Commentary Magazine


The Peace Process and the Princess Bride

Those of you who have seen the movie will remember the scene well: our hero, Westley, has finally engineered a showdown with the cowardly Prince Humperdinck, who has attempted to steal his one true love. But over the course of his long battle to reach Humperdinck, Westley was captured and tortured to death in the Pit of Despair (a place much, much worse than Gitmo). He is revived by Max the miracle worker, but is so weak that he cannot even stand up on his own. He presses on nonetheless. In the climactic confrontation, Humperdinck finds Westley in a room in his castle, laying on a bed, his head propped up with pillows, his sword at his side. All he has the strength to do is talk — but Humperdinck doesn’t know this, so he challenges him to a duel. Westley responds by haranguing Humperdinck with horrible descriptions of his dismemberment should they duel. (“The first thing you will lose will be your feet below the ankles. Then your hands at the wrists. Next your nose.”) Through sheer bravado, he avoids exposing his powerlessness until one of his associates, the great swordsman Inigo Montoya, arrives to help him — and then it is too late for Humperdinck. He has been tricked.

If you read Jackson Diehl’s column today about his interview with Mahmoud Abbas, it’s hard to avoid recalling this scene. Diehl is mystified by what he says is Abbas’s “waiting game.”

Until Israel meets his demands, the Palestinian president says, he will refuse to begin negotiations. He won’t even agree to help Obama’s envoy, George J. Mitchell, persuade Arab states to take small confidence-building measures. …

Abbas and his team fully expect that Netanyahu will never agree to the full settlement freeze — if he did, his center-right coalition would almost certainly collapse. So they plan to sit back and watch while U.S. pressure slowly squeezes the Israeli prime minister from office. “It will take a couple of years,” one official breezily predicted. Abbas rejects the notion that he should make any comparable concession — such as recognizing Israel as a Jewish state, which would imply renunciation of any large-scale resettlement of refugees.

Instead, he says, he will remain passive. “I will wait for Hamas to accept international commitments. I will wait for Israel to freeze settlements,” he said.

There should be no mystery about what Abbas is up to. His flippant declaration of passivity is transparently employed because he is powerless. It is his only way of avoiding the embarrassing spectacle of falling flat on his face the moment it comes time for him to take action. So he speaks in grandiose terms about how everyone else must move before he does, when in reality — like Westley — he is paralyzed. Call it the Princess Bride strategy. And it appears that, for the time being at least, he has a willing sponsor in the Obama Administration.