Editorial

Abbas' Alarming Cry of Despair

The Israeli government must see the Palestinian Authority president's words as a final warning before the PA's disintegration

Abbas speaks during a meeting in the West Bank city of Ramallah, January 14, 2018.
ABBAS MOMANI/AFP

'Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speech to the Central Council of the Palestinian Liberation Organization should reverberate loudly not only in Washington and Jerusalem, but among the Israeli public as well.

On the face of it, Abbas handed a bill of divorce to the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, and said loudly and clearly that it is Israel which caused the collapse of the Oslo Accords, and that from now on he will refuse any American mediation.

In effect, Abbas is saying that in the foreseeable future there is no chance of starting realistic negotiations that could yield a stable diplomatic outcome. This is not a tactical overturning of the chessboard aimed at mobilizing international pressure, but a cry of despair by a Palestinian president who sees how the vision of an independent Palestinian state has reached a dead end.
He is confronted by an Israeli government that derives its national identity from a continuation of settlement in the occupied territories, that has continually invented excuses for avoiding any diplomatic process, and that from the start has refused to recognize Abbas as a negotiating partner.

It is supported by the United States, which became one of the sides in the negotiations when it recognized Jerusalem as Israels capital, which broke with its previous policy and with United Nations resolutions.

This is a U.S. administration that is planning a dramatic cutback in assistance to the UN refugees aid agency; this is a U.S. president who threatens to reduce assistance to the PA if it doesnt obey his orders. Arab support is gradually cracking, as Saudi Arabia is joining the Israeli-American alliance with its demand that Abbas give up the fundamental principles of Palestinian nationalism. Such a menacing diplomatic pincer movement would bring any leader to despair.

The Israeli right, which characterizes the Oslo Accords as a crime, Abbas as a terrorist and Trump as the best American president that Israel has had, will probably perceive the Palestinian presidents gloomy conclusions as proof of the victory of Israels policy, or at least as confirmation of Israels self-imposed exemption from dealing with the conflict. After all, it is Abbas himself who has now removed himself as a partner.

But it would be a disastrous mistake to consider the speech a justification for avoiding any diplomatic initiative. In the absence of a diplomatic horizon, the power of both religious and secular radical groups increases, the alternative of terror assumes greater legitimacy, military cooperation with the PA is liable to suffer and the possibility of a military confrontation expands.

This is not a zero-sum game in which Palestinian despair is an advantage for Israel. On the contrary, the Israeli government must see Abbas words as a final warning before the PAs disintegration, a step that would impose responsibility for the Palestinians lives on Israels shoulders, in every sphere. At that point, the government wont be able to wash its hands of the problem and seize on Abbas speech as a defense.

The above article is Haaretz's lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.