There is a point of view among many students of Middle Eastern politics that all of its problems would be solved if Israel ended its occupation of the territories captured during the 1967 Six-Day-War and handed them to the Palestinians. After all, no country really wants to control the lives of other people, and in doing so, such a situation weighs heavily on Israel, its people and its democratic values.
Of course, the reality is far from simple as we have seen in more than two decades since we witnessed the famous scenes on the White House Lawns in September 1993 when Israeli and Palestinian leaders shook hands and penned an agreement that was meant to lead to an all embracing peace in the region. Volumes have been written since that day about why things did not turn out the way we thought they would. Fingers have been pointed and accusations made against both sides as well as against the interlocutors – those who were supposed to be assisting the parties in reaching the goal of two states living side by side in peace.
Looking at things in March 2016, one could be forgiven for believing that the peace process has floundered because, at a point in time, it must have entered some kind of “Bizzaro World”. Last week, the Times of Israel and other media outlets told us that American President “Obama sees Netanyahu as most disappointing of all Mideast leaders”.
I found this curious because, leaving aside Syria’s Bashar al-Assad who has barrel-bombed his own people, and the Hamas leadership in Gaza which preaches genocide against Jews and the destruction of the State of Israel, and a handful of other despots, one has to wonder why President Obama is constantly looking aside when it comes to the behaviour of the Palestinian Authority Chairman, Mahmoud Abbas. After all, at the very time we were being informed that Obama was so unimpressed by Israel’s Prime Minister, Abbas was making a fool of Obama’s Vice President Joe Biden, who was visiting the region to test whether something could be done to revive the moribund peace process.
As it happens, Biden’s visit coincided with a terror attack in Jaffa, which claimed the life of American citizen Taylor Force, a West Point graduate from Texas who was stabbed to death by a Palestinian. Force was a non-Jewish American. Two other people stabbed in the attack were Muslims. Biden was in town in the hope of persuading the Palestinian leadership to issue a “condemnation” of the six-month reign of terror that has been gripping the country. If there was ever a time to send a strong message to his people, and indeed to the world, that this slow-burning intifada is going to get them nowhere, that was Abbas’ time.
But all Abbas could muster was to send his condolences for the death of an American and, at the same time, he stressed that “the occupation authorities have killed 200 Palestinians over the past five months”. In other words, Abbas was equally concerned with the deaths of Palestinian stabbers and shooters as he was with the murdered American citizen. Even less subtle was Abbas’ Fatah faction which praised the murderer and called him a “martyr”. Fatah quickly deleted this post from its site.
In 1973, Abba Eban said that the “Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. This was one of those times. And Joe Biden went home, having achieved nothing. He should have felt insulted. His President should have considered himself, if not insulted, then at least “disappointed”, but there has been no indication of this at all. Abbas has conducted himself in exactly the same way in regard to negotiations with Israel throughout the term of Obama’s Presidency with barely a flutter of concern from the United States. Life and death go on.
While Fatah, and Hamas for that matter, may not be claiming direct responsibility for the attacks, they are working both behind the scenes to encourage this knife-intifada and then praising the attacks after the event. Abbas has been getting off lightly for months and in fact years, but his continued incitement to violence should not be ignored. Like the time he said, “every drop of blood spilled in Jerusalem in pure blood”. Nor should we ignore the fact that while supports of the anti-Israel campaign continue to bleat on about an imagined Israeli apartheid, Abbas’ wish is for a future Palestinian state is to be completely free of Jews.
But the incitement does not just come from the leadership. It comes from the mosques where week after week another religious leader comes out with a call to violence. Like the delightful Imam who said, “Oh people of Al-Abrar Mosque and the people of Rafah – from this mosque of yours, you have the honor of delivering these messages to the men of the West Bank: Form stabbing quads. We don’t want just a single stabber. Oh young men of the West Bank: Attack in threes and fours. Some should restrain the victim, while others attack him with axes and butcher knives.” Preaching a religion of peace, not so much.
And then there is the incitement on state-controlled television over the years. One has to wonder how this is all going to advance the cause of peace and end Israeli “occupation”? Or is it perhaps that Abbas does not really want that – and like his predecessor, he really wants to destroy Israel instead?
The real problem is that while Benjamin Netanyahu constantly comes under scrutiny for whatever he does, Mahmoud Abbas is never held accountable for anything. Not by the United Nations. Not by the world community. Not by the international media. And not by President Obama, who obviously does not consider Abbas to be disappointing.