Abbas’ non-negotiation strategy reflects desire for struggle over reality.
In The Dream Palace of the Arab, an excellent column about Palestinians’ inability to place their fantasies about the destruction of Israel over the reality of Israel, Bret Stephens focuses on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ latest attempts to avoid negotiating with Israel.
Stephens observes: “Mr. Abbas consistently refuses a Palestinian state because such a state is infinitely more trivial than a Palestinian struggle.”
For the past ten years Abbas has been indispensable. Portrayed as a moderate alternative and successor to unrepentant terrorist Yasser Arafat, Abbas was hailed as a moderate who could make peace with Israel.
But like his predecessor who rejected an offer of peace in 2000, Abbas rejected peace proposals in 2008 and again in 2014 (as Dennis Ross recently observed.) Because he’s viewed as essential, he can get away with anything. He’s fabulously corrupt; he hasn’t bothered standing for re-election, having just started the 11th year of a 4 year term; he allows little freedom; and he keeps saying “no” to peace. But since everyone believes that the alternatives are worse, he’s tolerated if not celebrated.
Stephen has a great observation:
Over a beachfront lunch yesterday in Tel Aviv, an astute Israeli friend had the following counter-fantasy: What if Western leaders refused to take Mahmoud Abbas’s calls? What if they pointed out that, in the broad spectrum of global interests, from Eastern Europe to the South China Sea, the question of Palestinian statehood ranked very low—on a par with, say, the prospect of independence for the Walloons? What if these leaders observed that, in the scale of human tragedy, the supposed plight of the Palestinians is of small account next to the human suffering in Syria or South Sudan?
In that event, the Palestinian dream palace might shrink to its proper size, and bring the attractions of practical statecraft into sharper focus. Genuine peace might become possible.
Even Abbas’ last two forays into imposing an agreement upon Israel can be explained by this observation.
In 2012, when he went to the General Assembly in a bid for statehood, the Arab Spring and the civil war in Syria dominated the headlines. Now it is the fear of ISIS. The unilateral moves have the effect of getting Abbas the attention he seems to crave. What if the world stopped paying attention to Abbas’ stunts?
What if the world told Abbas that a rich, old, dictator just isn’t that compelling? (To be sure, it was never Abbas’ intent to negotiate in good faith; he made that clear in 2011. But I think the timing of his unilateral actions can be explained by attempts to stay on the front pages of newspapers.)
I doubt that would compel him to make peace, because I don’t believe that he truly wants to make peace with Israel. Still, if Abbas knew that people weren’t willing to play his “blame Israel first” game and makes excuses for his failures, maybe he’d at least take care of building a nation and an economy instead counting on international aid and publicity.
It’s time to make a functioning society a priority over continuing the anti-Israel struggle.
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