Haaretz Called on Israelis to Listen to Abbas. And Listen They Should - to Every Word

While the Palestinian leader's words of peace are not sharp or precise, his remarks about the holy right of return and the martyrs are surprisingly clear

Gadi Taub
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Illustration: Donald Trump and Mahmoud Abbas discuss the Palestinian Authority's funding of terrorists' families
Illustration: Donald Trump and Mahmoud Abbas discuss the Palestinian Authority's funding of terrorists' familiesCredit: Eran Wolkowski
Gadi Taub

The title of Haaretz’s May 29 editorial was “Listen to Abbas.” I want to join this call. Listen very carefully. It’s a good idea.

Thus did the editorial quote the Palestinian Authority president: “There’s no stronger voice than the voice of a just and comprehensive peace, just as there is no stronger voice than that of the right of people to self-determination and freedom from the yoke of occupation. The time has come to live, you and us, in peace, harmony, security and stability.

“The only way to end the dispute and the struggle against terror in the region and in the world is the two-state solution based on the June 1967 lines, Palestine alongside Israel. We have accepted the UN resolutions; we have recognized the State of Israel and agreed to the two-state solution, and the world has also recognized the Palestinian state. The time has come for the State of Israel to recognize our state and end the occupation. We are still extending our hand in peace.”

These remarks, the editorial stated, express “in the clearest, sharpest and most precise terms not only the Palestinian people’s desire for peace, but that of every peace-seeking Israeli citizen who wants to live in a normal country.”

Really? The first thing that is not clear, sharp or precise is what Mahmoud Abbas means by “two states." For indeed, he is very careful to use the term “two states” but not “for two peoples.” Thus, he has no problem recognizing the “right of people to self-determination and freedom,” but not to recognize Israel as the state in which the Jewish people realizes its right to self-determination.

Because the Jews are not a people in his eyes, the two states that Abbas refers to are a national Palestinian state and another state called Israel, to which “the refugees” will eventually "return.” There will thus be two states west of the Jordan river: one theirs and the other – also theirs.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at a ceremony marking the 12th anniversary of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Nov. 10, 2016.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Not preparing for compromise, rather providing economic incentives for terror.

Abbas indeed knows from experience that it is sufficient to wrap this hostile position in a few terms that have a friendly ring – peace, harmony, June '67 borders, etc. – so that well-meaning Israelis will hasten to interpret them according to their own wishes, ignoring everything else he says, allowing him to blur the fact that the Palestinians have refused every serious proposal put before them.

They turned a cold shoulder to Ehud Barak, to the Bill Clinton parameters, to Ehud Olmert’s offer and to the efforts of Condoleezza Rice, as well as to offers by John Kerry and Barack Obama. The last offer gave the Palestinians another chance to prove that they seek peace and love harmony, and that Israel under Benjamin Netanyahu is the real obstacle to peace. Even Yossi Beilin called on Abbas to change his ways and to accept Kerry’s fair framework for a deal. He has yet to do so.

So maybe we should take the editorial’s recommendation and really listen to Abbas. Last month, for example, during his visit to India, he gave a speech marking 69 years of the "Nakba." The left-wing press made no mention of this speech. No one on the left said then that we should listen. A shame, because while Abbas’ words of peace are not clear, sharp or precise, but rather intentionally misleading, his repeated remarks about the holy right of return and the martyrs and terrorists are actually surprisingly clear.

Abbas repeated in his speech in India that he would agree to accept “an independent state with full sovereignty within the June 4, 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.” He added: “Peace is our strategy, but not at any price.”

Recognizing two states for two peoples is apparently not part of the price he is prepared to pay, as indeed the "Nakba" – an injustice that, in his words, “began over 100 years ago with the appearance of Zionist with its false vision” – isn’t over, according to him. The "Nakba" continues, and the way to fix the injustice is to turn back the hands of time.

Britain should apologize to the Palestinians for the Balfour Declaration, Abbas said, and we all must recognize the “right of return” of (the descendants of) the refugees. “Our people will not leave behind the issue of the Nakba until all their legitimate national rights are recognized, without exception – and first and foremost, the right of return,” he declared.

Because we translate so little of the Palestinians' remarks, and so selectively, Hebrew readers are liable to mistakenly think that recognizing the “right of return” is a symbolic matter that can be solved after we agree to accept a limited number of “refugees.” However, this is definitely not what Abbas means. Indeed, he thinks he is not authorized to give up the “right” in the name of the “refugees.”

“The right of return,” as he has previously explained, “is a personal decision. What does that mean? That neither the Palestinian Authority, nor the state, nor the PLO, nor Abu Mazen” – yes, he is referring to himself – “nor any Arab leader has the right to rob anyone of the right of return.”

It is enough, therefore, that we recognize the principle of "the right of return" to create a situation in which every “refugee” individually will be able to chose, according to UN Resolution 194 (to which Abbas has repeatedly sworn allegiance) between compensation and “return.” And who wouldn’t want to make use of such an entry gate, leading from the hell of Syria or Lebanon, or from the poverty of Jordan, directly into the first world of Zionist “apartheid?

If we indeed begin to listen to Abbas, methodically and over time, we will discover that he is not preparing himself for any compromise. To the contrary, he is providing economic incentives for terror in the form of benefits to the families of terrorists. He praises the “martyrs” and names schools after them, and disseminates vitriolic anti-Semitism in the school system and his press.

Thus, instead of basking in quotes from selective reports carefully chosen to conceal what we don't want to see, we had better look reality in the eye: anyone who strives to end the occupation, who wants to offer a realistic alternative to the Netanyahu government, cannot offer peace. The vast majority of voters will not buy this. Rightly so.

The realistic alternative to Netanyahu is managing the conflict toward a horizon of separation, instead of the creeping expansion of the settlement enterprise that the right offers. These are the two alternatives, and we have to choose the lesser of two evils among them.