It requires a keen sense of irony to write the headline that Newsweek ran last week: “The Wrath of Abbas: Fed up with stalled peace talks, the Palestinian leader defies Israel and vents about Obama.”
Peace talks between Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have stalled for one simple reason: Abbas refuses to attend. He has demanded Israeli concessions in exchange for resuming negotiations. In other words, Abbas is stalling the peace talks — and, by golly, he’s fed up with it!
According to Newsweek, Obama encouraged Abbas to take a hard line but then did not put sufficient pressure on Netanyahu. That’s why Abbas decided to “vent” about Obama to Newsweek reporter Dan Ephron, who boasts that Abbas “let Newsweek into his personal space,” which included a specially fitted-out Airbus A318 borrowed from the United Arab Emirates and suites at the Hotel Le Meurice in Paris. Surprise, surprise: Ephron found Abbas “affable” and “moderate in his approach to Israel and unequivocally against violence.”
Just a few days after the article was published, Abbas announced that Fatah, his political party, which rules the West Bank, had agreed to form a “unity government” with Hamas, which rules Gaza and remains openly committed to the extermination of Israel.
Hamas’s ideology is not markedly different from that of al-Qaeda, as was illustrated this week when Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s prime minister, responded to the death of Osama bin Laden by saying: “We condemn the assassination and the killing of an Arab holy warrior. We ask God to offer him mercy with the true believers and the martyrs.”
So, it turns out, Abbas has not just “defied Israel” and “vented” about Obama. He also has put Obama in a bind: Does the president now stop aid to the Palestinians? Or does he try to convince Congress and the American public that spending taxpayer money to support a terrorist organization that mourns bin Laden as a “holy warrior” and “martyr” is a shrewd policy choice?
To complicate matters further, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, a “military wing” of Fatah that reports to Abbas, called bin Laden’s death a “catastrophe,” adding: “We say to the American and Israeli occupier: the [Islamic] nation which produced leaders who changed the course of history through their Jihad . . . is capable of restoring the glory of Islam and the flag of Allah’s oneness, Allah willing.” The “moderate” and “unequivocally against violence” Abbas has not appeared shocked by this expression of jihadism within his organization.
Perhaps that’s because he’s been so busy preparing a “unilateral declaration of statehood” that he wants the U.N. to approve. He wants the U.N. to say, too, that the borders between this Palestinian state and Israel will be the armistice lines left in place after the first Arab war to eliminate Israel in 1948–49. Those lines remained until 1967 — when Israel’s Arab neighbors made another concerted attempt to wipe Israel off the map.
At the conclusion of that conflict, Israel had taken the Sinai and Gaza from Egypt and the West Bank from Jordan. Israel returned the Sinai to Egypt in exchange for a peace treaty signed in 1979, and withdrew from Gaza in 2005. (Hamas has been launching missiles at Israel from Gaza ever since.) In the past, Israel also has offered to turn over more than 90 percent of the West Bank, but in exchange, it wants — and has been promised by both American governments and international agreements — “defensible borders,” which means not quite the lines Arab armies crossed in 1967.
The Newsweek article concludes by suggesting that Obama could do more about the “unresolved Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” which continues “to be an irritant for Arabs and a source of resentment against the United States.” The reason he isn’t? With elections coming up, he would not want “to risk alienating Israel’s supporters by pressing the peace question.”
Ah yes, it’s “Israel’s supporters” who are the obstacles to peace — not Hamas, not the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, and certainly not the affable Mr. Abbas. It requires a wicked sense of humor — or no sense at all — to write that.
— Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and Islamism.