3 min read
Why It's Time to Stop Pretending that Abbas Is a Partner for Peace

Yeshaya Gedzelman

On September 22nd during a speech in front of the UN, Yair Lapid stated his belief that, “An agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security”. Lapid’s speech and very public support for the two-state solution did not mention Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority (PA) by name. Instead, he shared a condition shared by the vast majority of Israelis for a future Palestinian state, that the state created "be a peaceful one". In response to Lapid’s speech, Abbas responded by arguing that Israel’s “premeditated and deliberate policies” were “destroying the two-state solution”. Abbas went even further, claiming that this was why the Palestinians “no longer have an Israeli partner to whom we can talk”. Abbas’s delusional response to Lapid’s UN speech was filled with historical revisionism and a general failure to take responsibility for his own missed opportunities for peace during his years as President of the PA, an office he has occupied for over 17 years. Abbas’s gaslighting rejection of Lapid’s speech provides even further evidence that Abbas has never been a suitable or plausible partner for peace. 

At a recent conference in Berlin in August of this year, Abbas was asked if he was going to apologize on the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre. He responded by saying in Arabic, "From 1947 to the present day, Israel has committed 50 massacres in Palestinian villages and cities, 50 massacres, 50 holocausts and until today and every day, there are casualties killed by the Israeli military". When Abbas said that Israel had committed 50 holocausts, it is disrespectful both because of its historical inaccuracy and because it minimizes the uniquely terrible event that the Jewish nation went through. Jews were murdered in the Holocaust, through systematic and incomprehensibly brutal methods and a person with a basic level of knowledge and reason, will understand that this is a very different dynamic from the Arab-Israeli conflict. The timing and location of Abbas's rant also added to the speech's chutzpah. His rant in the Chancellerly, a historic German government building where the Bundestag (German parliament) sits, on the eve of the 50th anniversary of the 1972 Munich Massacre (when Palestinian terrorists attacked and massacred an Israeli Olympic team) antagonized the German Chancellor Olaf Scholtz, who later said he was “disgusted” with Abbas’s remarks. 

Unfortunately, this sickening remark is not the first time this type of insane historical revisionism and anti-Semitic rhetoric has been spouted by Palestinaian leaders and their followers. Abbas's response to UN speech only served to further highlight the discrepancy between the world's desire for a Palestinian partner and the reality on the ground. Regardless, the West continues to support the PA and Abbas due to the simple and sad fact that Abbas may be the most least terrible, most moderate Palestinian leader, relative to other Palestinian leaders. This may be part of the reason why the West still pays "lip service" to the idea of Abbas as a partner for peace, ignoring the long history of evidence to the contrary. After all, Palestinians in the West Bank have little love for Abbas, with a recent June 2022 poll") finding that 72% of West Bank Palestinians believed Abbas should resign. The poll also found that if elections were held today, only 49% of respondents (from the West Bank) said they would vote and Abbas would lose to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh by a wide margin (55% for Haniyeh-33% for Abbas). 

This recent poll is one of the many that reveal that the vast majority of the Palestinian public are frustrated with Abbas’s leadership and would like to see him step down from power. Abbas is very afraid (justifiably so) of the very strong likelihood that he would lose an election if it was held today in the West Bank. It also shows why elections for the Palestinian Parliment have not been held in the West Bank since 2006 and yet the West has supported him, despite his undemocratic policies. For all of Abbas’s faults, his desire to remain in power provides a force of political consistency in the West Bank for the West and Israel to rely on. If elections were held today, he would likely be replaced by a Palestinian leader with a more violent modus operandi for dealing with Israel, such as Marwan Barghouti, currently in prison for his involvement in a number of violent attacks on Israelis, or the veteran Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh. Thus, any deal struck with Abbas, whose public support is shaky at best, is a dangerous gamble for Israel that it can’t afford to take, because Israel would understandably have extremely serious concerns about Abbas’s ability to implement the deal's commitments on the Palestinian side. For now, the West Bank and Israel tolerate the 85 year old Abbas as the best of a bad situation, in an effort to prevent an even further deterioration of the security situation in the West Bank. Abbas’s continued grip on power also means that the two-state solution is likely to remain in a sort of purgatory until new Palestinian leadership is found that has the political will and capital to enter into an agreement with Israel.

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