12 April '16..
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas turned 81 earlier this year and often hints at retirement. But despite the speculation about his future and his occasional threats to resign, Abbas keeps plugging along at the head of the Palestinian kleptocracy. Now in the 12th year of the four-year term as president of the PA to which he was elected in 2005, the successor to Yasir Arafat is intent on holding on to the reins of power in Ramallah. But that isn’t deterring the man who is thought to be his most likely successor from planning ahead. As the Times of Israel reported, Marwan Barghouti, who, like Abbas, was a top aide to Arafat, has struck a deal with Hamas and Islamic Jihad for their implicit backing for his candidacy for the PA presidency and for a plan of action against Israel. The plan involves mass demonstrations that, though allegedly non-violent, will besiege Jewish settlements and force Israel back to the 1967 lines without benefit of negotiations or a peace deal.
Unfortunately for Barghouti, there are a few obstacles to the implementation of this plan and to the realization of his ambitions.
The first may not impede Barghouti’s potential election campaign, but it will nevertheless make it difficult for him to actually lead the PA. It’s the fact that he’s currently in an Israeli prison serving five terms of life imprisonment and a 40-year term for attempted murder in connection with his activity as the leader of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, the Fatah Party’s answer to Hamas terrorist groups during the second intifada. Barghouti was judged responsible for organizing terrorist attacks that resulted in the murder of five Israelis. Those were just the cases for which conclusive evidence of his personal involvement could be produced. In fact, as the man who implemented Arafat’s plan for a terrorist war of attrition in answer to Israeli peace offers, he should be considered to have played a hand in virtually all of the thousands of deaths of both Jews and Arabs during that conflict.
But the notion of a convicted murderer running for president doesn’t horrify Palestinians. To the contrary, in the upside down political dynamic of Palestinian society, having shed so much Jewish blood gives Barghouti credibility. Hence, he has been regarded not merely as a martyr (the “Palestinian Mandela”) but the natural successor to Abbas, whose willingness to cooperate at times with Israeli security while also refusing to make peace undermines his popularity.
There’s no sign that Abbas has any intention of leaving office on his feet. Nor will he allow a new election, since he knows he would be beaten by a more radical Fatah leader like Barghouti or by Hamas if one were held. That makes Barghouti’s plans purely theoretical for the moment. But should Abbas die (something that might be the result of age or the constant threats against his life that both Israeli and PA security forces work virtually non-stop to avert) or resign for some reason, there’s no doubt that Barghouti would be an overwhelming favorite to be the next president of the PA. Indeed, it’s not clear that a reformist candidate like Salam Fayyad — whose unsuccessful efforts to institute good government in the West Bank was universally panned by Palestinians even as it was applauded by Americans — would even bother trying to oppose Barghouti.
But while Barghouti’s plans are only possible scenarios for what may happen, those who care about Israel, the Palestinians and the unlikely hopes for peace shouldn’t ignore them. Should Barghouti be put in a position to implement his ideas, the result would likely be a new terror war that would make the current “stabbing intifada” that appears to be abating in the last month, look like a picnic.
Though those leaking these plans to the press may talk about the effort as being one of non-violent protest, no one should be fooled by that claim. Barghouti is a veteran terrorist and if there are to be mass demonstrations aimed at isolating Jewish communities or disrupting Israeli life, it’s likely that they will be accompanied by direct terrorist action as well. Just as important, it will probably follow the pattern of the initial second intifada protests, in which youths were sent to directly confront Israeli forces with armed killers behind them up in order to create massacres that would besmirch Israel’s name around the world. Barghouti and his Hamas and Islamic Jihad confederates are well aware that any confrontation with Israel will result in the Jewish state being accused of using “disproportionate force” to defend itself by those, like Bernie Sanders, who will also claim to be its supporters.
But no matter what tactics Barghouti and his friends plan to use, the point about such schemes is that they are just another way to avoid peace negotiations. Though Palestinians claim they are forced to use violence, the fact remains that have consistently refused to make peace with Israel. Their goal is not to force Israel to merely give up all of the West Bank and Jerusalem and make hundreds of thousands of Jews, most of whom live either in the capital or in the settlement blocs close to the ’67 lines, out of their homes. Their goal remains Israel’s destruction. As even the supposed moderate Abbas recently indicated, Palestinian public opinion considers all of the Jewish state, both inside and outside the ’67 lines to be “occupied” territory. If all they wanted was an independent state, they could have had one in 2000, 2001, or 2008, when they were offered one in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza (where an independent state in all but name currently is ruled by Hamas), and a share of Jerusalem. But they said no each time. They also refused to negotiate with Israel’s current government, when it offered a two state solution that would have led to the evacuation of most of the West Bank.
There’s no doubt that, should Abbas leave the stage, there will be enormous international pressure on Israel to release Barghouti. But that effort should be resisted. With so much blood on his hands, Barghouti is no Mandela. But neither is his goal statehood or peace. He merely wants to continue the conflict against Zionism that has become an intrinsic part of Palestinian national identity. He should stay in jail where he belongs and the next U.S. administration — no matter who becomes president — shouldn’t waver from a position of support of Israel’s justified insistence that he continue to pay for his crimes. If Palestinians truly want peace and statehood, it’s time they stop plotting mayhem and start reassessing their steadfast refusal to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn.
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