The Revolutionary Era Approaches Its End

by Shoshana Bryen

If you think Abu Mazen’s objective in asking the U.N. Security Council for recognition of the independence of Palestine is the independence of Palestine, stop reading here.

Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) is the last of the secular, revolutionary senior Arafat cronies imported from Tunisia — a Soviet-educated octogenarian in a post-Soviet world. Israelis sometimes agree with his “après moi, le (Islamic) deluge,” and better a secular dictator than a jihadi one, but as the Mubarak experience shows, even if you like your dictator, you can’t keep him forever. Whether the post–Abu Mazen period opens the door to Hamas/Iran or to Ramallah businessmen, the revolutionary period is ending.

Abu Mazen is, even now, only in partial control of only part of his territory and relies on the Israel Defense Forces for even that. His semi-legal term of office expired in 2009 and he can’t run again for fear of Hamas. His unelected prime minister is the darling of the West but has no political clout at home. He rules a West Bank public that is increasingly estranged from Palestinians in Gaza; is increasingly convinced that its future lies in economic growth that, although they don’t like it, requires ties with Israel; is loath to engage in another “intifada,” and admits to pollsters that if “independence” comes, many of them will seek Israeli residency like the Arabs of eastern Jerusalem.

Under the circumstances, Abu Mazen’s goal is not independence — which was available in 1948 and at many points thereafter — but rather to stay in office and not concede any/all of his mentor Arafat’s three touchstones of the Palestinian revolution:

— an independent Palestine without conceding the legitimacy of Israel’s sovereignty;
— its capital in Jerusalem; and
— the entry of Palestinians who left the area in 1948–49 and their descendants into pre-1967 Israel with the rights of citizenship.

The Palestinians have for decades been masters at producing new, inventive, and bloody ways to hang on to those demands, drain money from Western coffers, subvert Israel and avoid penalty for the multi-generational ruin of their own people: hijacking airplanes; wrecking Lebanon; two bloody uprisings; subverting treaties; destroying Jewish antiquity under the Temple Mount; bigger and more accurate rockets from Gaza; and the BDS movement. Status quo in a revolutionary society is untenable — always change the subject, always be the victim, always change the threat, and never end the conflict. That’s where Abu Mazen comes from; that’s who he is. He wrote his Ph.D. thesis in Moscow on “secret relations” between Nazis and Jews and was the bag man for the Munich Massacre.

For a time, Abu Mazen thought President Obama was revolutionary enough, and sufficiently unencumbered by ties to Israel to join him in making Arafat’s dream real. And for a time, the president gave him reason to believe.

President Obama, however, is now playing in the real world, and so it would be wise for him to stop blaming Israel and bribing Abu Mazen to win what will surely be only a temporary reprieve. No one would mistake Barak Obama for Clint Eastwood, but it would strengthen Western diplomacy in the Middle East for the aging revolutionary to be made to face his choices and worry what would happen if he crossed the U.S. president.

Israel is a legitimate, permanent part of the Middle East and the president can make Abu Mazen face political and economic consequences for undermining a member of the United Nations and an ally of the United States. And hasten the end of the revolution.

— Shoshana Bryen is senior director for security policy at the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

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