Commentary Magazine


Where Is Mahmoud Abbas’s Bir Zeit Speech?

As Jen notes, Elliott Abrams identified the critical issue in the “peace process” — the character of the Palestinian state, not simply its borders.

Israel — having withdrawn completely from Lebanon and Gaza only to face rockets from new forward positions and two new wars — is not about to agree to a Palestinian state that is not demilitarized, with borders and other arrangements that enable Israel to defend itself, or that does not formally recognize a Jewish state and an end of claims. Anything less would simply reposition the parties for a third war. But even these two conditions are more than the peace-partner Palestinians are willing to accept.

At the Council on Foreign Relations last week, Richard Haass questioned Netanyahu about his insistence on Palestinian recognition of a Jewish state: “Why can’t they secretly harbor a goal that Israel will disappear so long as they don’t pursue those goals with violent means?” Here was a portion of Netanyahu’s response:

What is the true, underlying source of this conflict? It is not Israel’s possession of the territories, even though it is widely held to be that issue. It’s certainly an issue that has to be resolved, and I’m prepared to resolve it, but if you really understand the source of this conflict, it actually goes back to 1920. The first attack against the Jewish presence took place in 1920, and it continued in the 1930s, continued in the great upheavals; obviously, in 1948 in the combined Arab attack against the embryonic Jewish state; continued in the Fedayeen attacks in the 1950s, continued with the creation of the Fatah and the PLO before 1967.

So it actually ranged from 1920 till 1967. That’s nearly 50 years before there was a single Israeli soldier in the territories in Judea, Samaria or the West Bank, before there was a single Israeli settlement. Why did it go on for half a century? Because there was an opposition to a Jewish sovereignty in any border, in any shape, in any form. …

Now, the more moderate Palestinian Arab elements, they don’t talk about liquidating Israel, they don’t talk about firing rockets, and they’re different from Hamas. But they don’t say, we’ll end the conflict. They don’t say, Israel will be here to stay. They don’t say, we recognize the Jewish state of Israel and it’s over. …

They have to openly say it, not for our sake but for the sake of actually persuading their people to make the great psychological change for peace. I’ve said it. I’ve stood before my people and before my constituency and I said what my vision of peace includes, and I did that not without some consequence, I can tell you that. But this is what leaders have to do. They have to educate their people. …

I’d like President Abbas to make, if not his Bar-Ilan speech, I’d like to hear the Bir Zeit speech in which he says these things very clearly.

The peace process is conducted by the Palestinians in English for the benefit of ever-credulous peace processors, and things are said that are not repeated to the Palestinian public or reported in the PA-controlled media. But even in English, the Palestinians will not accept the minimal conditions of a bona fide process.

As Jen’s e-mail correspondent notes, only a bottom-up approach can ever succeed, and no such approach is possible until Palestinian leaders make the minimal public concessions necessary to start it. Abbas needs to make his Bir Zeit speech, and make it in Arabic.