The Left’s Abbas problem

The Left’s Abbas problem, Israel Hayom, Jonathan S. Tobin, June 6, 2017

Despite repeated Palestinian rejections of peace offers, advocates of a two-state solution still cling to the belief that it is Israel that is inventing conditions designed to ensure that negotiations will fail. But if their goal is to create a genuine consensus behind peace, then rather than lament Trump’s criticisms of Abbas, they ought to hope he will succeed in getting the PA leader to stop the incitement as well as the prisoner payments. If Netanyahu’s opponents continue to refuse to take this issue seriously, they will have no one but themselves — and the Palestinians — to blame if they continue to be marginalized and peace remains a remote dream.

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For the Israeli Left, talk about Palestinian incitement is nothing more than an excuse invented by the Right to avoid peace. The same largely applies to their views about the Palestinian Authority’s payments of more than $1 billion in just the last four years in salaries to imprisoned terrorists and their families.

The PA’s ongoing efforts to inculcate new generations in the ideology of hate that has driven the century-long war on Zionism is itself a barrier to peace. It also ensures that any effort to end the conflict will run counter to notions of Palestinian identity that are inextricably linked to that war.

But if you believe that Israel’s chief objective must be to achieve a separation from the Palestinians and an end to its presence in the West Bank and east Jerusalem regardless of what happens or who governs a Palestinian state, you view the issue differently. If you think separation is the only way to preserve a Jewish majority in the Jewish state and to protect both Israelis and Palestinians from the burden of the occupation, statements of support or even subsidies for those who commit violence are side issues or distractions that obscure the big picture.

Yet opponents of the Netanyahu government are making a big mistake when they downplay these issues. Though they doubt the motives of those who point out what the Palestinian Authority have been doing and even agree with PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ assertion that both sides incite, they are missing the point. A failure to address these questions has been the Achilles’ heel of the Left ever since the Oslo Accords were signed. Doing so is not only political poison, it also sends the wrong message to Palestinians who they insist are, against all evidence, viable partners for peace.

The issue of incitement is at the center of the discussion now because U.S. President Donald Trump has decided it is important. Trump was sufficiently ignorant of the history of the conflict and how the PA operates that he actually seems to have believed Abbas’ assurances about not supporting incitement or payments to prisoners that the PA leader made during their initial White House meeting.

But when the Israelis pointed out to him that Abbas was seeking to pull the wool over his eyes, and backed it up with video evidence, he didn’t like it. More than that, he rightly understood that this lie was an obstacle to achieving the unlikely diplomatic triumph he craved.

That led to Trump reportedly pounding the table and accusing Abbas of being liar when they met in Bethlehem. Since it would be difficult for Abbas to suddenly alter the nature of what is published in PA newspapers or viewed on PA television to mollify Israeli or Western sensibilities, let alone cease payments to the very same terrorist prisoners who are lauded by Palestinians as heroes, Trump’s insistence on these points was no small controversy.

The Left deplores Trump’s embrace of this issue and puts it down to a clever strategy implemented by Netanyahu. But if that’s all they think there is to it, they’re repeating the same mistakes that ensured the failure of peace talks in the past. In the 1990s, both the Clinton administration and Labor-led governments saw PLO leader Yasser Arafat’s words and actions as merely fodder for domestic Palestinian political consumption. But the result of that policy was not only to convey to the PA that it could transgress with impunity; this spirit of complacency also materially contributed to the collapse of faith in the peace process once Palestinian actions moved from words to bombs in the Second Intifada.

The Left’s problem is not just that serious observers understand the implications of incitement and material support for terror and that not enough people share their belief that Israeli actions are as bad or worse than those of the Palestinians. Nor are most Israelis likely to be persuaded to view actions of self-defense undertaken by their government as morally equivalent to the PA’s support for terror. Just as important is that a Palestinian leader who felt constrained to engage in behavior that engendered such deep mistrust among Israelis would be unlikely to muster support for an end to the conflict among his own people, even if he wanted to make peace.

Despite repeated Palestinian rejections of peace offers, advocates of a two-state solution still cling to the belief that it is Israel that is inventing conditions designed to ensure that negotiations will fail. But if their goal is to create a genuine consensus behind peace, then rather than lament Trump’s criticisms of Abbas, they ought to hope he will succeed in getting the PA leader to stop the incitement as well as the prisoner payments. If Netanyahu’s opponents continue to refuse to take this issue seriously, they will have no one but themselves — and the Palestinians — to blame if they continue to be marginalized and peace remains a remote dream.

Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for ‎National Review.

Explore posts in the same categories: Abbas, Abbas meets Trump, Israeli left, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian heroes in Israeli jails, Palestinian incitement, Palestinian state, Palestinian terrorists, Peace process, Trump and Israel, Trump and Palestinians, Two state solution

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