Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas is apparently enjoying a brief moment of popularity at home as he attempts to get the United Nations to grant his request for statehood without first being required to make peace with Israel. But as today’s generally flattering front page feature in the New York Times reveals, Abbas may have set in motion a chain of events that may lead to his undoing.
Though the Times gives him undeserved credit for promoting a culture of non-violence among Palestinians, it is candid enough to reveal most Palestinians have a very different view than their unelected leader of the meaning of the diplomatic circus unfolding in New York this week. While Abbas claims, somewhat disingenuously, his UN gambit is intended to revive peace talks with Israel, the vast majority of Palestinians see it as more than a symbolic gesture. They want to couple this demand with efforts to impose Palestinian sovereignty over all of the West Bank and parts of Jerusalem. And they seem willing to do so even if it means a violent confrontation with the Israeli army and the hundreds of thousands of Jews who live in communities the Palestinians say must be part of a Jew-free Palestinian state. The disconnect between their expectations and the fact Abbas’ New York adventure will change nothing on the ground is bound to lead to both violence and a dramatic downturn in Abbas’ popularity.
Though he is routinely lauded as a man of peace, Abbas has actually done nothing to change the nature of Palestinian politics. He comes across as a low-key leader in a business suit as opposed to his flamboyant terrorist predecessor Yasir Arafat, but Abbas has done nothing to stifle the incitement of hatred against Israelis and Jews that flows from his official media. Nor has he done a thing to convince Palestinians they must accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state, no matter where its borders would be drawn, or to give up on the hope of swamping Israel with the descendants of Arab refugees via the so-called right of return.
Though Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is routinely referred to as unwilling to make peace, he has accepted a two-state solution and signaled his willingness to make concessions in talks without preconditions. By contrast, Abbas has said he will only talk if Israel concedes all major points on borders, settlements and Jerusalem in advance. Even worse, Abbas has encouraged the notion Palestinian statehood could be accomplished without making any compromises on the refugees.
Abbas went to the UN as a way to evade U.S.-sponsored peace talks that might have forced him once again to turn down statehood. He knows he would not survive if he signed an accord. Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki told the Times the Arab Spring may have convinced many in the West Bank demonstrations will force Israel to give in to their demands. But this just shows how disconnected from reality they are. Neither demonstrations nor the UN can or should force Israel to simply give in without having their security and rights recognized in a peace treaty that would conclusively end the conflict.
Though it is rarely mentioned at the UN this week, the independent Palestinian state that already exists in Gaza looms over the debate and the future of Abbas. Abbas has consistently refused to choose between peace with Israel and peace with Hamas, because he knows to do the former would be political suicide even if accompanied by statehood. Unfortunately, by raising the expectations of his people, Abbas has created an opening for Hamas to exploit the unrest on the West Bank that will ensue after the certain failure of his UN resolution.
Though Abbas may be getting his moment in the spotlight, the price for this futile gesture will be paid in the blood of his own people as well as that of Israelis.