Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' announcement on Thursday that he will not run for reelection was received with apathy in Jerusalem. Official spokesmen said the issue was an internal Palestinian matter and that Israel has no interest in ensuring Abbas recants his decision. Israeli commentators treated Abbas' statement as a diplomatic trick designed to increase American pressure on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The claim that political developments in the occupied territories are not Israel's business is utterly ridiculous. The Israeli government is not a spectator, watching events unfold in the territories. For 42 years it has played the lead role on our neighbors' stage. The failure of the peace process, for which the Fatah leadership has been blamed, contributed to Hamas' election victory in early 2006. Hamas' control of the Palestinian Authority parliament and cabinet led to the takeover of the Gaza Strip by an organization that denies Israel's right to exist. The result is known to all: rocket barrages on the Negev, Operation Cast Lead, the Goldstone report and a diplomatic assault against Israel.
The PA, led by Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, worked hard to impose law and order on the West Bank. Netanyahu does not miss an opportunity to praise their contribution to security and to rehabilitating the economy there. Who can guarantee that a pragmatic, respected leader who will be willing and able to prevent the West Bank from falling into Hamas' hands will be found to replace Abbas? The two-state solution, which the prime minister adopted a half-year ago, requires two leaders.
Israel does not have a better Palestinian partner for a peace settlement than Abbas. If Netanyahu is truly concerned about Israel's future as a Jewish, democratic state, he must try to persuade Abbas to reverse his decision to retire from political life: imposing a total, even if temporary, freeze on construction in the settlements; launching an expedited round of negotiations to reach a final-status accord on the basis of previous understandings; and taking additional measures to ease daily life in the territories. The alternative - a prolonged stalemate in the talks and the shelving of the separation plan with which Abbas is closely identified - will prove disastrous for Israel.
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