Avigdor Lieberman is back in trouble today. His boss, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, had to distance himself from a letter the foreign minister sent to the diplomatic Quartet urging the ouster of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu agreed with Lieberman “Abu Mazen” — Abbas’s nom de guerre — “creates difficulties in negotiations” but said he was dedicated to trying to work for peace with the Palestinians and had no interest in interfering in their internal politics. That was the appropriate response, but Abbas latest foray into “peacemaking” illustrates why many Israelis think Lieberman is right.
The PA president, who is currently serving the eighth year of a four-year presidential term, spoke today on the anniversary of an attack on the mosques of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount by a deranged Australian Christian in 1969. The man started a fire that was quickly put out. He was tried and found to be clinically insane and eventually deported. But the Palestinians, who have deliberately desecrated Jewish holy sites such as the Tomb of Joseph in Nablus, are still milking the unfortunate incident for all its worth. Abbas falsely alleged that Israel is plotting to destroy the mosques and then demanded that all Jews be thrown out of the parts of the city that were illegally occupied by Jordan from 1949 to 1967. That means over a quarter of a million Jewish Jerusalemites are, according to him, scheduled for eviction from their homes. This shows that Abbas’s vision of peace bears a strange resemblance to Hamas’s vision of unending war on Israel.
Abbas knows very well that Israel offered the Palestinians a state including a share of Jerusalem three times. The first two offers in 2000 and 2001 were made to Abbas’ predecessor Yasir Arafat but the latter was given to Abbas in 2008. While his apologists continue to insist he never formally turned it down, that was only because he never replied and shut down the talks with Israel as soon it was clear that he would be put on the spot and asked to choose between peace and continuing conflict.
Abbas also knows that in those formulas or even in the more generous terms outlined by Israeli left-wingers in Geneva or the ideas mooted by the Obama administration, the Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem built since 1967, including the Jewish Quarter of the Old City, would be left intact, as would Arab neighborhoods. Those areas, like most of the West Bank settlements, are never going to be demolished, and as even President Obama has said, would be left inside Israel and swapped with the Palestinians for other areas.
But Abbas doesn’t want a territorial swap any more than he wanted to sign on to a peace agreement that would give his people another independent state (since they already have one in all but name in Gaza where Hamas rules a sovereign terrorist enclave). Rather than make peace or even negotiate for it (which he has refused to do for four years), he is satisfied with vilifying Israel, appealing for more foreign aid for his bankrupt and corrupt government and carrying on with the status quo.
Lieberman thinks the Palestinians ought to hold new elections. It’s a nice idea but Abbas wants no part of it since elections might bring Hamas to power in the West Bank as well as Gaza. He also has no interest in any process that might bring some level of accountability to his ramshackle excuse for a government.
Lieberman was being provocative when he sent his letter to the Quartet but what he was also doing was drawing attention to the fact that peace will be impossible so long as the Palestinians are saddled with this kind of a leader. But given the nature of the political culture of the Palestinians, which still regards rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, it’s not likely that any alternative to Abbas in the foreseeable future would be any better. For all of the condemnation being showered on Lieberman, Abbas and the mindset he represents remains the real obstacle to peace.