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August 24, 2012
Finally, an Israeli politician who tells it like it is about Abbas
Ever since the Oslo Accords in the 1990s, successive Israeli governments have held back from criticizing Mahmoud Abbas on the dubious premise that he's the best available Palestinian leader to sign on to a peace agreement. This continues to be the official strategy of the Obama administration and the guiding principle of the Netanyahu government.
The result has been creation of a make-believe "reality" that increasingly has clashed - and clashed dramatically - with real facts on the ground.
Finally, there has emerged an Israeli leader, a member of Netanyahu's governing coalition, who has decided that enough is enough and issued his own truth-telling manifesto built on solid evidence that exposes Abbas as a peace-wrecker, not a peace partner for negotiations toward a permanent peace agreement.
He is Avigdor Liberman, Israel's foreign minister and head of Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), a party to the right of Bibi's Likud.
In a five-page letter to Baroness Ashton, the foreign minister of the European Union and leading member of the Quartet of international peace brokers (the U.S., the EU, the UN and Russia), Liberman proceeds to strip away wishful thinking in the West about an imaginary Abbas, who actually camouflages an enemy of the peace process.
Liberman tells Ashton that his letter is prompted by persistent and baseless criticism of Israel by the UN, the EU and the Quartet. He then submits a lengthy brief of hard facts to buttress his conclusion.
For starters, he points out that Israel recently has trotted out a series of confidence-building measures in hopes of reviving the peace process, including:
--Bolstering the Palestinian economy by easing transfer of goods between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, including improvement of the PA's tax system in accord with recommendations by the International Monetary Fund.
--An advance of $45 million in Palestinian tax remittances at the start of Ramadan to help pay PA salaries in time to celebrate the holiday.
--A July agreement to employ an additional 5,000 Palestinian construction workers in Israel.
--Reduction of roadblocks to 10, most of which are normally open, to ease Palestinian movement across the West Bank.
--Return of the remains of Palestinian terrorists.
--Israeli agreement to develop a gas field off the Gaza shoreline..
--"Fast track" approval of 15 projects to renovate and build schools and clinics in Palestinian areas to ease the lives of West Bank and Gaza residents.
And what has been the Palestinian response? Have all these confidence-building measures yielded any peace dividends?
Liberman's answer is a ringing NO.
"We do not see any willingness or positive attitude on the part of the PA," he tells Ashton. "The opposite is the case." Such as:
--Encouragement of economic boycotts on Israeli goods produced in the territories.
--A global drive to "generate repeated negative statements against Israel."
--A new inciteful campaign blaming Israel for the death of Yasser Arafat.
--Ongoing incitement in Palestinian media that attack Israel and the legitimacy of the state's existence.
Liberman then really moves into high gear, focusing on Abbas' contributions to this negative state of affairs and charging him with lack of interest or inability to help bring about a permanent peace.
"He is creating a culture of blaming Israel for delaying the process, while attempting to achieve advantages without negotiations via blackmailing and ongoing attempts to internationalize the conflict," he tells Ashton.
Liberman faults Abbas for rejecting Jordanian attempts to bring the parties to the negotiating table, while trying to shift world attention to Israeli settlements - with notable success, Lieberman adds.
"Unfortunately, the international community tends to accept this discourse lock, stock and barrel, without criticism or nuanced approach," he remarks. "This is a damaging attitude, which does not reflect the reality on the ground."
And why is this a phony Palestinian pretext endorsed by a gullible international community? To wit, according to Liberman:
--The entire area of the settlements consists of about 1 percent of the West Bank.
--The last settlement was constructed by Israel in 1991.
--Israel had settlements and military bases in the Sinai in the runup to successful conclusion of its peace treaty with Egypt.
--Israel evacuated all settlements from the Gaza Strip in 2005, hoping to advance the peace process, but instead was rewarded by 14,000 rockets fired at towns and villages in southern Israel.
"Both peace accords with Egypt and Jordan," Liberman concludes, were signed when settlements existed, "the claim that settlements are the obstacle to peace is unfounded."
Liberman depicts Abbas as two-faced, speaking with a moderate voice to the international community, but personally undermining the peace process. "He has continued in damaging behavior towards Israel, including encouraging a culture of hatred, praising terrorists, encouraging sanctions and boycotts, and calling into question the legitimacy of the existence of the state," Liberman avers.
On top of that, he adds, Abbas presides over a "despotic government riddled with corruption."
Given this dismal situation, Liberman ends up by urging Ashton and other members of the Quartet to "think outside the box" and take steps to remove Abbas from his PA chairmanship by insisting on early Palestinian elections. "The PA elections," he notes, "were due to be held in 2010 and have since been postponed several times."
Elections, he concludes, could produce a new and more promising Palestinian leadership. Without such a change, he tells Ashton, diplomatic attempts to break the impasse in the peace process are doomed.
The PA and Abbas's Fatah party were quick to respond to Liberman, calling him a "criminal" who should be removed from office. For his part, Netanyahu declined to endorse Lieberman's manifesto, arguing that Israel does not interfere in the politcal affairs of its neighbors. A lame argument since many of these "internal" Palestinian affairs have enormous impact on Israeli security.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers
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