Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week hailed the 39th anniversary of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s historic trip to Israel, contrasting it with the intransigence displayed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
Abbas “refuses to come to direct negotiations without preconditions, is also continuing to incite his people regarding the idea of a right of return and erasing the State of Israel, and, to my regret, is not taking the right steps to start calming things and preparing public opinion for reconciliation with the State of Israel,” he said at his weekly cabinet meeting.
Netanyahu’s point is often ignored, but vitally important. Abbas, currently in the 11th year of a four-year presidential term, has made no serious effort to engage with Israel diplomatically. He has, however, successfully thwarted efforts by the United States to open bilateral talks between the PA and Israel, choosing to internationalize the conflict rather than working to solve it through direct negotiations.
Jackson Diehl, the deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post, assessed Abbas’s mindset in May 2009, shortly after President Barack Obama began his current term in office. “The Americans are the leaders of the world,” Abbas told Diehl. “They can use their weight with anyone around the world. Two years ago they used their weight on us. Now they should tell the Israelis, ‘You have to comply with the conditions.’ ”
Diehl observed that Abbas was convinced “that the United States will simply force Israel to make critical concessions, whether or not its democratic government agrees, while Arabs passively watch and applaud.”
On two occasions this is exactly what happened.
In late 2009, Obama prevailed upon Netanyahu to implement a 10-month moratorium on Israeli construction in the West Bank in order to facilitate direct negotiations with the Palestinians. Instead of using the freeze as an opportunity to negotiate, Abbas refused to engage with Israel until September 2010, the final month of the freeze. After two meetings, Abbas tried to get the United States to prevail upon Israel to extend the freeze. When Israel refused this latest precondition, Abbas suspended the talks.
A few months later, Newsweek reported on Abbas’ troubled relationship with Obama. The Palestinian president didn’t express regret for a missed opportunity, but rather blamed the lack of diplomatic progress on the president, who he claimed had suggested the settlement freeze. “I said OK, I accept. We both went up the tree. After that, he came down with a ladder and he removed the ladder and said to me, jump. Three times he did it,” Abbas said.
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, though, saw things differently, recalling in late 2012:
I stood on a stage with [Netanyahu] … and I said it was unprecedented for any Israeli prime minister to have done that. I got so criticized. I got criticized from the right, the left, the center, Israeli, Jewish, Arab, Christian, you name it. Everybody criticized me. But the fact was it was a 10-month settlement freeze. And he was good to his word. And we couldn’t get the Palestinians into the conversation until the tenth month. … In the last 20 years, I’ve seen Israeli leaders make an honest, good-faith effort and not be reciprocated in the way that was needed.
In 2013, Clinton’s successor, Secretary of State John Kerry attempted to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Over a nine month period, the two sides engaged in talks. Israel released dozens of Palestinian prisoners — including convicted murderers, kidnappers, and torturers who killed dozens of Israelis — in order to keep the negotiations going. In February 2014, when the United States offered a framework for a future peace deal, Netanyahu accepted the proposal. Abbas rejected it.
As David Hazony, editor of The Tower, reported at the time, Abbas dismissed every major issue proposed by the Americans. He rejected establishing a Palestinian capital in the neighborhood of Beit Hanina, demanding instead all of eastern Jerusalem; he refused to accept Israel as a Jewish homeland, thereby recognizing its legitimacy as a Jewish nation-state and forfeiting future Palestinian claims to the territory; and he refused to abandon the Palestinian “right of return,” which facilitate the immigration of millions of Palestinians into Israel and lead to its effective destruction.
At the end of 2014, former Israeli peace negotiator Tzipi Livni blamed the failure of the American-sponsored talks squarely on Abbas. She told New York Times columnist Roger Cohen that she had hoped to continue the talks, but that Abbas instead signed 15 international conventions — 11 of which the Palestinian Authority was immediately in violation — in an effort to bypass direct negotiations and politicize the conflict. The final blow to the American effort was Abbas’ announced formation of a unity government with the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas, even though Hamas rejects Israel’s right to exist, an internationally accepted premise for peace.
The signing of the 15 international conventions wasn’t accidental. Abbas already announced his intent to bypass direct negotiations and seek to internationalize the conflict in a 2011 New York Times op-ed. “Palestine’s admission to the United Nations would pave the way for the internationalization of the conflict as a legal matter, not only a political one,” he explained. “It would also pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice.”
A 2012 effort for admission to the General Assembly failed. But that hasn’t deterred Abbas from using Palestinian membership in international organizations to attack Israel’s legitimacy. The most recent manifestation of this effort were the two UNESCO resolutions approved in October, which effectively denied Jewish claims to Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, despite extensive evidence to the contrary.
The point of the resolutions, Eylon Aslan-Levy wrote last month in The Tower, was “to render Israeli sovereignty over the Old City utterly illegitimate, do the most damage by prejudging how the international community should approach the question of the holy sites in any future accord.”
Over the past eight years, whenever diplomatic opportunities for peace presented themselves, they were quickly and deliberately buried by Abbas. It is clear why Netanyahu, who has repeatedly offered to meet with Abbas without preconditions, observed that the Palestinian president “is not taking the right steps” for peace.
[Photo: Flash90 ]