During his three-and-a-half-year tenure as Palestinian Authority president, the Bush administration has constantly given Mahmoud Abbas the benefit of doubt for each of his costly failures. This is because Abbas has long represented the Great Palestinian Hope–the tie-wearing, post-Arafat diplomat who, if just given enough support, might reign in terrorist organizations, achieve peace with Israel, and bolster a somewhat imagined Arab front against Iran. In this vein, virtually every Abbas faux pas–his conditions-free ceasefires with Hamas, his insistence on including Hamas in the parliamentary elections, and Fatah’s miserable performance during the 2007 Gaza coup–has been excused as the consequence of political weakness that is simply beyond Abbas’s control.
Well, here’s something that’s very much within Abbas’s control: his mouth. Today, as Israel received two black coffins in exchange for a notorious–and very much alive–murderer, Abbas took the opportunity to “offer congratulations to the family of Samir Kuntar, the chief of Arab prisoners.” With this remark, Abbas demonstrated that, far from being the Great Palestinian Hope, he is merely the latest Palestinian leader who sees glorifying terrorists–and reaching out to their families–as an acceptable, if not principled, political strategy.
Today, Palestinians in Hamas-controlled Gaza handed out candies to celebrate Kuntar’s release. Abbas’ warm words for Kuntar raise the following question: would the reaction have been any different if Fatah controlled Gaza? In turn, perhaps the time has come for all parties committed to Israeli-Palestinian peace to commence the search for the next Great Palestinian Hope–a leader who, at the very least, is brave enough to withhold praise for a terrorist convicted of smashing a four-year-old girl’s skull. In particular, the United States can no longer afford to waste diplomatic resources on a Palestinian leader who offers more of the same.