Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas told U.N. General Assembly members on Sept. 24 that he was giving Israel just one year to withdraw from the ancient Jewish homelands of Judea and Samaria … or else he was going to cancel his recognition of the Jewish state.
Surely, this impotent threat fooled no one at the United Nations and caused no Israelis to lose sleep. Abbas, now in his 17th year of a four-year term—and whom 80 percent of Palestinians believe should resign—has been making empty threats and promises his entire career.
Abbas lost the last of his domestic credibility earlier this year when he scheduled Palestinian elections for May and then a few months later canceled the vote, blaming Israel for blocking Arab Jerusalemites from voting—a blatant lie meant to distract from yet another embarrassing Abbas flip-flop.
Meanwhile, many Middle East observers scratch their heads or argue furiously about the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians. Often as not, critics of Israel cling to red-herring issues, such as “the settlements,” “refugees,” “borders” or Jerusalem—as the greatest obstacles to ending the conflict.
The true problem, however, is the rigid rejectionism, spanning almost two decades, of none other than Abbas, who obsessively demonstrates his unwillingness to achieve peace with Israel.
Abbas has long been branded by hopeful Western diplomats as a moderating influence within the Palestinian national movement and its ruling party, Fatah. However, a cursory look at Abbas’s past shows anything but moderation. His doctoral thesis was a denial of the Holocaust. Abbas has actively organized terrorism and reportedly raised the funds for the Munich Massacre at the 1972 Olympic Games, where 12 Israeli athletes and coaches were murdered. He was also a KGB agent and the main conduit for Soviet-Palestinian relations during the Cold War.
Abbas became Palestinian premier in 2003, before being appointed president after the death of Yasser Arafat in 2004. While many thought his business suit distinguished him from his predecessor’s army fatigues, Abbas’s language belied these hopes. Though on occasion he disavowed violence, for the ears of the international community, his constant adoration of Palestinian “martyrs”—terrorists who died committing their murderous acts—demonstrates otherwise.
Abbas’s government continuously names roads, public squares, monuments and children’s summer camps after terrorists. In addition, his steadfast refusal to end the P.A.’s “Pay for Slay” program—salaries for convicted terrorists—proves bloodshed still tops his agenda.
But the major complaint against Abbas from Palestinians themselves is corruption. Abbas and his sons have been accused of misappropriating hundreds of millions of dollars of P.A. funds. Arafat’s former economic adviser Muhammad Rashid estimated that Abbas has taken at least $100 million, and Abbas’s two sons run businesses supported by P.A. enterprises and worth upwards of $600 million.
In testimony before a House Committee on Foreign Affairs in 2012, Elliott Abrams stated that “corruption is an insidious destroyer not only of Palestinian public finance but of faith in the entire political system. … [A]s an American official seeking financial assistance for the P.A. from Gulf Arab governments. … I was often told ‘why should we give them money when their officials will just steal it?’”
Piled atop Abbas’s corruption is his dictatorial rule. He has repeatedly canceled municipal, parliamentary and presidential elections. The 85-year-old has become increasingly repressive, with his police forces breaking up demonstrations, intimidating opponents and murdering critics.
However, his most damaging contribution is his rejection of peace. In 2008, then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert made Israel’s most generous offer of peace ever to Abbas, which included 100 percent of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, with minor land swaps, half of Jerusalem, control of the Temple Mount and Holy Basin and even a return of some refugees. Abbas rejected the offer out of hand.
Indeed, Abbas and his predecessor Arafat have refused every single Israeli peace offer—and later, even the possibility of further talks. This is despite Israel’s good-faith concessions, such as the freeze on any new building in Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria in 2010, during the Obama administration.
During the Trump administration, Abbas’s rejectionism went even further, as the United States offered the Palestinians $50 billion in aid and investment just to come to the negotiating table, but were once again rebuffed. “We say a thousand times no, no, no to the ‘Deal of the Century,’ ” Abbas said, referring to the Trump peace plan.
The root of Abbas’s rejectionism is his continued objection to Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, belying his stated commitment to the “two states for two peoples” formula. While he tells the world that Palestinian sovereignty is at the root of the conflict, it was in fact Jewish sovereignty that sparked the conflict a century ago, and that still riles Palestinian leadership.
Speaking in 2014, Abbas said he firmly rejected the demand that Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. “They are pressing and saying, ‘no peace without the Jewish state,’” he said, adding: “There is no way. We will not accept.”
Sentiment among Israelis is unequivocal: Rejection of the Jewish people’s national rights is the greatest obstacle to peace. Unless an enemy commits to stop fighting, the fight will continue.
The international community, led by the United States, should not succumb to Abbas’s incessant bullying and threats. He has shown that he has no interest in peace or a resolution to the conflict—preferring to just grease its wheels and his own palms simultaneously.
The Biden administration should acknowledge that this man in a suit is nothing but an unrepentant terrorist with no interest in peace. Before agreeing to any Palestinian demands, they should first test Abbas. Extract the singular concession from him that will resolve the bottleneck he has created:
Ask Abbas if he is ready to accept the State of Israel as the home of the Jewish people, whose capital is Jerusalem. If his answer is still “no”—as it surely will be until the day he dies—it makes sense to sideline the Palestinian president and take a chance on the next generation of Palestinian leaders.
James Sinkinson is president of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship to the United States.