We came out of the meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah last week in awe of this courageous man who says things that even a leader in the community of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship wouldn’t say in public, for fear of losing a few votes from the clan in the local elections. But Abbas says them in front of a crowd, naturally and out of deep conviction.
Then my thoughts wandered to the esteemed occupants of the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street, and I wondered how they managed to turn Abbas into the ultimate enemy of peace, a terrorist according to some. And not a conventional terrorist, God forbid, but a terrorist when it comes to diplomatic negotiations.
Around two months ago, the authors Gabriel Moked, 84, and Mohammed Ali Taha, 77, (I always said the future belongs to the old) established a forum of Jewish and Arab writers and intellectuals. I, who will soon turn 60, joined as a representative of the younger generation.
The forum’s principles are as follows: an end to the occupation, two states based on the June 1967 borders, an open Jerusalem that houses the capital of each state, and a solution to the refugee problem based on the Arab Peace Initiative. The forum decided to meet with the presidents of each state to present its program.
We met with Abbas last week, the day after Haaretz reported, citing Israeli intelligence sources, that his health had deteriorated. While it’s obvious that he’s no longer a teenager, what he told us with such determination, clarity and faith sounded like the words of a young man who believes in his ability to topple the conventions we have lived with for decades.
“What today seems impossible, tomorrow will seem as normal as could be,” he said. “We shall discover that we have known each other for thousands of years, during which time neighborly and cooperative relations thrived. If we will have any regrets, they will be only for the recent decades of conflict between us.”
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Unlike most Israeli leaders, who declare the conflict unsolvable and sentence future generations on both sides to wallow in the mire of the occupation, Abbas wants to close circles so that the next generation can develop new ones during his lifetime. “I don’t want my grandson to tell me, ‘Where is my right?’” He said.
Regarding the Palestinian refugees, he reminded us that he was the one who asked that the term “agreed solution” be added to the relevant article in the Arab Peace Initiative. In doing so, Abbas signaled to the Israelis that the solution wouldn’t be imposed, while rebuffing the claim that the goal was to destroy Israel. “We want to live in peace with Israel, not to destroy it,” he said. At the same time, he signaled to the Palestinians the need for an agreed solution; how can even a single refugee return without Israel’s agreement?
Another of his remarks that punctured Israeli arguments on security: “The world is talking about eliminating nuclear weapons. I say that we are also against conventional weapons, which have destroyed many countries. We don’t want any kind of weapon. We don’t want to destroy and we don’t want to be destroyed.”
Abbas “revealed” to us that Benjamin Netanyahu was against the Oslo Accords from the beginning — as if we didn’t know. And that Netanyahu went on to “spoil the stew,” as Abbas put it. “According to the Oslo Accords, we were supposed to reach a final agreement in 1999, but the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin ended an important chapter in coexistence.”
On our initiative to meet with Reuven Rivlin, Abbas said: “I want to bless President Rivlin; he’s an honest man and believes in peace. And I hope, despite the limitations of his position, that he will play a role in the peace process.”
Taha asked Abbas if he wanted to reassure Netanyahu, who is worried about his health. “Let him worry,” Abbas said. I asked him what to tell Netanyahu, as if the prime minister were waiting on the line, and Abbas said: Don’t worry, others will continue to conduct the negotiations. That was how the meeting ended.