Abu Mazen, Come to the Square

Invite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to directly address the people of Israel at a live rally.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas chairs a meeting of the Executive Committee of PLO on March 31, 2014. AFP

We need to sincerely ask ourselves if the battle for peace has in fact ended. It is not inconceivable that the answer is yes. That the enemies of peace have won. We should listen to them as they celebrate this Pyrrhic victory, which constitutes, of course, the end of the Zionist enterprise. Uri Ariel declares, “There will be only one state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea; we will continue building everywhere in the Land of Israel.” Ayelet Shaked states, “Israel will not conduct negotiations with a terror organization … The gaps between the Palestinians and the Israelis are too great, and there will be no peace agreement in the next few years.” Naftali Bennett reiterates his proposal to annex the settlement blocs and Area C, and jubilantly declares, “The Oslo era is over.”

They are joyously joined by subcurrents of what can best be termed the cannibalistic Left – those purist, embittered groups that will forever opt for deconstruction and keyboard wars over taking courageous positions against the other ideological camp.

It should be emphasized that the failure of attempts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by peaceful means and dialogue does not mean a conclusive victory for the occupation. The occupation and settlement enterprise is not sustainable, even if its daily grip on the ground is continuing to gain strength. It is a remnant of a colonialist era and has no present-day parallel in the West. Perhaps China's occupation and settlement in Tibet, but Israel is not China.

Consequently, the occupation and settlement enterprise will eventually come to an end, crumbling in the foreseeable future. If not by compromise, then by coercion or force. Be it as the result of boycott and international isolation; be it as a consequence of a resurgence of violent resistance; be it as a combination of the two. Such a prospect would exact a high price from both sides. What is certain is that, in its current condition, Israel has a great deal more to lose.

So there is good reason to make another creative effort. An attempt as yet unmade, to generate public support for a solution that is based not on a zero-sum game, but on a mutuality of interests and shared values. Given the current state of affairs, the diminished and beaten-down peace camp on the Israeli side can only attempt to help in providing the external shell of a process.

In light of the circumstances – and in contrast to basic logic – responsibility for the execution of the proposal is in fact placed on the shoulders of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. This proposal is founded upon a shift of consciousness. An accelerated and dramatic change. Just as Israelis have, in recent years, initiated campaigns to bring over bands such as The Rolling Stones or Pearl Jam to perform live, or tried to call on President Barack Obama to come and talk with the public, we must now issue this explicit plea: Mahmoud Abbas, come to the square.

Within the Israeli mainstream, Abbas enjoys an advantage and a drawback. The advantage is that Abbas is not seen as an extremist. Despite the settler-right’s vigorous attempts to label him a terrorist and Holocaust denier who will not rest until he gets the keys back to his childhood home in Safed, the public-at-large sees him as a moderate, gray personage. Simply put, he is not Yasser Arafat and is not on the same path.

The drawback, which to a certain extent also derives from the advantage, is the lack of faith here in Abbas’ leadership skills. In his ability to properly represent the Palestinian people. In his courage. In the degree of his desire and fervor to reach an historic peace agreement.

For the sake of this debate, at this point in time it does not matter if this is the realistic image. The settler-right hasn’t succeeded in painting Abbas in black colors, although it has won a consolation prize: The peace camp has not succeeded in painting him white. The average Israeli, to use the trite cliché, is not convinced that Abbas is a partner for peace.

The only way to shatter this lack of credibility with the silent majority, and to simultaneously reawaken the dormant peace camp, is to bring Abbas to speak to the Israeli public at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv. Not on a screen at some video conference, not in a televised interview. And not as part of the all-too-frequent meetings he holds with Israeli delegations in Ramallah, either.

It seems to me that the average Israeli doesn’t get too excited about these visits. In a reality in which political positions are derived from images and emotions, these visits probably even raise a squeamish sensation within him. Politicians and peace activists who stubbornly continue to ask Abbas for forgiveness, even as the Israeli government is being driven crazy by him, are viewed as desperate and weak collaborators.

The arrival here of Abbas to meet the Israelis could change all that. In terms of public effect, it has dramatic potential. Recall the consciousness shake-up that ensued when Anwar Sadat landed in Israel in 1977. The change was extreme, to say the least. On the eve of his arrival, Lt. Gen. Mordechai Gur was warning it was a terror attack that would include a booby-trapped airplane and commandos bursting out from inside the plane – and that assessment came from the chief of staff, not from the far margins of the moonstruck right!

It is true that Sadat agreed to come to Jerusalem only after receiving far-reaching assurances that were presented to him in the covert negotiations, through American mediation. But history never repeats itself precisely. What’s more, Abbas already received, in the not-too-distant past, far-reaching Israeli assurances through American mediation. In any event, there is no other choice.

In the past few years, the Palestinian president has supplied nearly all the sought-after answers and requisite explanations, and has spoken with moderation and logic. He simply hasn’t done so in front of the correct addressees. The medium is the message.

He should come to the square. Without doubt, it will fill once more, and not from mere curiosity. Once there, he should explain to Israelis how he sees the road to peace. What he is able to concede and what he cannot concede. What has until now hampered the negotiations, and what could restart them.

It is not true that the Israelis only understand force. Most of them are also hungering for recognition and an embrace. There is something extremely childish about Israelis. Being shown some attention has a magic effect on them. And in the absence of charismatic internal leadership from the peace camp, maybe it will take a visitor from the outside to reorganize the ranks.

There’s no doubt that this would be a political, diplomatic and security challenge for the Israeli government. But it would be very hard for its leaders to explain exactly why they are preventing it. We’re talking about a step that would certainly throw it for a loss – but that is something it has justly earned.

The message is clear: It would be the choice of a leader of the Palestinian side to speak to the people of Israel over the heads of a coalition of parties that reject peace (Habayit Hayehudi, Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu) or fear peace (Yesh Atid, Hatnuah). Not a desperate attempt, but a brave attempt. A final round, before the certain descent into the abyss. Mahmoud Abbas, come to the square.

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