Israel Mahmoud Abbas Palestinian Authority Palestinians

The Israelis never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas warned on Thursday that he might not run for re-election in January, although it’s not clear if the announcement should be taken seriously, as it might be a ploy to pressure the U.S. and Israel.

It’s useful to remember that, like this blog, Abbas has been assailed by extremists from both sides, which means he has probably been on the right track. He is deemed a traitor and a venal collabator by the far left and Hamas supporters (some people, astonishingly, are in both camps). He is judged to be untrustworthy and two-faced by the far right, including Y Ben-David, one of the regular commentators on this blog.

Americans for Peace Now’s indispensable Middle East Peace Report, prepared by Noam Shalev, culls instructive reports and reactions to Abbas’ annoucement from the Hebrew press. The best come from Dov Weissglas, former Prime Minister Sharon’s chief of staff, and Ephraim Sneh, the former Deputy Defense Minister who actively negotiated with Abbas and his people. According to Weissglas:

The Abbas’ announcement follows a “growing sense among the Palestinians that Israel is not interested in reaching a political resolution of the conflict… the despair and loss of faith are real.”

Weissglas notes that the current Palestinian government “has done a better job than any before to fight terrorism. The Palestinian government under Abbas and [Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad’s leadership has succeeded in restoring quiet and security stability. In what was an impressive operation, the Palestinian Authority successfully reorganized its security forces, imposed law and order, prevented terrorism and maintained unprecedented coordination with the Israeli security establishment.”

Weissglas recalls that “at the beginning of this decade, when the rampage of Palestinian terrorism was at its peak, Israel’s fundamental condition for negotiations was a cessation of terrorism and violence. The current Palestinian government has delivered those goods. It behooves Israel, as such, to make every effort to ensure the continued existence of that government… The worst of all will be if the Palestinians come to believe that a sincere effort to eradicate terrorism does nothing to change Israel’s position, and that no political progress will ever be made in any event.”

Former Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Ephraim Sneh bemoans Israel’s failure to engage with Abbas when he succeeded Yasser Arafat in January 2005: “The Israeli government did not take advantage of this development. The withdrawal from Gaza was not handed to Abbas as a gesture which could have greatly strengthened his position vis-a-vis Hamas. Instead, Gaza was handed to Hamas, unilaterally, and we all know what the consequences were.

“The conduct of Abbas, the most courageous partner we have had, is in large measure a by-product of our missed opportunities,” writes Sneh in Sunday’s Haaretz. “It is the result of an arrogance and lack of interest in what is happening within the PA, just five kilometers from the Israeli prime minister’s office in Jerusalem. Abbas’ withdrawal from his leading role in contacts with Israel is good news for anyone who fears a solution to the conflict and anyone not ready to pay the price. For everyone else who still understands the world in which we live, and who fears for the fate of the Jewish state, this is a wake-up call.”

Abbas is a deeply flawed leader. What leader isn’t deeply flawed? But if he and Fayyad –along with the Arab leaders who have proferred a peace initiative– are not partners for peace, where in the world do Israeli leaders believe they are going to find such partners?


37 thoughts on “The Israelis never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity

  1. Far left Hamas supporters? I’m disappointed in you, Dan. Most far lefties think Hamas has to be engaged, and that the civil war the US instigated (as described in Vanity Fair last year) was wrong and immoral, and the blockade on Gaza barbaric and that support for corrupt thugs like Dahlan (see Vanity Fair article) again was not only immoral, but stupid. We don’t hear very much about these things in the US, because discussion in the US is, by and large, mostly dishonest.

    I want a secular honest Palestinian political party to gain favor with ordinary Palestinians, but it’s been a choice between Fatah and Hamas–neither can be ignored in any conceivable peace agreement. I suppose that is what you mean by supporting Hamas.

    As for Abbas, he’s been forced to act like a leader because he was cowardly enough or stupid enough to succumb to Obama’s pressure over the Goldstone Report–if he was going to back away from it he should at least have extracted some concessions from Obama, but he didn’t. But maybe he’s finally come to his senses.

  2. “…like this blog, Abbas has been assailed by extremists from both sides…”

    I enjoyed the comparison 🙂 and hearing the strife of a fellow blogger.

    Assuming the concluding question is rhetorical, I agree.

