“Take out your cameras and take a picture of the Israeli delegation. In a few weeks, every time you see this picture you’ll cry with longing.” (The late Yossi Sarid at the Taba talks, January 2001.) But the Palestinian delegates didn’t hurry to take out their cameras, nor did they heed the warnings, that “In 50 years you won’t get an offer like Barak gave you.” Yasser Arafat, it may be recalled, replied with a “yes” that was all “no.” More than 21 years have passed, and the Palestinians really can only dream of such an Israeli delegation. A Bill Clinton-style offer is completely out of the question.
Now history is repeating itself. MK Mansour Abbas, head of the United Arab List, came to a Lod synagogue during the last round of fighting in Gaza, condemned the intersectional violence in mixed cities like Lod, said that Israel is not an apartheid state, recognized it as a Jewish state and has condemned every terror attack. But that’s not enough for us. We want our Arab leader to be a Bnei Akiva graduate, preferably from Nir Orbach’s class.
Even on the most difficult issue for the leader of a Muslim party, that of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Abbas gave the government a silver-plated fireman’s ladder. He realized that Naftali Bennett cannot meet any request from him regarding what happens on the Temple Mount. The current reality, in which the month of Ramadan regularly becomes a prelude for World War III, is intolerable. Abbas wants to change it, and rightly so. Bennett and the rest of us have an interest in changing it as well, but the trio of Abir Kara, Ayelet Shaked and Orbach won’t allow changes to take place through dialogue with Abbas, heaven forbid.
Abbas made a smart move and aligned himself with the king of Jordan. Abdallah has an official, recognized status on Temple Mount. With his help, a smarter status quo can be stabilized on Temple Mount, preventing the barricading of rock throwers and obviating the need for Israeli police to storm the mosques. Unfortunately, Abbas’s smart thinking crashes upon the rocks of suspicion and small-minded politics.
Bennett was afraid to extend the ban on Jews going up to the Temple Mount, preferring the risk of a security flare-up to the fear of upsetting Yomtob Kalfon and Orbach. Yair Lapid as well as anonymous sources say Abbas made no demands regarding Al-Aqsa. To Abbas, “it wasn’t a knife in the gut, it was a knife in the back.” If he had any sort of motivation to bring the United Arab List back to full functioning as a coalition member this week, it has evaporated. Internal pressure on him is immense as it is. His opponents in the Joint List mocked his decision to suspend the UAL’s membership in the coalition just in time for the Knesset recess, and now it’s not just during the recess anymore.
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One UAL lawmaker, Mazen Ghanayim, who preached coexistence and waxed poetic about the need to integrate Arab parties into the councils of power, is behaving like a small politician hunting for votes. Another MK on the list, Walid Taha, struggles to back up Abbas. The opposition, Joint List’s Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi, would still rather lose an eye provided Abbas loses two. They will surely retain their Knesset seats in the next elections, while Abbas will have to fight for his political life.
If he is not elected, or if his party forces him to stay out of the coalition, the entire system will breathe a sigh of relief. Arab politicians will once again be able to bemoan being kept out of power, being discriminated against by those racist Jews. The Jewish politicians will continue to “pray” that an Arab leadership arises “that cares for its constituency and not for the Palestinians.” Oh, the fun we’ll have.
Israeli politics has managed to disappear Mahmoud Abbas, the most moderate Palestinian leader imaginable, who has been fighting terrorism and Hamas for 18 years, and in return is labeled “unworthy of a meeting” by the prime minister. (Orbach might quit.) Now we’re on the way to disappearing the only legitimate leader of the Arab citizenry of Israel who was willing to enter a coalition with Jews.