Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s condemnation of Ra’am Party head Mansour Abbas last month for saying that the Jewish state is here to stay illustrated, yet again, that the Palestinian leader has no intention of making peace with Israel.
The Israeli left, including former security officials, and many European officials are all united in the hope that Abbas is a peace-maker. This hope may have been one of the reasons behind the meeting last week between Abbas and Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz in the latter’s home in central Israel.
Mansour Abbas, the head of the southern branch of the Islamic Movement’s United Arab List party (Ra’am), entered the governing coalition led by Naftali Bennet and Yair Lapid with the aim of removing Benjamin Netanyahu from the premiership.
For an Israeli Arab politician to state that Israel was born and will remain a Jewish state, and to insist that the Arab public be realistic and strive for a role in that state, is a welcome turn of events. (Though the Islamic Movement, the Muslim Brotherhood offshoot in Israel, is known to say what its audience wants to hear in Hebrew while providing its supporters in Arab with a different message.) Mansour Abbas went way beyond the dovish Israeli Arab stance of working within the Jewish state to turn it into a state of all its citizens, or into a bi-national state.
Mahmoud Abbas reacted with vociferous denunciations, expressing the Palestinians’ “refusal and disgust” at the Ra’am leader’s acknowledgement of the Jewish state. These “irresponsible remarks fuel the extremist right-wing groups in Israeli society,” which “run contrary to [the Islamic] religion, the legacy of the Palestinian people that extend from the beginning of time,” and strengthen the “imperialistic Zionist project,” said the P.A. leader. The remarks also increased the resolve of settlers to “defile” the Al Aqsa Mosque with their presence, he added.
Abbas, of course, was referring to the Temple Mount as a whole, since he well knows that Jews are not allowed into the mosque itself.
Considering that the Temple Mount—Har Habayit—is the site of the two destroyed temples, the first destroyed by Nebuchadrezzar II of Babylonia and the second by the Romans, one wonders what kind of peace the P.A. leader intends to make.
Of course, this is nothing new for the Israeli public, who know that Mahmoud Abbas has a doctorate in Holocaust denial. More recently, the Palestinian leader attacked Arab leaders who dared to normalize relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords.
Of course, questioning Mahmoud Abbas’s potential peace-making role goes beyond ideological positions and rhetoric. At 86, Abbas can hardly soften his perception that the Jewish state is illegitimate. So even if he were to surprise the world with a change of heart, he could probably not muster the strength to lead Palestinians to follow.
At present, he is busy trying to subdue any voice speaking of peace.
The Israeli left widely subscribes to the thesis of missed opportunities from the days of Foreign Minister Moshe Sharrett. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion presumably quashed their peace probes in the years before the Yom Kippur War. Again, according to this thesis, Israel likely missed another opportunity for peace during the talks between former Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and King Hussein of Jordan in 1987.
Fortunately, Mahmoud Abbas’s reaction to Mansour Abbas’s remarks serves to warn the Israeli public from being duped.
Hillel Frisch is a professor of political studies and Middle East studies at Bar-Ilan University and an expert on the Arab world at The Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security.
This article was first published by the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.