Abbas’s speech is a grenade in the Israeli right’s lap

The Palestinian leader may have confirmed he is no peace partner, but now the onus is on Netanyahu’s government to come up with a realistic long-term plan

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

After nine years of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu telling us there is “no partner,” we finally received proof that the “magician from Balfour Street,” as he is sometimes known, was right again: There is no peace partner at the moment and it doesn’t like there will be one anytime soon.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas succeeded in creating a rare consensus in Israeli society with his speech on Sunday, having made clear what Israeli right-wingers have been saying at every turn in recent years: The issue isn’t the 1967 borders; it is Palestinian unwillingness to accept the existence of the Jewish state.

The question is whether any of those who were proven right are bothering to wonder who Abbas’s replacement will be and what will happen after the 82-year-old is gone. Does anyone in the Israeli government have a plan for the next step regarding the Palestinians?

Many questions come to mind following Abbas’s statements to PLO Central Council members and the understanding that the two-state solution is most certainly dead.

Clearly, a Palestinian state will not be established alongside the State of Israel in the foreseeable future. But what will happen instead, once Abbas is gone? Is Israel interested in preserving the current situation, meaning limited control of the Palestinians — who will become increasingly economically dependent on Israel — and settlement construction, in the hopes that the Palestinians will just sit quietly? An “enlightened occupation,” or something of the sort?

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (right) speaks with Education Minister Naftali Bennett on November 13, 2017.(Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Or will Israel annex Area C, which constitutes more than 60 percent of the West Bank, and grant autonomy to residents of Palestinian cities (a plan championed in the past by Naftali Bennett, leader of the religious right-wing Jewish Home party)? Again, Israel would have to hope the Palestinians will be “good Arabs” and not resist too much.

In other words, what is the Netanyahu government’s plan for, say, a decade down the line? Will we still be controlling the lives of 2.8 million Palestinians? Will we be giving them jobs and infrastructure but denying them self-determination?

The conclusion of the Abbas era, even if only in the symbolic sense, shouldn’t be cause for celebration on the Israeli side, not even among annexationists. On the contrary, there are more reasons to be worried.

In recent years, the PA and Abbas have been the main buffer preventing violent and bloody outbursts against Israel. The Palestinian security forces prevented hundreds of terror attacks, stopped mass demonstrations and thwarted potentially volatile events.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (C) speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah on January 14, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

Simultaneously, the PA supplied a livelihood to a majority of West Bank residents. With the help of an overlarge government mechanism relative to the size of the population, the West Bank economy was relatively stable and a Gaza-like collapse was averted.

But what happens after Abbas? Does anyone in Israel truly believe the current situation can last for long and that the next leader will follow a similar policy, rejecting violence?

Abbas will probably not lead his people to peace and statehood, but there is one thing that cannot be taken away from him: He actively opposed terror and violence. At the outset of the Second Intifada, he was one of only two Palestinian leaders, along with Jibril Rajoub, to openly oppose it.

During his presidential campaign in 2005, Abbas used every opportunity to condemn the launching of rockets from the Gaza Strip. It was the most non-populist act he could have committed back then. He pushed commanders of his forces to arrest Hamas, Islamic Jihad and even Fatah operatives who planned terror attacks on Israeli targets.

Will his successor act in the same way? Going over the various leaders who could govern the Palestinians after Abbas is gone, it is hard to believe such a person exists. But who knows, maybe the “magician from Balfour Street” can pull one out of his hat.

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