Visions of Peace or Fantasies in the Middle East

Let us be generous and assume that Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, is sincere in his advocacy of a negotiated two-state solution to the Palestinian conflict with Israel. In his article in Haaretz of July 7, 2014 he writes that Palestine’s “vision of peace is clear.”

Does that vision of peace indeed have clarity? The immediate problem is that President Abbas ignores the reality that Hamas, with whom he signed a reconciliation pact on April 23, 2014, has no such vision. Clearly, Abbas wanted to end the rivalry between his Fatah group and Hamas, and to end the bitter struggle that has continued for at least seven years since Hamas has ruled the Gaza Strip.

The question can properly be asked, is Abbas more interested in peace with Hamas than peace with Israel? At the present moment when Hamas supporters kidnapped and brutally killed three Israeli teenagers, and the official Hamas TV channel calls on listeners “to kill the Jews”, what can explain the extraordinary remarks of Saeb Erekat, the so-called Palestinian “negotiator,” an individual close to Abbas. In his fantasy world, he declared that Hamas, that is labeled by the U.S. and European countries as a terrorist organization, is a legitimate organization and does not carry out terrorist attacks.

The “vision” of Abbas is more hallucination than perception in not observing concrete actual events, and in presenting political and historical inaccuracies. In spite of Erekat’s remarks, the concrete events are all too familiar. Since January 2014 Hamas has launched 500 rockets from the Gaza Strip against Israeli civilians, thousands of whom, within a 25-mile radius of the Gaza Strip, have been ordered to stay indoors. It is unnerving that Hamas now has more than 10,000 rockets, including long range ones that can hit Tel Aviv. Will Mr. Abbas approve of Operation Protective Edge that Israel has begun to try to stop the rocket explosion?

This is doubtful when a senior official of the Palestinian Authority, Sultan Al-Einein, who had served as an adviser to Abbas with the rank of minister, expressed his views in clear and stark fashion on July 8, 2014. For Al-Einein, “Let every hour of the settlers’ presence on our land be a source of threat and terror for them. Let us deprive their lives of security, so that the Palestinian land becomes a minefield.” It is worth remembering two things regarding this person. One is that he is the same adviser who in May 2013 had saluted “the heroic figure, the self-sacrificing Salam Al-Zaghai,” who had stabbed an Israeli civilian to death in the street. The other is that five members of Congress wrote on May 15, 2013 to Abbas asking him to denounce his adviser, publically and officially, and to remove this approver of murder from office. They did not receive a reply.

In light of these concrete events it is also worth analyzing the arguments of the Palestinian “vision of peace” made in the July 7 article by Abbas in Haaretz. They can be questioned in a number of ways.

First, he argues that 26 years have passed since the PLO, led by Yasser Arafat, officially recognized the two-state solution. In what he calls a painful and historic decision, “Palestine” recognized the State of Israel based on the pre-1967 territory. This “recognition” by Arafat is itself subject to dispute in view of our knowledge of Arafat’s duplicity and insincerity, especially for his starting the second intifada in 2000.

It is true that Arafat in his letter of September 9, 1993 to Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin stated, “The PLO recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security.” Yet, Arafat gained more than he gave by being seen not simply as a leader of one of the Palestinian groups but as an official and indeed the most important Palestinian player in Middle East politics. He benefitted from Rabin’s reply of the same day, “the Government of Israel has decided to recognize the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people and commence negotiations with the PLO within the Middle East peace process.” This led to the Declaration of Principles on Palestinian self-government in Gaza and the West Bank and to the Oslo Accords. However, Palestinian leaders have largely ignored those Oslo Accords, supposed to be the start of the peace process.

More important is that Abbas refers on a number to occasions to the “1967 international border that must be respected” and for Israel to withdraw to “the 1967 borders.” How often must it be repeated that there are no international borders, 1967 or otherwise. Even the World Council of Churches, Oxfam International, Amnesty International, and the deluded scholars of the American Studies Association, as well as the Palestinian Authority, have to accept the reality that the so-called “Green Line” is simply the demarcation of armistice arrangements following the defeat of the Arab invasion of Israel by five armies in 1948. Abbas speaks of the “territory and natural resources of our state,” though the legal solution of the disputed areas that have had no genuine accepted sovereign ruler since the Ottoman Empire has yet to be made.

Even more important, if Abbas is really delivering a message of good will, is his remark that “our Israeli neighbors do not expect the Palestinian people to live under a system of apartheid.” This is disgraceful in the context of any “peaceful vision.” One is familiar with this use of the term “apartheid” and its defamatory reference to Israel from uninformed or prejudiced individuals such as former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and novelist Alice Walker, and Palestinian pressure groups, but it is unfitting for it to come from a supposedly informed Palestinian leader. There is a world of difference between properly indicating and criticizing specific problems, deficiencies and instances of inequality and discrimination in Israeli society and politics, and a categorical equivalence of democratic Israel with the infamous racist South African regime.

Abbas, in hyperbolic language, writes of “our defenseless people living under the terror of settlers, an occupying army and a painful siege.” He neglects the fact that the Palestinian Authority has attempted to bypass a negotiated peace, not only by not stopping, or trying to stop, the daily barrage of terrorist activity from Gaza, and also by refusing to acknowledge, except very belatedly, the role of the Palestinians who killed the three young Israelis, but by attempts at unilateral action to seek recognition of statehood other than by negotiation.

There is only one way for any Palestinian vision of peace to be realized. It is not by appeal to the readers of Haaretz or to The New York Times, or to the “international community” and officials of United Nations organizations who have virtually made careers out of anti-Israeli activity. It is only by sitting down to negotiate in good faith the complex, divisive issues. Abbas should remember that it was Yasser Arafat who on December 8, 1988 declared, “We accept two states, the Palestinian state and the Jewish State of Israel.”  Why does Abbas hesitate to accept the Jewish State?

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