Commentary Magazine


A New Abbas?

Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority and presumptive world representative of the Palestinian cause, has been making life difficult for those who make attacking Israel an axiom for their activism. The Jerusalem Post reported that, at a luncheon at Washington’s Brookings Institution last week, Abbas crossed a number of rhetorical red lines that have become the foundations of the anti-Israel narrative.

One: “Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine.” Nobody, of course, except for Helen Thomas, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, and countless activists who speak of the entire state of Israel, not just the post-1967 territories, as an “occupation.”

Two: he recognizes “West Jerusalem” as the “capital of Israel.” This is rather bold, considering that even the U.S. State Department doesn’t recognize Western Jerusalem as a part of Israel at all, much less its capital.

Three: Abbas stated that the goal of negotiations would be an absolute end to the conflict, so that there would be “no more demands” — something that sounds obvious but has forever eluded the public Palestinian discourse, keeping Israeli suspicions high that the Palestinians are not remotely interested in ending the conflict.

Four: he conceded that there is anti-Israel incitement on the Palestinian side and that such could be resolved through an agreed-upon monitoring committee.

Five: he allowed for the possibility of an agreed solution that included an international force, even NATO, occupying the Palestinian territories, at least for a few years — opening the door, perhaps, for meeting Israel’s demand that the Palestinian state be demilitarized.

Yet the biggest zinger from Abbas appears in today’s Haaretz. According to the report, he told President Barack Obama that he opposes lifting Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — a position shared with the Egyptian government, as well. This, of course, not only justifies Israel’s enforcement of the blockade during the flotilla mess (regardless of whether the tactics were prudent) but it also implies that the blockade itself is precisely right. This is truly remarkable, for it drastically undermines the justification for the entire flotilla and puts Turkey and other supporters in the awkward position of having to explain why, exactly, they have been so excited about it in the first place. (It would have been nice if Abbas had said so before the boats launched, but I suppose you can’t have everything.)

Certainly many people will dismiss his comments as the sudden spin of a politician worried about losing his place in the international arena. And obviously his concessions here, assuming he holds on to them, do not mean an immediate breakthrough to peace: you still have the massive problem of dismantling the Hamas government in Gaza (without which there cannot be peace) and coming to agreements on the refugees and Jerusalem. Yet one wonders why these statements have largely been ignored by the major Western media. Is it because, perhaps, that it doesn’t fit well with the current climate of radically de-legitimizing the Jewish state and its right to defend itself?