  3. Donald,

    I was referring to those on the left who refuse to condemn Hamas behavior because they think of the group as a bunch of noble freedom fighters, instead of dangerous fanatics who trained teenagers to slaughter themselves along with innocent Israelis in shopping malls and restaurants. That doesn’t mean I disagree with trying to engage with them, somehow, but treating them as if they were heroic is beyond pale…

  4. The likely very rapid changes in the PA (or demise of it entirely), is very sobering.

    Netanyahu likely regards the PA as nice enemy, while Hamas is a mean enemy. In that sense, he is probably gloating, that the PA will be in disarray, and that there will be only one entity with any credibility (and their international credibility is very compromised).

    It does press the issue. Zionism is either near its end, and/or Palestine is near its end.

    Hopefully the gamble of the Nobel Prize on Obama as grand peacemaker in fact, won’t be to send the spouse on a buying spree while gambling on an inside strait.

    Its rapids, not flatwater.

  5. The secret of Middle East peacemaking, like so much else in life, is timing. Three things all have to line up at the same time: 1) an Israeli government that is interested in making peace and has enough core support to be able to do so; 2) a Palestinian leadership that is the same; 3) an American (or American and European)government(s) that is (are) willing to take an active role in the peace process and do so competently. Progress was made fitfully in the 1990s until either Arafat gave up on the peace process, or so misunderstood the Israeli side thought that he could soften it up for additional concessions through some applied violence as he had attempted in 1996 with the Har Homa riots. This resulted in Sharon coming to power so that when a moderate Palestinian was in power, an extremist Israeli was in power. Then Olmert came to power through Sharon’s stroke, but he was promptly rendered a lame duck. And Hamas constituted the PA government. Then came the Palestinian civil war. And through out this period there was an American administration that would rather make war in Iraq than make peace in Palestine. Now Israel’s peace camp is in the process of disintegrating, and Abbas, whose term has already expired, is planning on resigning. At least both sides won’t be ready this time.

    I agree with Tom Friedman. The Obama administration should take some time out from the Palestinian track, explore the Syrian track in a low-key fashion, and let Obama deal with Afghanistan, the economy, health care, and Iraq. At least by the beginning of his second term the situation should have clarified. We will know by then if Israel has a peace partner for the U.S. and if the Palestinians can produce a competent moderate leadership.

  6. American support for Israel is strong and solid. Congress’ support for Israel is NOT based on what the “progressives” claim is the nefarious efforts of “The Lobby” (as if the Arab Lobby isn’t in the business of trying to buy off politicians), but is a response to genuine voter sentiment.
    Note that these poll results are consistent with others we have seen and they reflect opinion AFTER the Gaza War (maybe even after Goldstone).

    I do disagree with the writer’s claim that this support is due to Israel agreeing to make the disastrous Oslo Agreements, but he is correct in pointing out the broad base of support Israel has.

  7. Your thesis on the Oslo agreements was “it encouraged them”.

    You really haven’t read of the prospective consequences of Abbas and the PA folding at this point?

    You are undertaking a giant gamble with Zionism currently. If the PA folds, it is increasingly likely that the peace treaties with Israel with Jordan and Egypt will fold, that there will be much stronger international pressure and actually prospective boycott as the Netanyahu vision for Palestine is actually “bantustan”?

    “We must be a stubborn people”. Rather than “We must be a humane people.”

    “We will never again walk into gas chambers.” interpreted in fact as “We will never again accept enough. We will always require more.”

  8. The threat to “fold” the Palestinian Authority is an even bigger phony bluff than Abbas’ threat to resign. First of all, yesterday, on Israel Radio news they reported that FATAH people were organizing “spontaneous” demonstrations to demand that Abbas NOT resign and these were being reported on at length by the official, PA-controlled Palestinian electronic media, which, of course, Abbas himself controls. Look’s like he is going to have to “submit himself to the will of the masses” and not resign, after all, just like Nasser’s “resignation” after the Six-Day War fiasco, which also had government people organizing the “spontaneous demonstrations” that demanded that Nasser stay in office (no doubt there was genuine public demand that Nasser remain because in these authoritarian states the propaganda endlessly drummed into the people’s head is that the leader is the “father of the country” and nation won’t survive without him).

    Now, regarding the “folding” of the PA, there is no chance that they would do that because it would lead to anarchy and there would be no longer a mechanism to distribute the millions of dollars in handouts the EU and US hand over to them every year (we could call it the dhimmi “Jizya” tax the Westerners pay them). All of these “threats” are designed to get Israel and thd US to make more concessions to them. Obama was a real fool for making the public demand that Israel freeze settlements because this backed Abbas into a corner, and all the current maneuvering is designed to get Abbas out of this problem. (Abbas did not demand a freeze when he conducted negotiations with Olmert). It should be remembered that Arafat pulled all these same stunts during the Oslo period, and he certainly wasn’t “weak”.

