For those like Presidents Obama and Clinton, who view Israel and its policies as the primary obstacle to peace in the Middle East, what the Palestinians do, say, or even think never seems to get on their radar screen. Compared to the Palestinians — both the supposed moderates of Fatah in the West Bank and the Islamists of Hamas that govern Gaza — the Israelis are relatively more powerful and so they are judged to be the ones with the ability to end the conflict and create a two-state solution. But in order for even this form of magical thinking to work, Israel requires some kind of peace partner. Cast in that role is Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, Yasir Arafat’s successor and a man that President Obama has praised as a champion of peace. But in order to believe he is such a person, observers have always been forced to restrict their study of his behavior to a limited number of moderate-sounding statements generally made in English and directed at Western and Israeli audiences. At the same time, you have to ignore the host of other damning utterances and actions that make it clear he is not interested in peace that are in Arabic and directed at his own people.
Arafat perfected that double game during the heyday of Oslo euphoria in the 1990s as Americans and Israelis clung to statements that could parsed as indicating he wanted peace while everything he said to Palestinians showed that he still intended Israel’s destruction. Abbas has learned to play the same double game with great skill. Last week, we got an example of just how he plays to different audiences when he extolled the two-state solution and his willingness to stick to Oslo when speaking to Dutch Jews. But two days earlier he told the United Nations Human Rights Council that he considered all of Israel, including land it held before the 1967 Six Day War, as “occupied” (this can be viewed at the Palestine Media Watch website). Like its silence about Abbas’s record of incitement that has helped fuel the current wave of anti-Israeli terror, the United States has remained silent about a statement that both reveals his intentions and explains his repeated refusals of peace offers.
In the decade since he succeeded Arafat (he’s currently serving in the 11th year of a four-year term as president of the PA), Abbas has cultivated a good reputation among American and Israeli left-wingers. His Dutch speech is not an anomaly in that he has told countless Western and Jewish audiences the same thing about wanting two states and giving up the “right of return,” which is synonymous with the end of Israel as a Jewish state. That’s just what Westerners who want to believe in the two-state solution want to hear. Thus armed with what they think is proof of a Palestinian willingness to make peace, they then attack the Israeli government and demand it show it grant Abbas the concessions he needs to sell a deal to his people.
It sounds good, but for every hopeful statement Abbas makes, he makes a few that indicate that his peace talk is as much of an act as the blood-soaked terrorist that he succeeded.
Case in point is his UNHRC statement in which he asked the UN body, “How long will this protracted Israeli occupation of our land last? After 67 years, how long? Do you think it can last, and that it benefits the Palestinian people?”
The term “67 years” is significant. According to those who believe a two-state solution is currently possible, it will require Israel to give up all the land it won in the Six Day War. Those who are serious about the idea understand that the Jewish state would have to be allowed to keep some of that land since hundreds of thousands of Jews now live there in exchange for parts of pre-1967 Israel. But even if you believe that is a deal the Palestinians can make, simple math tells us that the “occupation” of the West Bank and Jerusalem began 48 years ago, not 67.
This is not a minor point because if Abbas thinks the “occupation” began 67 years ago, then the land he seeks to “liberate” from Israeli rule isn’t just in the West Bank or Jerusalem but comprises all of the Jewish state that was born on May 15, 1948. In other words, Abbas believes that every inch that Israeli currently controls is “occupied Palestinian territory.” That means the settlements he wishes to have dismantled or de-populated of its Jews are not just on remote West Bank hilltops or even in the Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem that were built after the Six Day War, but in Tel Aviv, Haifa, the Galilee, and the Negev. In that formulation, the end of the occupation would be synonymous with the end of Israel altogether.
This isn’t the first time Abbas or the official Palestinian media he controls has referred to pre-1967 Israel as “occupied.” It is a constant refrain of Palestinian TV in which Palestinians, young and old, speak of their desire to gain control over the entire country and not just those parts that Israel in 1967. It is also consistent with Hamas rhetoric that is more straightforward in the sense that the Islamist group that tyrannically rules an independent Palestinian state in all but name in Gaza never tries to fool anyone into thinking it wants a two-state solution.
Such views are also, as I wrote yesterday, consistent with every poll of Palestinian public opinion, that reveals that huge majorities of Abbas’s people think Israel has no right to exist or any right to any land.
Nor is any of this surprising. For the last century, Palestinian national identity has been inextricably tied to a desire to eradicate Zionism. Just as Abbas uses the playbook of his Nazi-ally predecessor, Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem, when it comes to stirring up religious hatred about the Temple Mount, so, too, does he continue to rally his people to oppose compromise.
This also explains why Abbas has continued to refuse Israeli peace offers, including those made by Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, that would have given him a state with almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem, and Gaza in exchange for peace. The talk of “67 years of occupation” also makes it easier to comprehend why Abbas won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.
But, just as the peace processors ignored Arafat’s double game, they are continuing to do so for Abbas, as they laud his statement to the Dutch Jews while ignoring his speech that showed he thinks all of Israel is “occupied.” It is high time someone in Washington called him to account for this, but such realism about the Palestinians will clearly have to wait until Obama leaves the White House.