which began in September last year. Abbas told Dayan that "our security forces are entering schools and checking if students are carrying knives. In one school we found 70 students with knives and we told them that it was wrong". Furthermore, Abbas denied allegations that he has personally incited the violence against Israelis, insisting that he has "always been against murder and violence". Though he admitted to incitement from the Palestinian media, he accused Israel of equally aggressive behaviour and vernacular towards Palestinians. Abbas concluded the interview by stressing that "I want to restore hope and I want to sit at the negotiations table". These sentiments reinforced statements made a few days earlier, as he told Druze leaders that his hand is extended towards peace with Israel, as well as his intentions to "end hostility and bloodshed" expressed to delegations from the World Federation of Moroccan Jews. Yet when Netanyahu responded to these peaceful gestures by offering to meet, Abbas' offsider, Secretary-General of the PLO, Erekat, refused.

It is at these times, as the sympathetic and moderate version of Abbas surfaces in encounters with Israeli and international media, that he receives backlash from his people and others in the Arab arena, and not only from his political enemies in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, but from his own supporters in Fatah and the PLO. Following the Channel Two interview, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) called for Abbas' resignation, accusing him of having "crossed all red lines" with his "despicable" remarks to the "enemy TV station". Herein lies the chasm - why is criticism of the President from his own people limited to his peace- themed, West-oriented statements? And if the Palestinian people are genuinely opposed to peace with Israel, and believe that said peace is Abbas' primary goal, why are they "not up in arms about [his] eleventh year of a four-year term in office?" asks Jerusalem based journalist Khaled Abu Toameh.

The answer is Abbas 2.0 - the Abbas who publicly accused the Jews of "defiling the al-Aqsa" mosque with "their filthy feet" - a corrosive statement to which can be traced the beginnings of the most recent surge of violence, resulting in the murder of 34 Israelis and the death of over 200 Palestinians, a large majority killed in the midst of carrying out terror acts, can be traced. It is this Abbas who shares their unequivocal blame of the State of Israel, and encourages the realisation of their violent tendencies towards Jews. It is this Abbas who has led the Palestinian Authority in the creation and facilitation of a general atmosphere of aggression, unwillingness to compromise, and a hatred strong enough to seek "martyrdom" for. Some recent examples of this include:

• On March 8th, following the indiscriminate stabbing of 12 civilians at the Jaffa port, Palestinian TV referred to the attacker as a "shahid", a martyr, and to the victim who died from his wounds as a "settler" - when in fact, he was an American tourist. This was reinforced by a Facebook post from the official Fatah page, which read: "Happy are the martyrs, continuing toward true freedom and honour".

• Following the April 18th Jerusalem bus bombing - which again Abbas officially condemned, his own Fatah organisation came out with the following statement: "The Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades bless the self-sacrificing operation in Jerusalem. For our Jerusalem and our Al-Aqsa Mosque, the good news of victory keeps arriving today, in a display we have not seen in a long time - a bus bombing operation in the occupied city of Jerusalem, in which dozens of Zionists were injured."

The first Palestinian group to applaud the Jerusalem bus attack was Hamas - which later claimed responsibility . Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said that his movement "welcomes the Jerusalem operation and considers it a natural response to Israeli crimes, especially extra-judicial executions and the desecration of the Al-Aqsa Mosque." But Fatah also endorsed exactly the same view, with Fatah spokesman Ra'fat Elayan using Hamas' words to comment on the bus blast: "This is a natural response to Israeli practices against our people, including arrests, killings and recurring incursions into the Al-Aqsa Mosque." Other examples of this behaviour from Fatah include:

• Two days after the Jerusalem bombing, Fatah posted a video that promotes car ramming and stabbing of soldiers, celebrating those who have carried out such acts and promising heavenly rewards and societal recognition to those who take it upon themselves to commit acts of terror.

• Recently, the Palestinian Authority has sought international recognition for "the legitimacy of the prisoners' struggle" (practically amounting to the right to murder Israelis) by campaigning for a Nobel Peace Prize for Marwan Barghouti - a Palestinian leader convicted and jailed for five counts of murder for organising terror attacks. Issa Karake, Director of PLO Commission of Prisoners' Affairs, says a peace prize for Barghouti would be "a response to the Israeli claims accusing the prisoners of being terrorists and criminals." In other words, they want to emphasise that in the Palestinian view, what Barghouti did was not only not terrorism, not only justifiable, but laudable. Others lauding Barghouti over recent weeks or supporting the campaign for him to get a Nobel Peace prize include Fatah Central Committee member Mahmoud Al-Aloul, the head of the Fatah parliamentary faction Azzam Al-Ahmad, and an official statement by the Fatah parliamentary faction.

Anti-semitism is also an integral part of the Fatah ideology, exemplified most recently in an interview with PA TV, in which the Mufti of Bethlehem Abd Al-Majid Amraneh proclaimed: "Here in Bethlehem and Palestine, we are still suffering from the agony of those days, as almost the same group [Jews] that persecuted Jesus, the same group that wanted to deceive Jesus and attack him, is still attacking Palestine, Palestine's people, and Palestine's young men and women."

More examples of Palestinian incitement to violence can be found here: http://www.aijac.org.au/news/article/palestinian-authority-incitement-continues-to-fu http://www.aijac.org.au/news/article/incitement-means-no-end-in-sight http://www.aijac.org.au/news/article/rising-palestinian-incitement-to-violence

These are the two faces of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. This is the duplicitous game played by him and his supporters, The end of this game is the only chance for the beginning of a genuine reconciliation process, in which terror is genuinely condemned, as well as fought and marginalised, and the coexistence needed for a genuine two-state resolution becomes a reality.

Ari Wenig

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