Why won’t anyone listen to Abbas?

The Palestinian leader continues to spew hate and show that he has no interest in two states or peace. So why do American Jews continue to ignore what he says?

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 20, 2017. Credit: U.N. Photo/Cia Pak.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly, Sept. 20, 2017. Credit: U.N. Photo/Cia Pak.
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him @jonathans_tobin.

Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas keeps telling the world what he thinks. The curious thing is not that he makes statements in which he delegitimizes Israel’s existence as a “colonial project,” as he did in January, or that he called the U.S. ambassador to Israel a “son of a dog,” as he did on Monday. It’s why those whose vision of peace requires Abbas to be interested in that concept simply refuse to believe their lying eyes and ears when it comes to what he and his colleagues do and say.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the general debate of the United Nations General Assembly Sept. 20, 2017. Credit: U.N. Photo/Cia Pak.

The last contretemps involving Abbas stems from his reaction to a comment on Twitter from U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, in which he noted that the P.A. had not condemned terror attacks on Israelis carried out by Palestinians over the weekend. Rather than take the opportunity to make it clear that he and his government opposed terror, he instead vented his spleen on Friedman, calling him a “son of a dog” and a “settler.”

That Friedman is a longtime supporter of the settlement movement is a sore point with the Palestinians and Jewish left-wingers, but Abbas is clearly not interested in meeting the Trump administration halfway as it prepares to issue a peace plan that’s probably not going to please the Jewish right. To the contrary, Abbas’s goal seems to be to burn his bridges with the United States, and with moderate Arab nations like Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which are sick and tired of his rejectionist attitude.

It’s easy to focus on the way Trump has reversed President Obama’s effort to create more “daylight” between Israel and the United States, and how he has cheered friends of the Jewish state by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. But it’s important to remember that Abbas didn’t meet Obama halfway either, even as he pushed policies that were clearly aimed at pressuring Israel to make concessions and tilting the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians.

Like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, Abbas has said no to peace so many times that we’ve lost count. Nor is his “son of a dog” comment about a U.S. official the first time he has engaged in insults of this kind. This is the same man who incited the “stabbing intifada” by saying that “stinking Jewish feet” should not be allowed to profane the holy places of Jerusalem.

Instead of taking advantage of the opening Trump is giving him to negotiate—his recent moves didn’t preclude a two-state solution or even a redivision of Jerusalem if the parties agreed to it—Abbas is running away from talks of any kind.

Indeed, the Palestinians are gearing up to spend the weeks between now and the 70th anniversary of Israeli independence in May by doubling down on the narrative in which the existence of the Jewish state is a nakba, a “disaster” that must be reversed. Rather than show President Trump—a man who may still be laboring under the delusion that his masterful negotiating skills will produce the “ultimate deal” for Middle East peace—that he is ready to talk, Abbas and his minions are having none of it.

To the contrary, as Haaretz reports, the P.A. and various Palestinian groups are going to emphasize a campaign of demonstrations that will center on the “right of return” for descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees.

Somehow, this message—delivered in insulting, colorful language by the man who has been proclaimed the “moderate” peace partner, and repeated in official Palestinian media and schools on a daily basis—isn’t getting through to those who advocate for U.S. pressure on Israel to allow Abbas to have a state in the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem.

The very same day that Abbas responded to Friedman’s plea for a Palestinian stand on terrorism with an insult, Ronald S. Lauder, a prominent American Jewish philanthropist once considered a friend and ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, penned an op-ed in The New York Times demanding that Israel recommit itself to a two-state solution.

As Stephen Flatow writes, there are arguments against such a stand from a strategic point of view. It is also misleading to claim that a refusal to give the Palestinians a state—something that Israel has repeatedly tried to do in the past, only to be rejected first by Arafat and then by Abbas—is undermining Jewish support for Israel. The growing distance between the Jewish state and the Diaspora has far more to do with demographic trends involving assimilation than anything Netanyahu is doing.

Lauder and other critics of Israel aren’t listening to Abbas. As with so much of the discussion about peace that has been going on in the Jewish world for the last generation about settlements, what remains missing from the debate is what the Palestinians want, as opposed to what the Jews want them to want.

American Jews who long for peace aren’t just engaging in wishful thinking about a Palestinian Authority that adamantly refuses to stop subsidizing terrorism. They’re also denying agency to the very same Palestinian people whose plight engenders their sympathy.

It’s not really important what names Abbas calls Friedman, Trump or Netanyahu. He is an elderly, sick man who thinks protecting his legacy depends on ensuring that he will not be the one who signs a document that concedes defeat in his people’s century-old war against Zionism. Sadly, his potential successors and his Hamas rivals have no more interest in peace than Abbas. Until that changes, those who ignore the Palestinian determination to never make peace with a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn, aren’t helping anyone.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — the Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.

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