Benjamin Netanyahu can’t be an easy prime minister for Mahmoud Abbas to deal with. Unlike, say, Ehud Olmert.
Netanyahu hasn’t offered to relinquish Israeli sovereignty in the Old City in favor of an international tribunal, like Olmert did. Netanyahu has at times intimated some readiness for compromise in Jerusalem, but he hasn’t offered to divide the city into Israeli and Palestinian neighborhoods, like Olmert did. He’s indicated a readiness for West Bank territorial compromise, but not for a return to the pre-1967 lines with one-for-one land swaps, like Olmert did.
Except that Abbas didn’t accept Olmert’s dramatic, unprecedented 2008 peace offer. As Olmert subsequently detailed, Abbas failed to respond to it at all, even though it met all his professed territorial goals for a Palestinian state.
In a November 1, 2012, interview with Israel’s Channel 2 television, Abbas swore that, territorially, he had no demands on pre-1967 Israel. “Palestine now for me is ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever,” he said. So why not take the Olmert deal?
In that same interview, Abbas declared that although he was born in Safed, in northern Israel, he did not feel he had a right to go back and again make it his home. “It’s my right to see it, but not to live there,” he said. So why, in the ill-fated John Kerry-brokered 2013-14 attempt at peacemaking, did Abbas insist that a “right of return” be available to millions of Palestinian refugees and their second, third and fourth generation descendants, a “right” that, if exercised, would constitute the death of Israel as a Jewish state?
Finally in that TV interview, Abbas vowed that so long as he was in power, there would be no third armed intifada uprising against Israel. “Never,” he swore. “We don’t want to use terror. We don’t want to use force. We don’t want to use weapons. We want to use diplomacy. We want to use politics. We want to use negotiations. We want to use peaceful resistance. That’s it.” So why, a year ago at the UN, did he falsely and despicably accuse Israel of pursuing a policy of “genocide in Gaza” — a charge guaranteed to ratchet up Arab and especially Palestinian hostility to Israel? And why, last week at the UN, while disingenuously warning Israel against transforming the conflict “from a political to a religious one,” did he intensify his campaign to do precisely that — with predictably murderous consequences?
Last Wednesday in New York, Abbas culminated a series of incendiary allegations in recent months about purported Israeli plots against al-Aqsa Mosque by telling the world and, most relevantly, his own watching people that, in Jerusalem, “extremist Israeli groups are committing repeated, systematic incursions upon Al-Aqsa Mosque.” The Israeli government, he went on, is pursuing a “scheme” to impose “a new reality” at the Temple Mount, “allowing extremists, under the protection of Israeli occupying forces and accompanying ministers and Knesset members, to enter the Mosque at certain times, while preventing Muslim worshipers from accessing and entering the Mosque at those times and freely exercising their religious rights.” In fact, Israel, after capturing the Mount in 1967, capturing the holiest site in Judaism, chose to permit the Muslim authorities to continue to administer its holy places, and barred Jews from praying there. These are arrangements it maintains to this day; arrangements it is, to put it mildly, hard to imagine any other conquering force in such circumstances initiating and preserving.
Those who retain some sympathy for Abbas note that he is, at time of writing, maintaining his Palestinian Authority security forces’ coordination with their Israeli counterparts. They say it’s hard for him to condemn the latest acts of Palestinian terrorism because he is already widely seen by his public as an Israeli stooge. They argue that it is not Abbas inciting Palestinian terrorism, but rather Arab media reports and a relentless social media emphasis on alleged Israeli attacks at Al-Aqsa.
But the fact is that Abbas has never sought to counter his predecessor Yasser Arafat’s assertion that there were no Jewish temples in Jerusalem and thus, by extension, there is no historic legitimacy for Jewish sovereignty here. The fact is that Abbas has allowed no sense of Jewish connection to the Temple Mount to complicate the Palestinian narrative of Israeli-Jewish illegitimacy there. The fact is that Abbas never moved decisively to prevent vicious anti-Israeli incitement in the Palestinian media. The fact is that Abbas’s PA continued the practice of honoring terrorists and “martyrs.”
The fact is that Abbas, whom many in Israel have even after 2008 insistently wanted to believe is a partner for peace — including Olmert himself, to this day — has long since failed his people and ours.
The fact is that Abbas has quite deliberately fueled the flames of this latest Al-Aqsa-centered terror wave.
Bleak and bitter, paralyzed between his empathy for the settlement enterprise and his concern at Israel becoming a binational state, Netanyahu is not an easy prime minister for a Palestinian leader genuinely seeking a viable, lasting peace agreement.
But Mahmoud Abbas is no such Palestinian leader.