    Let’s be honest, even if Abbas really wanted to reach a contractual peace with Israel (which he doesn’t) he couldn’t deliver the goods. He is not the charismatic leader that Arafat was, and Arafat couldn’t bring himself to do it. He would be accused of being a traitor, by HAMAS as well as many people in his own FATAH organization. The recent FATAH congress promoted the most extreme people and there was no discussion of really making peace with Israel.
    The fact that he is criticized by both right and left doesn’t make him a good leader.

  9. Wow! I didn’t see Tom Friedman’s remarks until yesterday…but I’m glad I share his instincts (being a heck of a lot less knowledgeable about I/P than he is).

    It’s time for a hands off policy, I agree. I don’t know if government officials fear that leaving it alone to fester could lead to broader turmoil in the neighborhood–but if the two parties involved are not fully engaged–it doesn’t matter what anyone else wants.

  10. “Let’s be honest, even if Abbas really wanted to reach a contractual peace with Israel (which he doesn’t) he couldn’t deliver the goods. He is not the charismatic leader that Arafat was, and Arafat couldn’t bring himself to do it. He would be accused of being a traitor, by HAMAS as well as many people in his own FATAH organization. The recent FATAH congress promoted the most extreme people and there was no discussion of really making peace with Israel.”

    I don’t know what it’s going to take for the Palestinians to get past the internal chaos–but this political mishmash is killing them. It’s painful to watch.

  11. I think its time for hands on. There is no possible peace with hands off.

    The settlement expansion exercise is THE primary obstacle to any peace that can be called a peace, and is idiotic for the US to accept, and is idiotic for Israel to pursue.

    In an environment of Israel sincerely acting towards creating the conditions by which a peace can occur, Abbas would be strong, the PA would establish consistent singular rule with monopoly of force (unlike Lebanon).

    Its obvious that you think that Abbas is bluffing. And, if he isn’t?

    As Israel is opportunistically employing tactics for its advantage, rather than to create a setting of genuine goodwill, it would be reasonable for Abbas to do so similarly.

    But, again, if he isn’t bluffing, and has truly totally lost patience with Netanyahu and likud, to the point of throwing his career to the wind, acknowledging the impossibility of negotiations with Israel (as Israel does not enter negotiations seriously), that is a large and mostly accurate message.

    It is a suicide on his part, a Masada.

    I expect that when the election occurs and Abbas in not in the election, that you will respond with glee, that “another enemy brought to his knees”.

    Its a phase change. No longer do the laws of solids apply.

  12. Anybody notice that the very first sentence of Fleshler’s post is factually incorrect? Abbas did not announce on Thursday that he won’t be running for reelection. He announced that he has “no desire” to run for reelection. So, just to keep this in perspective, Abbas is suggesting that he might not want to run in some elections which quite possibly won’t take place at all anyway, considering that Hamas opposes them.

    Yes, it is possible that the elections will occur, and that they’ll occur without Abbas. It’s possible that Abbas will be the first Arab leader to voluntarily relinquish power since about, when, forever? But at this point we’re still a long way from that scenario.

  13. Another thing: Abbas’ little performance was directed at Obama, not at Israel, though obviously the construction freeze is the proximate cause. The Americans understood that quite well, but just to be sure, Abbas’ own aides spelled it out in so many words to the press. They said (I’m quoting from memory) “when he said Israel, he meant Obama”. Whatever you think of Israel’s policies, this little scene is Barack Obama’s doing.

  14. “Barak Obama’s doing”.

    It is entirely Netanyahu’s responsibility. He had the option to temporarily refrain from settlement construction, starting now.

    But, did every oily thing he could to continue, and gain the American administration’s acceptance of that.

    It is THE primary obstacle to peace, objectively, and should be the basis of consent at trust-building rather than petty trust-trashing.

    Abbas has successfully implemented the security conditions that have led to enormously reduced incidence of terror initiated from the West Bank.

    Any pretence of betrayal by him in that regard is either exageration or fraud.

