Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman took a historical dig at Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, accusing him of having adopted Leon Trotsky’s strategy of “no war, no peace.” Abbas, Liberman suggested, is modeling his actions on those of the (Jewish) Soviet revolutionary toward the end of World War I: ready to end the fighting, but unwilling to sign a formal peace agreement.
“This man will never sign with Israel any peace treaty, and will never fight against Israel and will never resign. For Abu Mazen [Abbas], the current situation is most comfortable,” Israel’s Moldova-born foreign minister asserted in an interview with Israel Radio.
Abbas must have learned about Trotsky’s “no war, no peace” formula during his time at Moscow’s Patrice Lumumba University (known today as the Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia), Liberman surmised. In the 1960s and 1970s, the school educated leaders of various national liberation movements, mostly from the developing world, and Abbas is understood to have completed his doctoral thesis (about the “connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement”) there in 1982.
According to Liberman, the reconciliation agreement Abbas’s Fatah faction signed with Hamas in Gaza on Wednesday, less than a week before the nine months initially allocated for the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks were due to elapse, clearly demonstrated the Palestinian leader’s application of Trotsky’s strategy.
“No war, no peace. To wear the opponent out, never to commit to anything — that’s what he’s doing in the meantime,” Liberman said. Rather than making the necessary concessions for a peace treaty, or at the other extreme, calling for another bloody intifada, Abbas is unwilling to take bold steps, he argued. Rather, Abbas enjoys his current position as a leader and statesman, traveling to New York, London and Paris more frequently than to Tulkarm or Jenin, Liberman posited.
Critics of Liberman, and indeed of the Netanyahu government, would argue that his description of a leadership waging a prolonged diplomatic war of attrition might also be used for the current Israeli government’s strategy regarding the Palestinians.
Netanyahu accepted, in principle, the idea of a Palestinian state; he said as much in a landmark 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech. But on the left of the Israeli political spectrum, and among no shortage of policymakers and analysts abroad, it is argued that he has done very little since to actually help implement a two-state solution. Under intense international pressure, he agreed to hold peace negotiations — including at the heavy price of Palestinian prisoner releases — but his policies, notably on settlements, have been a major obstacle to progress, these critics say. Judging by the interview he gave to Bloomberg immediately before his last meeting with Netanyahu at the White House in early March, US President Barack Obama would be one of those critics.
As for Liberman himself: The Yisrael Beytenu chief has presented ideas for how the Israeli-Palestinian conflict can be solved — including by creatively drawing a border that would include in “Palestine” hundreds of thousands of Israel Arabs, while expanding Israeli sovereignty to include most of the West Bank settlers. But since the first component of that plan is almost universally unacceptable, and since he is adamant that he will not endorse any other solution, Liberman is evidently resigned, if not content, to sit the problem out. Indeed, he has been preaching for years that it is currently impossible to solve the conflict; it can only be managed.
Still, it is notable that even the relative moderates in the Netanyahu cabinet — including Yair Lapid (of the centrist Yesh Atid) and Tzipi Livni (the chief peace negotiator from the center-left Hatnua) — blamed Abbas three weeks ago for the crisis in the peace talks, after he applied to join 15 international treaties. Abbas argued that he was responding to Israel’s failure to release prisoners on schedule. Livni countered that a deal on the prisoners was close, and that Abbas’s resort to the international community was a “major breach.” Similarly, on Thursday, Lapid and Livni voted for the government’s suspension of peace talks in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas deal.
Plainly, these two relatively moderate party leaders do not share the contention that the “no war, no peace” summation of Abbas’s stance might equally apply to Israel.
Since Abbas chose to conclude a shock Palestinian reconciliation deal in a matter of hours, in which the Islamist extremists of Hamas were apparently not required to recognize Israel or renounce terrorism, now is hardly a moment when Netanyahu’s relatively dovish coalition partners are likely to break ranks. Not even, that is, if they privately wonder to themselves whether Liberman’s description of Abbas as a “no war, no peace” Trotsky disciple might amount to a case of the pot and the kettle.