The Bad Faith of Mahmoud Abbas

Has Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization and the unelected president of the Palestinian Authority, really been influenced by the films of Danny Kaye?  In the 1956 film The Court Jester, Kaye wreaks havoc with “The pellet with the poison is in the vessel with the pestle: the chalice from the palace has the brew that is true.”

Abbas’s feeble imitation of this great comedian was performed on March 18, 2014, when he accused his rival Mohammed Dahlan, former Palestinian interior minister and national security adviser, of playing a role in killing Yasser Arafat and six other Palestinian Fatah leaders; with taking large sums on money from the PLO; and with collaborating with Israel.  The plot of this comedy seems to be based on yet another “Zionist conspiracy.”  Israel must have given the pellet in the vessel to Dahlan, who then used the vessel with the pestle to poison Arafat.  The accused assassin Dahlan, now in exile in Dubai, who may have the brew that is true, replied by accusing Abbas of “lies, stupidity, and ignorance of the Palestinian reality.”  He said he would soon “unveil the lies” surrounding Arafat’s death.

One awaits breathlessly this unveiling, but in the meantime Abbas has unveiled another of his absurd contributions to peace and harmony, or his “lies and stupidity,” while he is an illegitimate ruler.  Though his term of office expired in January 2009, he persists in occupying the position as “president” and acting on behalf of the Palestinians.  His new contribution, which he perhaps takes more seriously than the accusation against Dahlan, was made on All Fools’ Day, April 1, 2014.  Can he be taken seriously?

President Abbas on that day signed the relevant documentation of the list of 15 international treaties and conventions the Palestinians have applied to join at a televised ceremony in Ramallah.  The letters were handed to Robert Serry, the U.N. special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, and to representatives from Switzerland and the Netherlands.  The body or personnel making the decision on the signing is confusing in view of the two positions that Abbas holds.  The announcement states that it was made by “the Palestinian leadership, including the PLO Executive Committee.”  It is unclear even in Middle East politics how the PLO, a political group, is able to make governmental decisions.

Of these 15 treaties and conventions, the most important are the Fourth Geneva Convention of August 1949 and the Additional Protocol; the Hague Convention, respecting the laws and customs of war on land; the International Conventional on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Noticeably, Abbas did not apply to join the International Criminal Court.  However, there are 63 other treaties, conventions, and agencies to which the Palestinians may make applications.

The Palestinian threat is a double one.  Admittance would give Palestinians an opportunity to engage in the familiar rhetorical criticism and condemnation in a variety of international forums, and join together with the familiar anti-Israeli forces in the “international community.”  More practically, Israel may face charges of crimes against humanity and numerous proposals to impose sanctions against it.

This farce of the signing was staged at the very moment the Secretary of State John Kerry was to visit Abbas in Ramallah to pursue the elusive peace process and hopes for an agreement.  With Israel Kerry was to discuss the possible release of Jonathan Pollard convicted in 1987 to a life sentence for spying for Israel.

The issue of the release of Pollard, eligible for parole in November 2015 though he may not seek it, is an issue that can be separated from the serious issues concerning the Israel-Palestinian conflict.  That release was supposedly to be part of a broader agreement on diplomatic and political issues involved for the peace process, and a concession to the Israeli government.

In a confusing way the different issues became related to Israel’s release of the 26 Palestinian prisoners, the last batch of the 106 prisoners, all of whom were convicted of terrorist acts, that Israel agreed to release in return for the Palestinians to come to the negotiating table.  That controversial agreement stemmed from the PLO promise in July 2013 to postpone applications to the multilateral treaties and conventions in exchange for the release of the 104 prisoners.

But the release of Pollard and the 26 prisoners has little, if anything, to do with the bad faith of the Palestinians to end their intransigence and their continuing refusal to begin negotiations. Israel had in fact agreed to release an additional 400 Palestinian prisoners during the negotiation period.

The bad faith has been amply demonstrated by the conduct of Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian “negotiator” who on February 18, 2014 proclaimed himself a “grandchild of the Canaanites,” and made the foolish suggestion of the equivalence of Canaanites, living in the Middle East 5,000 years ago, and Palestinians who thus have a historic claim to the disputed territories. He was equally mistaken about his own life when he mistakenly claimed he was born in Jericho when he was born in Jerusalem. His lack of political seriousness was shown when he refused to meet with the Israel delegation at talks in Amman in January 2012.

The conclusion can only be that Abbas on behalf of the Palestinians is trying to prevent the peace process from continuing by preventing the possibility of negotiations. At his meeting with President Obama on March 17, 2014 he made it clear that he would not recognize Israel as a Jewish State, knowing that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had made this a condition for resumption of negotiations.

Most important of all is the sad realization that the Palestinian leaders show bad faith in their unwillingness to abide by international agreements. The crucial factor involved is the Oslo Accord of September 13, 1993, with Article V on permanent status negotiations issues that needs quoting in full. It says “It was understood that several issues were postponed to permanent status negotiations, including: Jerusalem, refugees, settlements, security arrangements, borders, relations and co-operation with other neighbors, and other issues of common interest. The outcome of these permanent status negotiations should not be prejudiced or pre-empted by the parties.”

It is essential that the officials of the 15 bodies to which Abbas is making applications for membership, as well as President Obama and the US State Departments should remind him of Article V before any action is taken.

Michael Curtis is author of Jews, Antisemitism, and the Middle East.