What will you do now, Mr. Abbas?
Mahmoud Abbas recently stood before the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and condemned the kidnapping of the three Israeli teenagers. As one op-ed writer put it he “spoke in a way which no Palestinian leader had spoken before.” So what did he say which caused such a reaction?
He said “we are still looking and searching to find out who committed such an act. Those who committed such an act want to destroy us.” Additionally he said “…these youths are human beings, and we want to protect human lives.” His comments engendered warm reactions, which included outgoing Israeli President Shimon Peres who called him “…a man of courage,” and “…the best partner Israel has ever had.”
US State Department Spokesperson Jen Psaki said “…we were encouraged by President Abbas’s strong statement…” One Israeli professor called him a “statesman.”
There’s an atmosphere of enthusiasm in some circles over Abbas’s comments. However, before we all get carried away in a daze, we should remind ourselves that while words are nice, we live in reality, and words don’t necessarily reflect that.
It’s fair to say Abbas’ Islamic audience was less than sympathetic, possibly even hostile. However, we shouldn’t forget he is not the first Palestinian leader to make conciliatory comments regarding Israel.
A quick stroll down memory lane…
Some say Yasser Arafat recognized Israel as a Jewish state in 1988. While Arafat’s statement remains disputed in the minds of many, what isn’t disputed is he went on to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Rabin was assassinated the following year.
In 2000 Arafat had a golden opportunity to turn words into action during the Camp David ll negotiations with Ehud Barak. Israel’s leader offered virtually everything Arafat could want- 97% of Judea/Samaria, all of the Gaza Strip, 75% of Jerusalem’s Old City, control over Temple Mount, the right of return for an unspecified number of so-called “refugees,” compensation for those who chose not to return, and release of Palestinian prisoners from jail. President Clinton said he “couldn’t believe how good the offer was.”
In the end Arafat flatly turned it down and the talks collapsed. Clinton reacted bluntly, saying “you have made me a failure.”
Several months later when asked about the failed talks Arafat responded by saying “…they can go to hell.”
Then in 2002 Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon provided President George W. Bush with numerous documents which were seized when Israel captured a boat loaded with weapons headed for terrorists. The documents proved Arafat had ordered the weapons. Bush realized that Arafat had been hoodwinking everyone all along. His reaction was clear “ordering up weapons that were intercepted on a boat…is not part of fighting terror, that’s enhancing terror. Obviously we’re very disappointed in him.”
Once it became known Arafat’s actions contradicted his public statements his relationship with Washington was never the same.
As for Abbas, we find Shimon Peres championing him, much the same way he championed Arafat. Can we believe Peres? More importantly can we trust Abbas?
A quick look at the record brings a sobering spotlight on Abbas. While some suggest Arafat recognized Israel as a Jewish state in 1988, there is no dispute regarding Abbas’s position. He has repeatedly rejected recognizing Israel as such.
Some suggest Arafat changed the charter of the PLO which calls for the destruction of Israel. The fact is the charter was never changed. Mr. Abbas is chairman of the Fatah Party whose charter similarly calls for the destruction of Israel. Yet Abbas has never even hinted about changing it.
In 1994 just prior to the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize, Arafat told Peres [and Rabin] he would crush Hamas. When asked by the press about his statement Peres said he was sure Arafat would do so. When the same question was posed to Arafat his response was “Hamas are my brothers, I will handle them in my way.” So how did he “crush Hamas?” He brought them into his regime as full coalition partners.
Today Abbas has formed a unity government backed by the none other than Hamas.
The PLO official emblem displays a single state of Palestine covering all of Israel. Similarly the emblem of Abbas’s Fatah Party has no Israel, only a single state of Palestine.
Arafat never backed away from demanding the right of return. The same is true of Abbas.
Arafat demanded all of Eastern Jerusalem, as does Abbas.
Arafat said there is no evidence of Jewish connection to Jerusalem. Abbas echoes this.
Arafat glorified terrorists by naming public places after them. Abbas does likewise.
So the question remains, why is everyone so dazzled simply because Abbas stood before a group of overwhelmingly anti-Israel leaders and made a couple of statements which promote common sense? Has the moral compass of how world leaders view the Arab-Israeli conflict plunged so low that something which should have been said decades ago is rewarded with such accolades? To say such statements are overdue is akin to calling the Pacific Ocean a puddle. Tolerating those who irrationally hate Israel, have spent billions of dollars attempting to destroy it, and sacrificed thousands of lives in order to justify their destructive ambitions is a blight on humanity. Our standards should be higher.
The appropriate reaction to Abbas’s comments should be “great, now what?” Is he going to back up his words with concrete measures? Now that Israel has released the names of the kidnapping suspects who are Hamas operatives, will he prove he wants peace by disbanding the unity government?
There can be little doubt the kidnappers are getting support from locals, whether they are still in the Hebron area or elsewhere. Will he instruct the police and security forces to conduct their own independent search for the missing teens, rather than just cooperate with the Israelis? Will he prove to the world that he is, as Shimon Peres, said “a man of his word?” Sadly, history has yet to prove Peres correct on such matters.
The fundamental question is now before Abbas. Will he continue bloviating like another well-known president of today who creates red lines yet never enforces them? Or will Peres be proven correct…for once? We await your next move Mr. Abbas.
Dan Calic is a writer, history student and speaker. See additional articles on his Facebook page.