Last week President Obama used his speech in Jerusalem to Israeli students to once again prop up the idea that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas is a reliable partner for peace. Despite his refusal to negotiate and his unwillingness to grab an Israeli offer of statehood in 2008, Abbas is still widely viewed in the West as a moderate and a good alternative to the extremists of Hamas. But, as was the case with his predecessor Yasir Arafat, the need to believe in the myth of Palestinian moderation tends to overshadow the truth about Abbas and his rule over the West Bank.
A little more light was shed on Abbas today as the New York Times—whose pages have been filled with cheerleading for the Palestinian Authority—published on its website last night a story about what happens to Palestinians who criticize the PA’s supremo. As Robert Mackey notes on the paper’s news blog The Lede:
A Palestinian court on Thursday upheld a one-year jail sentence for a journalist convicted of insulting President Mahmoud Abbas with a pastiche image posted on Facebook. Another Palestinian was given the same sentence last month for posting a humorous caption beneath an image of Mr. Abbas kicking a soccer ball on the social network.
The journalist, Mamdouh Hamamreh, said that he did not create or publish the composite image that compared Mr. Abbas to a character from a Syrian historical drama who collaborated with French colonialists. The court, applying part of the old Jordanian legal code that criminalizes insulting the king to an Internet jibe against the Palestinian president, was not swayed by Mr.Hamamreh’s s argument that he had played no part in the decision by the person who did upload the image to Facebook to draw it to his attention by adding his name as a tag to the text that accompanied it.
These incidents are just one more reminder that since its inception 20 years ago, the PA has been a corrupt tyranny that tramples on the rights of those people under its control. But the truth is, as was also the case with Arafat, the desire of many in the West as well as in Israel to have a Palestinian interlocutor causes them to ignore the PA’s sins or to whitewash them. Since we need Abbas to be the moderate alternative to Hamas, we cling to the idea that he really wants peace and even imagine that Israel will be better off if he and his cronies are put in charge of an independent state and tell ourselves it doesn’t matter if he is a petty tyrant or even a criminal. Indeed, that is what a lot of hardheaded Israelis have been telling us for years. But are they right?
The consensus in Israel dating back to Yitzhak Rabin has always been that it didn’t matter how beastly the Palestinian Authority was so long as it kept terrorists in line. Rabin famously defended the wisdom of putting Arafat in power by saying that he could fight terror “without a Supreme Court, without B’Tselem, and without bleeding heart liberals.” But unfortunately, Rabin’s prediction that the lack of Palestinian democracy would enhance Israel’s security was a colossal miscalculation. If anything, the lack of transparency only made it easier for Arafat to quietly subsidize terror by factions of his own Fatah Party even if he was also hoping to suppress his Hamas rivals.
Ariel Sharon also had little interest in the behavior of the Palestinian Authority toward its own people. He mocked Natan Sharansky for insisting that Israel’s security depended on the creation of a stable, democratic partner and that true peace would never happen until the PA stopped being a kleptocracy run by unaccountable tyrants.
As it turned out, Rabin and Sharon were both wrong and Sharansky’s predictions were proven prophetic; not only has the PA been a source of terror but its lack of legitimacy has undermined any hope that it could be a bulwark against the Islamists of Hamas.
It is true that Israel relies on the PA to keep the West Bank from being the terror base that Gaza has become under Hamas rule. But so long as it is looked upon by the Palestinian people with contempt and fear it will not have the ability to keep a peace agreement with Israel even if its leaders had the courage or the wisdom to sign one.
Highlighting the tyrannical nature of the PA—something once again made clear by Abbas’s unwillingness to allow even the mildest criticism of his rule—isn’t merely a matter of showing the contrast between democratic Israel and its antagonists. So long as Abbas—who is currently serving the ninth year of a four-year term as president of the PA—presides over a government of this nature any hope that he can be trusted to keep the peace is science fiction. Peace with such a king of Palestine would not be worth the paper it was printed on even were he willing to sign on the dotted line.
When Palestinians are ready to treat each other with dignity and respect, it will be possible to imagine that they will do the same to their Jewish neighbors. Until then, more talk about the PA being a partner for peace is pious hogwash.