By keeping Abbas under a glass ceiling, Israel is forgetting its real enemy
Israeli politicians continue ignoring the Palestinian president and forgetting that without him, they could face an extremist leader or a third intifada. Even Abbas' UN bid is not the existential threat Lieberman and his colleagues would like to believe.
When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke to Channel 2 on Thursday night in an interview with political correspondent Udi Segal, his words stirred an immediate wave of heated reactions among senior Hamas officials, who accused him of denying them a "right of return." The Palestinian leader's interview with the Israeli media happened to coincide with the Balfour Declaration's anniversary, which many Palestinian organizations use as an annual day of protest against Israel – and, of course, against the declaration. But despite that, Abbas, as usual, didn't avoid saying things that were hard for the Palestinian audience to hear. He explained that he has no expectation as a refugee to return to his house in Safed, and that to him, Palestine will exist only within 1967 borders. "Palestine for me is the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as the capital," he said.
Abbas has said these things in the past and continues repeating them at every opportunity. So too do his associates, who emphasize that the solution to the refugee problem will be one that Israel agrees to, based on the draft they have offered (UN Resolution 194, The Arab Peace Initiative). Those are statements of a partner for peace, of a leader who is not afraid to make statements that are unpopular from the Palestinian perspective in front of a Hebrew-speaking audience, but also before an Arab audience.
But still, Abbas is unable to break the glass ceiling of the Israeli public opinion. He, like the Palestinian situation in general, has become irrelevant for most of the Israeli public, and especially among Israeli politicians. Even the left-wing parties like Labor prefer to completely ignore Abbas' declarations and his existence as a partner for peace. Yacimovich, Lapid, Kahlon and Mofaz all prefer to bow their heads on the Palestinian issue and adopt Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict, which is simple: there is no solution.
So, again, each of these Israeli election candidates must be reminded of a few basic facts: there is a solution; the question is whether you, the public's actual or potential electorates, want to pay the price. That price means giving up more than 95 percent of the West Bank, retreating from East Jerusalem and even compromising on the Temple Mount. And perhaps you need to be reminded of another few simple truths: the alternative to "there's no solution" is not "managing" the conflict, but risking a third intifada. The alternative to having Abbas as a partner is not a more moderate leader, but a Marwan Barghouti or Hamas.
However, it must be acknowledged that Abbas is not flawless. Far from it. Almost every day, official Palestinian media broadcast defamations of Israel that at best deny her existence or at worst praise and glorify Israel-murderers. Institutions of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, despite the moderate line Abbas presents, nurture the myth of a return to 1948, and never – not for a moment – do they express doubt that the Palestinian right to return will not materialize.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman present the Palestinian appeal to the United Nations, which is planned for late November, as nothing less than an existential threat to Israel. Absurdly, the drama they conjure among Israeli public opinion actually assists Abbas, who seeks to convince his audience, not just that of Channel 2, that he too can achieve results. Nabil Shaath, a senior PA official, exposed on Friday the version of the decision that the UN General Assembly will be requested to accept: "We have decided to raise Palestine’s status to an observer state, and we ask for your recognition." That wording is bound to garner maximum support and effect among the majority of the international community.
One moment before Lieberman lashes out again at his so-called "enemy number one" over the latter's intention to request the UN General Assembly upgrade Palestine's status to "nonmember state", it must be said that the expected "damage" to Israel that would result from such recognition is not critical to Israel's survival. Far from it. Israel's big problem (and that of Abbas) has been - and remains - with those same organizations that choose terror over diplomacy: Hamas, Islamic Jihad and co. And it is that camp – the extremists – that has been achieving more and more success lately, while Israel's government – particularly the foreign minister – continues focusing on the "existential threat": Mahmoud Abbas.
In the meantime, Hamas continues improving the economic state of the Gaza Strip, receiving financial donations and being granted with visits from Arab leaders – like the Emir of Qatar and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The latter, per usual, does not miss a single political opportunity to strengthen his esteem in the Muslim world, and has already run to tell the Turkish media that final arrangements are taking place to arrange his visit to the Strip. Erdogan's traditional line of attack against Israel, which is to criticize the Gaza blockade, suffered a severe blow last week when none other than his ally Ismail Haniyeh said, upon the Qatari Emir's visit, that the siege had been broken. Now how is Erdogan going to complain about Israel?