The wall-to-wall condemnation of the comments by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Berlin this week caused his office to release a clarification. “The Holocaust is the most heinous crime in modern history,” it reads. “In his statement he had no intention to deny it. The crimes Abbas spoke of were the massacres perpetrated against the Palestinian people since the destruction of Palestinian society and homeland in 1948, and the permanent displacement of a majority of the Palestinian Arabs by Israeli security forces. Crimes that haven’t been resolved to this day.”
Abbas’ comments were reproachable, and he did well to clarify his intent. But now that we have all agreed on the Holocaust being a unique historic crime, it is best to return to the present. One in which Palestinians have been living under Israeli military control for 55 years, and in which Israel refrains from holding diplomatic negotiations with the Palestinian president in an attempt to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the occupation.
After the degrading treatment of Abbas during the reign of Benjamin Netanyahu and the cold shoulder he got from former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, Defense Minister Benny Gantz stands out, commendably, for at least bothering to meet with Abbas a few times over the past year. But in peace-rejecting Israel, these meetings only made the right wing castigate him, and even use Abbas’ comments to reignite the storm over Gantz’s decision to meet with him.
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This is absurd. Even if the comparison is improper, Abbas tried to emphasize the ongoing Palestinian tragedy and put it at the top of the global agenda. Gantz’s approach is the right one. Abbas is Israel’s partner for any diplomatic negotiations. Not just because he is the president of the Palestinian Authority, but also because of his commitment to diplomatic steps.
Contrary to the character assassination from the right, Abbas is neither a supporter nor an instigator of terror. According to the assessment of all Israeli security agencies tasked with monitoring the territories, the PA is in bad shape and expected to get worse. The succession battle there has already begun, and Israel may find that it missed the chance to work with its most expedient partner for diplomacy (Amos Harel, Aug. 14).
If Israel only respects organizations that take up arms against it, and shows contempt for the Palestinian leadership that renounces terrorism, it sends a warped message to the Palestinians. It also helps to weaken the PA and depict it as Israel’s counterterrorism subcontractor in the West Bank. Without a diplomatic horizon, without a strengthening of the Palestinian Authority as the basis for a future Palestinian state, the PA will continue to lose its power and standing and collapse.
Israel must fundamentally change its approach: Recognize Abbas as a partner and return to the negotiating table. This is what is expected of Prime Minister Yair Lapid and anyone seeking to lead Israel.
The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.