Abbas Outstretches His Hand, but Netanyahu Wags His Finger

The Palestinian president's condemnations of the kidnapping fall on deaf ears: Netanyahu refuses to give up paradigm that no treaty can be reached with Arabs.

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.Credit: Ronen Zvulun , AP , Mohamed Torokman, Reuters
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the kidnapping of the three Israeli teens on Wednesday, speaking before foreign ministers of Muslim states gathered in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia: "The missing settlers in the West Bank are human beings like us, and we must look for them and return them to their families."

On Thursday evening, Abbas again condemned the kidnapping, this time in a conference in Ramallah, and urged the use of diplomacy rather than violence to solve the Palestinian problem. And earlier this week, Abbas called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and afterwards issued a condemnation of the kidnapping.

Accolades for Abbas' statements weren't limited to leftists from the north Tel Aviv bubble - they were from officials in the security establishment as well, who called them courageous and impressive, especially in light of the rising temper of the Palestinian street. The security establishment knows that cooperation with the Palestinian Authority - which is still ongoing - is important for Israel's security.

Whatever Abbas' motives may be – a true realization that the Israeli and Palestinian interests are intertwined, or looking to improve his international standing – all signs show that he wants to cool down the situation and is trying to reach out to Israel - at the expense of his alliance with Hamas.

And what is Netanyahu offering in return? A shift from harsh, accusatory attacks against the PA president to a mistrusting, condescending skepticism. In a press conference in the Judea and Samaria Division headquarters with the defense minister, Netanyahu made no attempt to respond to the Palestinian leader's outstretched hand, but only wagged his finger and ordered Abbas to boot Hamas out of the Palestinian government.

No leader – not a Muslim from the West Bank, nor a Lutheran from Sweden or a Jew from Jerusalem – can stand such continued humiliation.

Would an Israeli minister, let alone the PM, even consider to publicly condemn the killing of Palestinian children, which Palestinians rightly view as terrorism? On the night between Thursday and Friday a 16-year-old Palestinian was killed when he was "accidentally shot" in clashes between civilians and IDF troops, a month after two Palestinians aged 17 and 20 were shot and killed by IDF fire in Beitunia; three months before, a 14-year-old Palestinian was shot to death near Hebron, when he crossed the separation barrier to pick herbs. These are only the last of the crop.

Would an Israeli minister in the Naftali Bennett government risk getting caught red-handed while expressing human empathy with the pain of Palestinians at the death of their children?

Even the opposition keeps mute, with only a select few from Meretz and Hadash daring to give voice to the radical notion that Palestinians suffer as much as we do when their children are hurt.

Those who don't appreciate the risk Abbas takes on himself by his statements only pay lip service to terms like "peace" or "real peace" or any other whitewashed expression, while their true goal is the pursuit of war. Those who don't see Abbas' offer as a diplomatic fulcrum don't want or believe in peace.

It's hard to decide whether the Netanyahu-Ya'alon double act in the press conference was depressing or infuriating. Netanyahu is as attached to his Israel-at-wartime windbreaker as he is to the paradigm that Arabs can't be trusted and that a diplomatic settlement with them is impossible. This basic principle is coated with nationalist tropes, a heap of clichés, a profound tone of voice – and the trusted windbreaker, of course.

And we remain the captive audience of this charade.

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