What's the One Thing Netanyahu and Abbas Have in Common?

You know you’re in trouble when the only guy in the room making sense is the totalitarian leader who came to power in a military coup.

Matthew Kalman
Matthew Kalman
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Netanyahu addressing the UN on September 29, 2014, and Abbas doing the same three days earlier. Photos by AFP
Netanyahu addressing the UN on September 29, 2014, and Abbas doing the same three days earlier. Photos by AFP
Matthew Kalman
Matthew Kalman

As tensions between Israelis and Palestinians spike, violence spreads and hopes for peace plummet, Benjamin Netanyahu and Mahmoud Abbas are floundering in the bloody mess created by their own tired rhetoric and failed policies. Even the Jordanians jumped the political shark last week, with parliamentarians in Amman observing a minute’s sordid silence for the brutal killers who hacked four innocent Jewish worshippers to death in Jerusalem while they prayed, then shot dead the heroic Druze policeman who tried to stop the carnage.

As Netanyahu, Abbas and their underlings traded ludicrous threats that only inflamed the already combustible atmosphere, it was President Abdel Fattah al-Sissi of Egypt who emerged as the neighborhood’s responsible grown-up.

Sissi has declared Egypt’s zero tolerance for terrorism, cracking down on Islamist insurgents in Sinai, and razing a mile-wide security zone at Rafah while digging a deep trench to finally stop the arms smuggling to and from Gaza. At the same time, he is clear about the necessity to accompany the all-out assault on terrorism with a clear plan for the future.

“When I talk to Prime Minister Netanyahu I always tell him we need to deliver some hope to the Palestinians, we have to give them a state, so they can live in peace alongside the Israeli people,” Sissi told France 24 on Thursday.

He said there must be guarantees both for Israel and “the emerging Palestinian state” so that “neither of the two countries will be a danger to the other country. Without this, the tension and instability will last,” Sissi said.

Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Khartoum, June 27, 2014.Credit: Reuters

“I think that the courage to take this initiative will create a new deal for the whole area, and from our side we are ready to contribute to deliver guarantees for peace without danger to the Palestinians or to the Israelis,” he added.

I hope Netanyahu and Abbas were listening. Their policies – or, rather, lack of them – have led Israelis and Palestinians to the edge of a diplomatic abyss that no amount of flaking U.S. diplomacy can bridge.

Netanyahu must face the fact that for all his pronouncements about Iran and the Holocaust, the only place in the world where Jews are hacked to death at their morning prayers is Jerusalem, under Israeli sovereignty, under the impotent protection of his security forces. He refused to respond to the Arab League peace plan, refused to present an Israeli peace plan, and continued expanding West Bank settlements while supposedly talking peace with the Palestinians, vowing it would all serve Israel’s best interests. He promised the Israeli people that his tough approach would bring them security, even at the cost of worldwide disapproval. Israelis even backed Netanyahu’s assaults on Gaza – twice, in 2012 and 2014 – because he promised them the pain of slaughtering so many Palestinian civilians would be more than offset by the peace it would bring to the lives of Israelis – and hinted that it might pave the way to a long-term ceasefire.

He was wrong. Did he lie, or was he just mistaken? It doesn’t matter. He has failed utterly. He consorts with racists and turns a lazy, myopic eye towards anti-Arab, anti-Christian and anti-Black prejudice. He has betrayed the Israeli people with his policies, embarrassed the Jewish world with his empty rhetoric and driven away Israel’s friends in droves. It is time for him to change his approach, or make way for someone with some new ideas.

Mahmoud Abbas is no better. He has clung on to power in defiance of the little legal structure that the Palestinians enjoy with the promise that he alone can bring his people peace and statehood. He has repeatedly vowed that he can unite the warring factions of Hamas and Fatah into a single government. But after a promising start, Abbas has pushed peace and independence further away. His refusal to moderate Palestinian demands for a “right of return” which would inevitably lead to Israel’s erasure has created a zero-sum game that neither side can win and rendered peace talks hopeless. Abbas’s disingenuous characterization of a handful of fringe Israeli crackpots muttering prayers on the Temple Mount as a declaration of “Holy War” against the Al-Aqsa Mosque, and his sickening sanctification of Palestinians who attack and murder Israelis as “martyrs” threatens to plunge Israelis and Palestinians back into the dark days of September 2000 and a bloody reprise of the murderous violence that followed. It is time for him, too, to change his approach, or make way for someone with some new ideas.

Netanyahu cannot suppress the Palestinians by increasingly draconian security measures that will only exacerbate their genuine sense of hopelessness and disenfranchisement. He needs to offer them a realistic hope of independence and freedom. Abbas cannot embrace Palestinian terrorism and expect the Israelis to accept him as a peace partner. He needs to show Israelis that he is serious.

Both men need to either regroup or resign, because what both Israelis and Palestinians need right now is good leadership, and neither are up to the mark.

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