Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has taken to giving press conferences to Israeli journalists of late. A picture of wounded innocence and goodwill, he has been using the opportunities to berate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for refusing to meet and talk peace with him, highlighting his forces’ ongoing security cooperation with Israel in the territories, and trying to wriggle out of his own personal role in fostering the vicious incitement against Israel that lies at the root of this ongoing Palestinian terror wave.
About to turn 81, Abbas may not be in politics that much longer, and there are plenty of Israelis who argue that we are missing an opportunity to make progress with him when it is clear that any successor is likely to be still more impossible to deal with.
His successor may indeed well be worse, but Abbas is impossible. His duplicitous terrorism-fostering predecessor Yasser Arafat assured the Palestinians that they had no reason or need to compromise with the Jews because we were colonial invaders, an unrooted and temporary presence that his people’s stubbornness and terrorism would eventually see off. Abbas chose not to counter that narrative, not to acknowledge to his people the Jews’ history of sovereignty in the Holy Land, and more recently intensified the strategic campaign of misrepresentation — telling Palestinians that the Jews have no business at the Temple Mount.
Meanwhile, the Fatah hierarchy he heads has been openly encouraging attacks on Israelis, and the Hamas terror group with which he seeks to partner in government is again plotting suicide bombings, developing more sophisticated rockets, and digging tunnels under the Gaza-Israel border ahead of its next planned war.
Abbas may well be deploying his forces to keep a lid on clashes in the West Bank, but he’s presiding over an ongoing, strategic demonizing of Israel and Israelis — via his education system, political and spiritual leadership and mainstream and social media — that positively guarantees Palestinian violence and terrorism. So effective is this process that, nowadays, when a young Palestinian has a row at home, feels depressed, or wants to make a name for him or herself, the default response is to grab a knife and go kill the nearest vulnerable Jew.
And so, last week, we buried Dafna Meir.
And today, we buried Shlomit Krigman.
Israel paid for Abbas’s last ostensible readiness for peace talks, in 2013-14, with the release of dozens of killers and other Palestinian terrorists from our jails. Prior to that, in 2008, Abbas spurned Ehud Olmert’s extraordinary readiness to give him everything he purportedly sought: We were gone from Gaza, and Olmert offered to leave the West Bank — with one-for-one land swaps — and to divide Jerusalem, including relinquishing sovereignty in the Old City. If that wasn’t good enough for Abbas, then obviously nothing we can offer will be.
While the United States and much of the international community refuse to internalize this, the simple, bleak fact is that everything Arafat, Abbas and Hamas have done since the collapse of the Bill Clinton-hosted Camp David 2000 attempt at forging a deal has persuaded Israelis that they dare not relinquish territory to the Palestinians, despite the imperative to separate in order to maintain a Jewish, democratic Israel.
Arafat returned from the United States and fostered the Second Intifada’s onslaught of suicide bombings — attacks throughout Israel that murderously demonstrated that it was not merely the territories that the Palestinians sought. That it’s not just the settlements, it’s all of Israel that is rejected.
In the years after Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005, the rocket fire intensified, the Palestinians gave Hamas a parliamentary majority in elections, and Hamas ousted Abbas’s forces from the Strip in hours — underlining to Israelis the dangers of leaving adjacent territory, and the ease with which Islamist forces could seize power in any vacuum. The latest Israel-Hamas conflict, in 2014, only re-emphasized the danger: If a single rocket fired by Hamas that got through the Iron Dome defenses and landed a mile from Ben-Gurion Airport could send two-thirds of foreign airlines fleeing from Israel, including all the American carriers, how could Israel possibly entertain the idea of leaving the West Bank? Hamas would be running the show within days, and our entire country would be paralyzed and isolated.
The irony, of course, is that if the Palestinians had been capable of hiding their hatred for just a short period after we left Gaza, if they had managed to pretend for even a brief time that their hearts were set on peaceful coexistence, we probably would have withdrawn unilaterally from much of the West Bank as well.
Instead, Palestinian words and deeds have persuaded mainstream Israelis — those who don’t want to rule the Palestinians, don’t want to expand settlements in areas we do not envisage retaining under any permanent accord, don’t want to have to live by the sword forever — that no partnership is viable at present. They’ve even managed to kill off the optimism of the leader of the Israeli opposition, Isaac Herzog, who sadly concluded last week that a two-state solution is simply unrealistic: He “yearns” for it, said Herzog in a radio interview. But it’s “not possible” right now.
A grassroots approach
So, how, then, to break out of this awful new reality — of more Palestinian generations strategically brainwashed to hate, and a bleeding Israel unable to advance its own interest in a safe separation to guarantee the maintenance of our Jewish democracy?
Self-evidently, there will no accord with Mahmoud Abbas. But one thing that Abbas has been saying at his recent press conferences is worth picking up on. Previous peace efforts created a joint mechanism intended to combat incitement on both sides, and Abbas has pronounced himself ready to revive that mechanism. Israel should take him up on that right away.
Netanyahu has rightly focused on incitement as a root cause of the current terror wave. We all have an interest in utilizing any and every tool that just might help alleviate some of the hostility.
It was lousy politics of Herzog to publicly give up for now on the two-state solution. If peace is not on the horizon, after all, why would Israelis elect a leader who is now acknowledging that his whole prior strategy was misguided? But Herzog’s sad and sober conclusion underlines that there can and will be no quick fixes.
What’s needed, what has always been needed, to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is a grassroots approach to peacemaking. An approach focused on education. An approach under which international resources and leverage are utilized to rewrite educational curricula, to marginalize extremist political and spiritual leaders, to promote moderation and peaceful interaction.
The Arafat-Abbas-Hamas strategy of hostility to Israel achieves the precise opposite of what the Palestinians purport to seek — independent statehood. It has now even managed to persuade the center-left opposition, the peacemaking Labor Party, that Israeli readiness for compromise is insufficient.
Perhaps the international community — so insistently led by US President Barack Obama in seeking to persuade Israelis that they can afford to take risks for peace when the bloody evidence all around them shows the contrary — will learn Herzog’s lesson.
Perhaps it will move to adopt the grassroots approach.
Perhaps it will use its immense leverage to gradually help create a climate in which it is not the most natural thing in the world for teenage Palestinians to set out with knives and kill Israeli mothers of six and 23-year-old industrial design graduates.