  15. Richard-
    Okay, let’s say that Abbas is not bluffing and he does resign. So what? The sun will still rise in the morning. The Palestinian apologists were saying the same thing about Arafat: “what are we going to do without Arafat-sure he is deeply flawed, but he is the only possible leader for the Palestinians”. Uri Avnery was the biggest one pushing this line. De Gaulle, IIRC when he ran for re-election as President of France in 1965 had a slogan something like “Me or Chaos”. In 1969 he had a referendum over obscure constitutional issues and he said he would resign if it lost. It lost, he resigned and France went on.
    Proponents of the so-called “peace process” really need to ask themselves what the real value of a peace agreement with a leader is if it going to fall apart after he leaves the scene.

    Regarding, Weisglass’ statement…that man is a corrupt, deceitful man. He made the famous statement that destroying Gush Katif was supposedly meant to “put Oslo in deep freeze”. The only reason he said that was to get the settler leaders to cooperate with the destruction of Gush Katif, making them think that they were sacrificing Gush Katif in order to “save Judea/Samaria”. After Sharon formed the Kadima party after that, he said that he intended then to carry out another large-scale withdrawal there. Weisglass confirmed this. The man has no credibility.
    IT WAS THE IDF THAT BROKE THE BACK OF THE TERROR INFRASTRUCTURE IN JUDEA/SAMARIA….not Abbas’ forces. I have heard that Abbas’ forces do operate against HAMAS in Judea/Samaria, but that is not to prevent terror, but to supress an interal political rival. That’s all.

  16. By the way, here is a helpful little re-cap of all of Abu Mazen’s threats of resignation over the past couple years. Yes, it’s still *possible* that this time he Really Means It.

  17. Okay, Dan, I misunderstood. You’re right. I have encountered a handful of lefties online who claim that the Palestinians have the right to use any means to fight occupation (meaning, of course, terrorism). I strongly disagree with them–a war crime is a war crime, no matter how good or bad the cause.

  18. “It’s time for a hands off policy, I agree.”

    Just out of curiosity Suzanne, would that hands off policy include an end to financial and military aid to Israel and a cessation of reflexive vetos at the UN?

    Anything short of that would hardly be a hands off policy now would it?

    Tom, when you say the Obama administration should take some time out from the Palestinian track, what seismic shift do you see happening in the next 3 years that hasn’t happened and failed over the last 40?

    I must say, I had to laugh when I heard you refer to the carnard about Israel not having a peace partner. I was almost waiting for you to cite the land without a people meme.

  19. Y. Ben-David,

    Just a correction.

    After Sharon formed the Kadima partym, Weisglass told the world that Sharon’s policy was to suspend the peace process in formaldehyde.

    And please, if you;re going to refer to terror groups, at least have the honesty to admit that is Isral used the same tactics and succeeded.

  20. You are right Dan,

    There is no justification for defending Hamas’s use of terror, but neither is it honest to categorize Hamas as only about terror.

  21. Shingo-
    Yes, HAMAS has other activities, just like the Nazis in Germany had the Winterhilf program that helped many destitute people. That’s one way they gathered popular support for their crimes.

  22. Y.Ben-David,

    You seem to have missed the important part about how Hamas was created by Israel, and grew to become Israel’s Frankestein experiment.

    All because Israel didn’t want to negotiate with the PLO, which at the time, had virtually no religious affiliations.

    Oh, and it’s probably not wise to bring up the Nazis, because such comparisons can cut both ways.

    Let’s agree not to go there.

  23. “You seem to have missed the important part about how Hamas was created by Israel, and grew to become Israel’s Frankestein experiment”

    Ludicrous self-talk.

    To the limited extent that Israel assisted Hamas at all, it was to support their education and social service efforts, and their moderation at the time.

    But, the support was limited, not “created by Israel”.

    I would expect that Hamas would not regard that statement as accurate.

  24. Shingo,
    My statement was whether or not Israel would have a party that could serve as a peace partner for the U.S. should be evident by the end of the first Obama term. In a previous string I noted that neither Israel nor the Palestinians were a suitable peace partner. I guess you only read what you want to read.

    If your standard is the destruction of Israel or its replacement by a “democratic, secular” state or some other nonsense in the light of Arab political reality than I agree the last 40 years has been a great disappointment. But during that time Israel has made peace with Egypt and Jordan and has had a fairly stable armistice on the Golan for over 30 years. And there is a fair proportion of Palestinians who are speaking of peace with Israel rather than peace without Israel. But I suppose for the fundamentalists like yourself and Mr. Ben-David this is no real change at all.

