11 November 09
At a Tel Aviv rally on Saturday night commemorating the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, the country’s president Shimon Peres called on the head of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas to reverse his decision to resign. Peres reminded Abbas, by name, that they together had signed the 1993 Oslo Accords,and he implored, “I turn to you, don’t let go.”
Peres was hardly alone among prominent politicians and statesmen who were calling on Abbas not to resign. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to comment on the resignation publicly, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that he told officials behind closed doors that it was in Israel’s interest to have a strong Abbas who could move negotiations forward. French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner publicly expressed regret over Abbas’s planned resignation, calling it “a threat to peace.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that Abbas had been a “true partner” of the United States. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton accepted Abbas’s announced resignation at face value, but she expressed the hope that she would be able to work with Abbas “in any capacity.” She also told the press that when she had met with Abbas the previous weekend, “He reiterated his personal commitment to do whatever he can to achieve a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, something that he’s actually been working on since 1972.”
Middle East observers of all political stripes agree on why Abbas is threatening to resign. In light of his popularity with American presidents and other world leaders, Abbas reasons that his threat will spur the Obama Administration and other governments to pressure Israel to freeze settlement growth. Presumably, once this happens, then somewhere further down the road, Abbas will re-issue his threat in order to get the international community to force Israel to dismantle the settlements and eventually to retreat entirely from the territories captured in the 1967 war. What is much less obvious is why Abbas is so popular internationally and consequently why such gambits have even a chance of working.
In the past few weeks, I have been struck by the difference in the way that the Obama Administration, other national leaders, and much of the press look at Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai and Abbas. The Palestinian government under Yasser Arafat and Abbas has proven to be every bit as corrupt and ineffective as Afghanistan’s. But the Karzai government is at least clearly superior to its Taliban alternative. There is little such difference between Abbas and his political rivals. The Jerusalem Post’s Evelyn Gordon noted this weekend on Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog that:
in 2005, his one year in sole control over the PA before Hamas’s electoral victory, Palestinians killed 54 Israelis and wounded 484 while 1,059 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza. Yet not only did Abbas never order his forces to combat this terror; he explicitly and repeatedly refusedto do so. He first cracked down on Hamas only in 2007, after its violent takeover of Gaza convinced him that Hamas threatened him, not just Israel.
But the problem with America’s and the rest of the world’s approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict goes far deeper than Abbas, and their never-ending delusional attempts to identify a Palestinian “peace partner” for Israel. International efforts to resolve the conflict have always focused on getting Israel to make concessions to Arabs, which would supposedly encourage Arabs to make peace. Yet the source of the trouble has always been found on the other side of the line: the refusal of Israel’s neighbors to accept a Jewish state in their midst.
Until that happens, all efforts to settle the Arab-Israeli conflict will be futile.