We didn’t need Mahmoud Abbas’s ghastly “genocide” speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday to make plain that this is a man with whom Israel cannot reach viable terms for co-existence and a two-state solution.
His unleashing of incendiary false accusations before the watching world was particularly despicable, but this was only the worst in a long series of vicious speeches calculated to exacerbate the hostility to the very fact of Israel’s existence among his own people, across the region, and indeed worldwide.
More substantively, while not personally fostering terrorism, Abbas has long since proved disinclined to counter the uncompromising narrative that his late and unlamented predecessor Yasser Arafat bequeathed the Palestinians — namely, that there was no Jewish temple in Jerusalem, and that the Jewish people thus have no sovereign legitimacy here. Under his rule, as under Arafat’s, most aspects of normalized relations with Israel and Israelis are discouraged, and Palestinian media routinely demonizes and delegitimizes Israel.
At the negotiating table, moreover, Abbas has proved himself a serial rejectionist.
Most tellingly, six years ago he opted not to seize upon prime minister Ehud Olmert’s bombshell offer of everything the Palestinians ostensibly seek: Israel was gone from Gaza and now offered a 100% withdrawal from the West Bank with one-for-one land swaps, the division of Jerusalem into Israeli and Palestinian sovereign sections, and shared authority for the Palestinians, alongside Israel, as part of an international, non-sovereign tribunal responsible for the Old City area. Abbas placed firm blame Friday on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for taking uncompromising and unworkable positions in peace talks over recent months. And Netanyahu’s settlement policies — including last month’s announcement of planned land expropriation in the Etzion Bloc — certainly haven’t helped build trust, bolster moderation, and discredit extremists. But it was Abbas who passed up compromising, workable positions in 2008.
The problem is that, as things stand, there is absolutely no prospect of a Palestinian leadership emerging after Abbas that will interact more fair-mindedly with Israel in the cause of viable co-existence
Moreover, as chief Israeli negotiator Tzipi Livni reminded us in her Times of Israel interview last week, it was Abbas, just months ago, who similarly failed to respond to the US-drafted framework document, accepted with reservations by Israel, that was intended to serve as the basis for the self-same substantive effort to negotiate a two-state solution he purports to seek.
Abbas the rejectionist, and duplicitous about it, too. Doubtless, when he addresses the General Assembly on Monday, Netanyahu will focus on this.
For that overwhelming majority of Israelis who want to maintain a Jewish and democratic Israel, however, the problem is that, as things stand, there is absolutely no prospect of a Palestinian leadership emerging after Abbas that will interact more fair-mindedly with Israel in the cause of viable coexistence. Quite the reverse.
Netanyahu might well note this, too. After all, he subscribes to a particularly bleak worldview, often vindicated, that holds that the Jewish people always have been and always will be persecuted, that the prime imperative of Jewish leaders is to protect the people from such persecution, and that his privilege is to lead the Jews in a rare period of history when the Jewish nation-state has been revived and has an army capable of defending it.
What one wishes Netanyahu might also say, once he’s countered Abbas’s genocide slander, however, is that Israelis and Palestinians alike have an interest in creating a different climate here — an atmosphere in which hostility, demonization and delegitimization gradually give way to moderation and mutual acceptance.
In her interview, Livni vouchsafed that baby steps in this direction were discussed in the months of US-mediated talks that collapsed in April — that a document was drawn up, and agreed upon for implementation, geared at fostering a “culture of peace” between Israelis and Palestinians. It aimed, she said, at countering racism and discrimination in the media, in the speeches of political and spiritual leaders, in schoolbooks and more, promoting mutual understanding, tolerance and respect instead.
Netanyahu’s critics, overseas and here at home, assert that his rhetorical support for a two-state solution is contradicted by his policies, especially ongoing support for the expansion of settlements. A speech in which the prime minister sets out territorial red lines — broadly delineating those areas he believes Israel must retain, and beyond which he will not seek to expand settlements — could begin to address those concerns. A speech in which he then seeks a partnership with the international community to work to marginalize violent extremism — hostility to Israel among the Palestinians, as well as hostility to the West throughout this region — would offer a path forward that could be immensely appealing worldwide, precisely as the widening US-led coalition battles IS and other brutal iterations of radical Islam.
Abbas’s speech on Friday essentially told Israel, and the US for that matter, to go to hell. It underlined what his years of failed leadership had long since confirmed — that he lacks the will or the guts to challenge and change the poisoned mindset of his people.
For Netanyahu to bitterly point this out, however, is insufficient. Since Abbas is no partner, Israel should at least try to do what it can to help create a climate in which a partner could emerge and flourish.
Netanyahu needs to galvanize the international community by specifying how the climate of hostility could be altered for the better, and by committing Israel to playing its part. No such radical shift can happen overnight. It will take years. But since Israel would be a prime beneficiary, Monday at the UN General Assembly would be a particularly good time and place to start.
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