Opinion

Abbas' Fiery Speech Has Cleared Up 24 Years of Hypocrisy

Where do we go from here? Direct negotiations, of course. But it will take time — a lot of time

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas speaks in Cairo on January 17, 2018
FAYED EL-GEZIRY/AFP

Now that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has made it clear, for all the world to hear, where he stands, it is time to clear up some of the “politically correct” hypocrisy that for years, ever since the ill-fated Oslo Accords, has muddled the debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, in Israel and abroad.

The United States cannot be, and has never been, neutral in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is the leader of the world’s democratic community of nations and cannot assume a neutral position between democratic Israel and the Palestinians, whether represented by an autocratic leadership that glorifies acts of terror or by Islamic fundamentalists who carry out acts of terror.

The motivation for U.S. involvement over the years had been the assumption that its primary interest was maintaining good relations with the Arab world and assuring the continued supply of oil, and that as long as the Palestinian issue remained unresolved Israel was an encumbrance to the U.S.-Arab relationship.

In recent years the tectonic shifts in the Arab world, the lower price of oil and the decreased importance attached to the Palestinian issue in much of the region, have essentially removed the main incentive the United States had in past years to stay involved in the conflict. The involvement during the eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency was the result of his ideological convictions that included the need to reach out to the Muslim world and his belief in the “two-state solution.”

With Donald Trump’s election as the president of the United States, all that is gone and does not seem likely to return. Now, what has become clear, as should have been clear all along, is that resolving the conflict requires direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian representatives. There is no substitute for that. Not Abbas’ call for mediation by the European Union nor his reliance on the anti-Israel majority in the United Nations.

Despite the conventional wisdom that the core issues — such as Jerusalem or the fate of Israeli settlements beyond the 1949 armistice lines — are the major stumbling blocks to an agreement, the issue for which there seems to be no solution in sight at the moment is making sure that any Israel military withdrawal will not result in rockets being launched against Israel’s population centers from areas that are turned over to the Palestinians.

Israel cannot allow a repetition of what happened after the withdrawal from Gaza Strip. Neither Abbas nor the Hamas leadership can provide any assurances on this point. Until such time as this issue is laid to rest there will be no meaningful progress.

Does that mean that Israel is left with a choice between a state with a Palestinian majority or an apartheid state, as claimed by Israel’s left? This imaginary dilemma is based on a deterministic theory of history, which disregards all other possible alternatives in the years to come, and on questionable demographic predictions.

What the left is really saying is this: better rockets on Tel Aviv than a continuation of Israeli military control over Judea and Samaria. There is little support in Israel for that view. Those who support that position in the world are not particularly concerned for the security of Israel’s citizens. The insistence by the left that polls show that the majority of Israelis favor a “two-state” solution distorts the views of that majority. Most Israelis do not favor an Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria at this time, but rather express their desire to be rid of as many Palestinians as possible in due time.

As for Israeli settlements in Judea and Samaria, the lesson learned from the forceful uprooting of the settlers from Gush Katif and the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip is that there will be no repetition of such acts in the future. Nor will any Israeli government, present or future, prevent Israelis from settling in Judea and Samaria. Jews in these areas of the Land of Israel are there to stay. They should not be an obstacle to the establishment of a Palestinian State if and when that step is part of the resolution of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

A democratic Palestinian state that adopts Western values would see a Jewish minority within its borders as an asset that can contribute to the economy of a state that will face difficult economic problems.

So where do we go from here? Direct negotiations, of course. But it will take time — a lot of time.