Blind Mahmoud Abbas

Mahmoud Abbas mural. France, 2006.

With just one statement, Mahmoud Abbas demonstrated how far removed he is from the realities on the ground that his meagre “authority” administrates. “You (Benjamin Netanyahu) must also choose between settlements and peace, for those who want peace do not think of settlements,” he said.

No, Mr. President. Netanyahu does not have to make such a choice. And that is due, in large part, to your actions and decisions.

You see, Mr. President, Netanyahu has all the peace you can ever give him. In the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli citizens living as settlers beyond their country’s provisional borders have far more to fear from a common criminal, or the perilous Israeli roads, than they do from a politically motivated attack by a Palestinian.

I am by no means suggesting the Palestinian Authority should not be preventing attacks on Israelis. The path of violence is a dead end for the Palestinians, especially murdering civilians. But, having stopped that violence, Abbas must recognize that he has given Israel all the peace that is within his power. And, having done that, he has received nothing from Israel in return.

Abbas cannot deliver a peace with Gaza, a peace that must be worked out with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and an assortment of smaller, more radical groups. Nor can he threaten Israel with a third intifada, as such an uprising would almost certainly unseat the PA, and is very likely to bring an even bigger calamity on the Palestinians than the second intifada did.

Nor can Abbas offer Netanyahu increased prosperity, at least not with any certainty. Despite the increasingly negative image of Israel in Europe and among some sectors of the United States, the Israeli economy remains stable and is, in fact, doing much better than many Western countries. Those economic problems Israel is currently facing are not strongly connected to anything Abbas can affect.

Of course, it’s true that the settlements are an enormous economic drain on Israel, but this, again, is not in Abbas’ bailiwick. Obviously, if Israel has been diverting money away from its non-settler citizens, it considers that a right and proper set of priorities. Surely it will not be the Palestinians who convince them otherwise.

This is the all too predictable failure of the “partners for peace” approach. Yes, the Palestinians should be preventing attacks on Israeli civilians, and yes, even though international law declares that soldiers of an occupying army are legitimate targets, that course is pure futility for the Palestinians. But that doesn’t then lead to the conclusion that the occupied people must work in partnership with the occupiers to end the occupation. Negotiations take place between adversaries, not comrades.

There seemed to be some inkling of a plan when Abbas went to the United Nations to seek recognition of Palestine, but this was largely negated when he eschewed the option of a certain victory in the General Assembly (which would not have been sufficient to convey UN membership on Palestine, but would have gotten them access to numerous international bodies, particularly giving Palestine the standing it currently lacks in the International Court of Justice) in favor of a certain US veto at the Security Council.

More than any other obstacle to resolving the Israel-Palestine conflict, and regardless of who is in control of the Knesset and the Israeli Prime Minister’s office, the fact that Israel simply does not have good enough reason to withdraw from the territories it holds prevents an agreement.

Israel withdrew from the Sinai Peninsula under tremendous pressure from Washington and in exchange for removing from the conflict the country, Egypt, which was by far the most serious threat to Israel on many levels at the time. They withdrew from Gaza because Gaza holds little value for Israel and the withdrawal enabled Israel to “freeze the peace process,” in the words of Dov Weisglass, top adviser to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.

The West Bank is an entirely different matter.

The West Bank has resources, it acts as a buffer between Israel and many of the nearby Arab countries. More importantly, it has significant water resources and it contains most of the holiest places in Judaism.

Why should Israel give that up? Countries do not surrender territory, especially territory they have a strong interest in keeping, unless it is in their interest to do so.

In other times, the Israeli search for peace might have been argued to provide that impetus, for much of the population, if not the government. But now, Israelis are enjoying much more normal lives than they ever have before, and the biggest threat they perceive is thousands of kilometers away, in Iran.

Settlements are continuing to grow, Israel is becoming more and more “generous” about recognizing outposts as official “settlements” under Israeli law, and it is all happening without any measurable consequences.

So what value does this peace Abbas speaks of have for Netanyahu?

In a recent interview, Jeff Halper, the head of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (ICAHD), pointed out that Area C, the part of the West Bank under complete Israeli control and which comprises 61% of the West Bank, now contains less than 5% of the Palestinian West Bank population, some 125,000 people.

