Mahmoud Abbas: First Obstacle to Peace
Life is good for Mahmoud Abbas. He is not about to mess it up by reaching a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel.
As peace negotiations slog on, Abbas will soon begin his tenth year as president of the Palestinian Authority. That's impressive, as his term actually ended in 2009. But with a government full of cronies happy to oblige him, Abbas continues to unilaterally extend his occupation of the president's office.
Abbas presides over a population of about 2 million -- the size of metropolitan Kansas City. Yet outsized perks of the P.A. presidency include fawning foreign leaders, international celebrity status, globetrotting to collect more foreign aid than any people in history, and -- best of all for a politician -- zero expectation of successful governance: "The Occupation" serves as an all-purpose excuse for everything from corruption to failure to stop terror to perennial economic basket-case status.
The office certainly pays well enough. Abbas has amassed a fortune as president estimated at $100 million. His sons, too, have accumulated great wealth during his tenure, including from U.S. foreign aid, a monopoly on imported cigarettes, and public works projects.
In fact, the staggering levels of corruption and embezzlement in Abbas's government have drawn international notice. The U.S. Congress's Foreign Affairs Committee issued a 2012 report entitled "Chronic Kleptocracy: Corruption within the Palestinian Political Establishment." Last week, the U.K.'s Sunday Times leaked a report from the European Union's auditing arm indicating that the EU could not account for some $2.6 billion in aid given to the Palestinians since 2008.
Meanwhile, P.A. unemployment sits at 23%, GDP excluding foreign aid is stagnant, and no manufacturing base has developed in the 20 years since Oslo.
The mystery is why anyone believes Abbas sincerely seeks a permanent peace agreement. His financial disincentives for peace aside, Abbas also has no history of expressing desire to coexist with a Jewish Israel.
To the contrary, from his published works (a noxious blend of Holocaust diminishment, defamation, and denial) to his administrative role in the Munich massacre of Israel's Olympic team to his autocratic rule, Abbas is very much of the Arafat-era PLO old guard.
Israel offered Abbas a state in 2008, including a share of Jerusalem. Abbas's only response was to shut down negotiations. Abbas refuses to publicly entertain the idea of a final peace agreement that will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, curb the possibility that millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees from 1948 might flood into Israel, or end once and for all Palestinian claims against Israel. Those are conditions absent which Israel cannot even consider the dangerous leap of allowing a less than friendly new Palestinian state on its vulnerable border.
Merely publicly floating those possibilities would cost Abbas nothing, yet it would generate a torrent of pressure on Israel to make huge concessions. But it might also unleash similar pressures on Abbas to make a final comprehensive deal with Israel -- which he evidently doesn't want.
Rather than condition his subjects to coexistence with Israel, Abbas obstructs reconciliation by glorifying Palestinian terrorists, avoiding unqualified condemnation of even the most egregious attacks against civilian Jews.
The incitement is relentless. Last week, Fatah, which Abbas leads, saluted the shooting of a nine-year-old Israeli girl, praising "the sniper of Palestine" for "leaving the signature of real men." The day of Abbas's anti-Israel rant at the U.N., he also memorialized Abu Sukkar, who killed 15 Israelis and wounded 60 with a refrigerator bomb in downtown Jerusalem in 1975, as "the most noble of the noble" for his terror act. Official Palestinian TV and press promote the most vile anti-Jewish caricatures and libels, most recently blaming Israel for spreading drugs among Palestinian youth.
Notably, these are examples from just the past few weeks -- while Israel and the PA are ostensibly engaged in peace talks. Stoking Israel-hatred is not the mark of a man bent on preparing his people for peaceful coexistence.
Talk of new Palestinian elections occasionally arises. But Abbas won't call for elections he'd likely lose, or which would bring accountability to his financial fiefdom. As Abbas is aware, Israel is not anxious to see new elections, either; as much as Israel would like to see a new Palestinian president with a sincere desire for peaceful coexistence, the current likelihood is that new elections would bring about a new leader -- from Hamas.
So the game continues. Abbas calls for unrealistic concessions which would destroy Israel, incites hatred of the villainous Zionists, blames Israel for intransigence, pockets millions of dollars in foreign aid, and ritually incants "the occupation" to deflect all criticism of his corrupt administration -- while half-heartedly engaging in sham negotiations when the incentives are great enough.
For reasons both financial and ideological, a genuine peace with a Jewish Israel is the last thing Mahmoud Abbas wants, and the last thing one should expect to emerge from current negotiations.
Abe Katsman is an American attorney and political commentator living in Israel. More of his work is available at www.abekatsman.com.