Nothing illustrates the challenges Israel faces than the speech Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas gave to the European Parliament on June 23.
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In his remarks, Abbas supported the recent French initiative and the Saudi 2002 peace initiative. As much as Israel has problems with both proposals, the very fact that Abbas supports proposals that could lead to a two-state solution distinguishes him from Hamas.
In contrast to the PA, Hamas never has shown an iota of interest in any solution to the conflict which would involve Israel’s continued existence as a legitimate state. This is consistent with their founding charter which calls for the destruction of the state of Israel.
While Abbas is not Hamas, his presentation before the European Parliament highlights why so many Israelis see him as part of the problem and part of the solution.
His speech was incitement par excellence. Yes, since then Abbas has apologized for the most egregious element of his incitement, but the damage had already been done before the European Parliament.
He invoked an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory reminiscent of the middle ages. Citing reports that have been debunked, he claimed that rabbis in Israel “have said very clearly to their government that our water should be poisoned in order to have Palestinians killed.”
This kind of outright lie coming from the leader of the Palestinian Authority and uttered shamelessly before representatives on the continent where such anti-Semitism originated, is not only despicable, but goes a long way to turn both sides against peacemaking.
For Palestinians, it enhances views that the Israelis are brutal and ready to do anything to make their lives impossible. And for Israelis, it reinforces the prevailing sense that nothing has changed in the Palestinian world.
It is not hard to imagine that when Israelis hear such absolute nonsense articulated by their so-called partner in peace, it reminds them that the hostility to Israel is not about occupation or competing interest, but about hatred for Jews.
If that was all Abbas did in his remarks to the EU Parliament, enough damage would have been done. His anti-Semitism makes his comments desiring peace seem disingenuous. Yet he did even more.
At a time when the world is trying to cope with the horrors of ISIS – sponsored and inspired terror, and particularly the Europeans, Abbas had the gall to say that “once the occupation ends, terrorism will disappear, there will be no more terrorism in the Middle East, or anywhere else in the world.”
On the face of it, this is an absurd comment, almost like something that had been published in The Onion. It is transparently false, and the kind of silly assertion that should be dismissed and condemned out of hand.
And yet, Abbas knew what he was doing when he made this comment. It was far more than a rhetorical flourish. For a long time, many in the West, reluctant to acknowledge the character of the threat of Islamic extremist terrorism, took comfort in the idea that it was all connected to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to Israeli occupation.
That approach took hold in the Carter administration four decades ago and has persisted in certain western circles ever since, despite the accumulating evidence of game-changing phenomena in the region including the emergence of Al Qaeda and ISIS, the disruption of the Arab Spring, the spreading hegemony of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
Despite the claims of some regional despots or Western academics, these developments had no relation to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Yet, they insisted, “Solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” which is often a code phrase for Israeli capitulation – granting the Palestinians a state without their accepting the legitimacy of the Jewish State – and everything else will be fine.
European leaders should openly reject this assertion by Abbas. One can eagerly seek peace between Israelis and Palestinians without attributing to it a magical ability to solve the enormous threat from ISIS, to tame the mullahs in Tehran or to address other forms of radicalism and instability in the region.
As if this weren’t bad enough, Abbas managed to inflame matters in one additional way, where too he knows better but didn’t let knowledge stand in the way of his incitement against Israel.
This was regarding his comments on Gaza. There is plenty of distorted criticism of Israeli policy vis-à-vis Gaza to go round. Israel has been accused of using disproportionate force in the wars, ignoring how Hamas placed its terrorist operatives in the heart of civilian areas.
And criticisms of Israel’s blockage of the strip simply ignores Hamas use of openness to acquire new weapons and build tunnels intended for mayhem against Israeli civilians.
Abbas, however, went one step further. He charged that Israel has started three wars in Gaza. This inflammatory accusation coming from him is particularly ironic because the PA experienced first-hand the brutality of Hamas when the Islamic group forcibly evicted the PA
In fact, of course, it was Hamas deliberately attacking Israeli civilians and making life in Sderot unbearable that forced Israel to attack Hamas in Gaza.
Despite his litany of untruths, what was even more disturbing took place after his remarks. At that point, the European Parliament members in attendance did not question his grave accusations or express their dismay. Rather, they gave Abbas a standing ovation.
Such an embrace only encourages rejectionism and incitement. But these tactics do not facilitate peace. Rather, they sustain the suffering on all sides and create the conditions for an unending conflict.
It is vital that European and American leaders make clear to Abbas that his anti-Semitism and conspiracy theories about Israel are unacceptable and will be rejected out of hand.
Further, it needs to be said that, not only must he and the PA stop the incitement against Israel and Jews, but President Abbas should stop propagandizing against Israel to the Europeans and others.
It would be far more productive for him to finally sit down and conduct direct negotiations with Israel. This is the only path to peace and a two-state solution.
And yet, Abbas rejected Israeli President Rueben Rivlin’s offer to meet during their shared time in Brussels. To a certain degree, one can understand this decision. Why meet with an Israeli leader when European officials roundly will endorse his canards and not force him to explain his baseless accusations?
The world must stop encouraging Abbas’ hateful and counterproductive path. If not, we will only hear more outlandish statements by him, which harm peace efforts, which harm Israel and which harm the Palestinians most of all.
Jonathan Greenblatt is CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League @ADL_News