It’s got to be a tough job writing New York Times editorials about the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas. Because according to the party line at the Gray Lady, peace between Israel and the Palestinians is merely a matter of American pressure on the Jewish state to force it to make the concessions that will magically end the conflict, any discussion of Abbas’s intentions and actions is bound to undermine its thesis. But, undaunted by the challenge, the author of today’s editorial in the Times forges ahead, trying to ignore the obvious.
But the interesting thing about this latest Times peace-process encyclical is that even the geniuses there have noticed that it is no longer enough to merely blame everything on Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom they nevertheless abuse by calling a “master manipulator.” So long as Abbas refuses to engage in direct peace negotiations with Israel, those who think the solution to everything that’s wrong with the Middle East is putting the screws to the Israelis find their arguments fatally undermined.
In response, the Times tries to cajole “President Abbas” (that this president’s term expired long ago without even a hint of another election, in which his extremist electorate might vote him out, goes unmentioned in the piece) into direct talks by showing how much they sympathize with his fears of being bested by the wily Netanyahu. The Times agrees that it is too bad that the Israelis won’t concede every point to be negotiated in advance of the talks and that the White House has come to understand that efforts to hammer Israel in the past year and a half have been both diplomatically unproductive and politically disastrous. But the editorial warns Abbas that no matter how justified his fears may be, he’s wrong if the thinks time is on his side. It points out that even a president as unfriendly to Israel and Netanyahu as Obama is “losing patience” with Abbas because he won’t negotiate.
But the obvious fact that the Times and much of the Obama administration still don’t seem willing to acknowledge is that it is not Netanyahu who would be “put to the test” in direct talks. As anyone who has paid any attention to the Palestinian leadership in the last decade knows, Abbas’s greatest fear is getting into real peace negotiations, on which there would be an actual chance of agreement. Because if that happens, he would be forced to do as Yasir Arafat did at Camp David in July 2000 and in Taba in January 2001: say no to peace. Abbas knows he can’t make peace with Israel, no matter what the terms of the agreement or where the final borders might be drawn. Ehud Olmert offered him an even sweeter deal in 2008 than the ones offered to Arafat, and he wouldn’t even talk about it.
The Times still thinks that Abbas can deliver a two-state solution while his Hamas rivals cannot. What the Times fails to understand is that it is precisely because of the power of Hamas and the weakness of Abbas, who passes for a moderate among Palestinians and rightly understands that the dynamics of Palestinian politics forbid any agreement that would recognize the legitimacy of Israel, there is no chance that the PA leader will ever accede to their wishes.