  25. “Ludicrous self-talk.”

    Israel supported Hamas to serve as a cat’s paw against the influence of the PLO. It was a passive form of divide and conquer.

    Hamas turned out to be a monster, but as Yitzak Rabin admitted to Arafat, it was an Israeli blunder.

  26. Tom,

    I stand corrected on your partner for peace comment.

    As for your second point, it is inflammatory and manipulative to describe the transition of Israel from a Jewish state to a democratic secular as “destruction”. The break up of the Soviet Union was never described as a process of destruction.

    Peace is another terms that is entirely meaningless in the absence o context. Israeli defenders often cite polls that show most Israelis want peace while fewer Palestinians do, but then again, given the status quo, and ongoing occupation/land theft/ethnic cleansing, it’s hardly surprising.

    So yes, there might be fair proportion of Palestinians who are speaking of peace with Israel, which deserves admiration, but few would endorse peace under the current arrangement.

    One doesn’t need to be a fundamentalist like me to grasp that simple concept.

  27. “As for your second point, it is inflammatory and manipulative to describe the transition of Israel from a Jewish state to a democratic secular as “destruction”. The break up of the Soviet Union was never described as a process of destruction.”

    A) Out of all the wacked out theocracies over there, you focus on Israel (which is at best theocracy lite)? That’s rich. Especially as you have absolutely ZERO interest in overthrowing sharia law.

    B) Ever hear of sovereignty?

    You really don’t get a vote on just how secular or how theocratic Israel gets to be.

  28. And P.S. to answer your earlier question about taking away military and financial aid…there’s a body of opinion that believes US aid puts too many conditions & constraints on Israel to handle its enemies.

    I’m neutral on that issue.

  29. A) Israel is the only theocracy over there that claims to be a democracy. They also happen to be the only state that has maintained a 40+ year occupation (if you ignore the previous 20).

    Shariah law doesn’t incinerate 400 children in Gaza.

    B) Maybe when Israel recognizes the sovereignty or others, we can talk about Israel’s sovereignty.

    As for military and financial aid, Israel’s military be a shell of it’s present self without US arms and money. As for conditions & constraints the US places on Israel, you are joking aren’t you? How is a guaranteed endorsement support for everything Israel does and automatic veto at the UN a constraint or condition?

    Ironically, I am inclines to agree that withdrawal of US arms and aid to Israel would assist Israel in dealing with it’s enemies.

    Without all those weapons and assurances that the US will be there to pick up the tab (and clean up the mess), Israel might actually be forced to sit down and negotiate a opposed to it’s usual initial response, which it to pull the trigger.

  30. Shingo,
    Israel cannot meaningfully be described as “a theocracy.” Each religious community–Jews, Muslims, Christians–has control over personal status issues, presumably your basis for labeling it a theocracy. So you would have to describe it as a collection of “theocracies.”

  31. Totally uninformed discussion of what a “theocracy” is….it means “rule by priests”, or, in the Israeli context “rule by Rabbis”. Even Saudi Arabia is NOT a “theocracy” in that context, because the ulema (Islamic scholars) are subordinate to the ruling monarchy, although they do say that Sharia law is the basis of law in the Kingdom. I guess Iran would consider itself a theocracy, although from what I have read lately, the country is becomnig essentially a military dictatorship and not so much “rule by the mullahs”.
    Israel is a secular state…there is no “rule by the Rabbis”. That is nonsense. Certainly, there are religious parties that are sattellites of the ruling party, but the Rabbis have only limited influence. The fact that the different religions have control of personal status of their followers does not make the country a theocracy any more than Britain is simply because the Queen is the head of the Church of England and that all babies born in the country are automatically registered as being members of the Church of England unless their parents choose to opt out. There are also Bishops of the Church of England who automatically get seats in the House of Lords. I recall that when the Church adopted a new prayerbook, Parliament had to pass legislation to approve this move! Yet, no one calls Britain a theocracy. So neither is Israel.

  32. Yaakov–thanks for clearing that up. I was half joking when I said theocracy light (note I added “at best it’s…”). And I said that only because of certain marital laws.

    Other than that, I don’t see how Israel resembles a theocracy. It’s a modern secular state with ties to other modern secular states.

  33. Y. Ben-David,

    There is no such thing as a secular state that defines it’s identity around a particular religion. There is no rule by Rabbis because the rules are written into it’s laws.

    And unlike Israel, Britain does not define the rights to property based on religious affiliation or identity.

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