Halper speculates that Israel can now annex Area C and grant those 125,000 full Israeli citizenship (thereby shedding accusations of apartheid) without upsetting the “demographic balance’ of the country, and leave the bits and pieces of Areas A and B for the bulk of the Palestinians.

Even if Halper is wrong in his prediction, it is clear that there is simply no reason for Israel to abandon the territory it wants in the West Bank. So, either something like what he suggests will happen in the near future, or Israel will simply work to maintain the status quo. The only reason Bibi even pretends to be interested in talks is to appease Washington and Europe.

And therein lies the point. There is, and has always been, only one way to raise the costs of the continuing subjugation of the Palestinians high enough for Israel to end it, and that is when the United States and Europe insist on it, and bolster that insistence with diplomatic isolation and barriers to trade. They should not, and will not, leave Israel to fend for itself militarily, but there are economic and diplomatic means of pressure that would work, if they were only used.

This is where citizen advocacy in the West should be pointing– political mobilization, the kind that requires big money, which, unfortunately, peace advocates have been reluctant both to give and raise. Until campaign funds and large public relations budgets are coupled with massive and mainstream communications activism, the status quo is unlikely to change.

And this is what Abbas and his cohorts in Ramallah fail to understand. Palestinian self-determination is not going to come because they work in partnership with Bibi, or with Shaul Mofaz, Tzipi Livni or any other Israeli leader.

The little the Palestinians have gained in the past 25 years came as a result of the first intifada harming Israel’s global image and, through work stoppages and protests, its domestic economy.

Some Israelis do understand that the ongoing occupation is a powder keg. Such was the point made by former Shin Bet head, Yuval Diskin just last week. But a potential danger is never going to motivate an Israeli leader to give up the West Bank, share Jerusalem and find a reasonable compromise on Palestinian refugees.

No, there has to be a clear and present reason to do that. Abbas has given all those reasons away in this one-sided “partnership.” And unless he reverses that course, he will find his “Authority” ruling over less than the nothing it currently has.

Photograph courtesy of Abode of Chaos. Published under a Creative Commons license.


  1. Basically, the Palestinians are powerless, generally, and made even more powerless by the cooptation (corruption) of PA/PLO/Fatah leaders. They cannot do anything for themselves now, probably never could. Maybe tinkering around the edges at the UN.

    If anything will be done it will be done by the nations (EU, Turkey, BRICS, even – gasp — USA, possibly organized through the UNGA if the governments get sufficiently tired of Israel’s lawlessness. They show no signs of acting. Even despite Israel’s outrages (Gaza, the pogroms now in West Bank, the obliteration of East Jerusalem). Had Israel attacked Iran, or otherwise manifested widely dangerous madness, the nations might have acted, but as matters rest, the USA will pressure them not to, and their own inertia and trade relations with Israel will also act to prevent action.

    Civil society BDS will make small inroads, mostly adding to other teaching materials to alert the people of the world to the issue, but in a capital-dominated world political milieu, people are not very powerful, and I’d expect to see nation-state action to stop global warming (or expect to see Hell freeze over) before I’d expect to see the nations eject Israel from any part of Palestine.

  2. Abu Mazen is seriously demoralized. He knows what Bibi knows and what we in the West refuse to know, namely, that his cause is hopeless. Israel will get what it wants because it always gets what it wants; the compromised and corrupt US Congress will see to that. That is how I would see it if I were in his shoes.

    As Ehud Barak said so confidently to Charlie Rose a year or more ago, the only “state” Palestinians will get is the one offered to Arafat at Camp David in 2000.

    Yes, Abbas can go to the UN again — I wish he would — but all that will mean, given the increasing decrepitude of the UN, its irrelevance, is the US withdrawing more funds from the UN and stopping funding to the Palestinians.

    Europe is no help at all: they can whine and whimper about the situation — Europe is what Pepe Escobar calls “the poodle parade” — but until the US does the right thing and cuts off funding to Israel and deliver an ultimatum, Europe will continue with its ineffectual handwringing.

    If I were Abbas, I would simply quit — lord knows, he has threatened it enough times. Something (instead of nothing) would then happen.

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