In November, President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu will meet for the first time since the debate on the Iran nuclear deal heated up. The expectation by many friends of Israel here is that the president will seek to paper over his differences with Netanyahu over the U.S. decision to allow Iran to keep a nuclear program that he pledged to dismantle in 2012. However, the problem with that sort of optimism is that the history of the last seven years should have taught us that, when it comes to Israel, Barack Obama is almost always (except when running for re-election) looking to pick a fight with the Israelis. In this case, the most likely outcome isn’t a firming up of an alliance that was shaken to its core but a new administration initiative aimed at pressuring Israel into more concession to revive a peace process with the Palestinians that is dead in the water. Obama’s Middle East policy has always been completely divorced from reality, especially with regard to his inability to understand that the Palestinians have repeatedly rejected peace. But even the president and Secretary of State Kerry may have taken a deep breath today when they heard the latest statements from Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas about not wanting “filthy Jewish feet” to “desecrate” holy sites in Jerusalem.
Abbas’s comments were the latest Palestinian incitement about Jerusalem’s Temple Mount. For a century, Arab leaders have used canards about mythical plots to destroy the mosques on the site of the ancient Jewish temples to whip up anti-Semitic hatred that fuels the conflict with Jews. In the 1920s and 30s, this led to pogroms against Jews. Nowadays it serves not only ramp up tensions that allow Abbas to avoid peace talks and to try to firm up his Fatah Party’s tenuous hold on power in the West Bank. It also encourages the sort of lone wolf terrorism that afflicts the holy city as individual Palestinians engaging in stabbings, hit and run incidents as well as the sort of rock and firebombing throwing that resulted in the murder of a 64-year-old Jew on the eve of Rosh Hashanah. Last year Abbas praised the terrorist who attempted to murder a Jewish activist as a “martyr.”
The praise of Abbas as a moderate and a courageous advocate for peace by Obama and Kerry has always been a joke. After refusing Israel’s offer of independence and a state that included almost all of the West Bank, a share of Jerusalem and Gaza in 2008, Abbas stonewalled peace talks throughout Obama’s first term. Kerry’s 2013-14 peace initiative was similarly torpedoed by Abbas, who abandoned the talks to which Netanyahu had submitted by first going around Washington’s back to the United Nations and then making a peace pact with the Hamas terrorists in Gaza.
But Abbas has now compounded that dismal record by engaging in the sort of incitement on Jerusalem that doesn’t just stall negotiations but could serve as a justification for another intifada terror war.
The notion that the Palestinians are the aggrieved party in any dispute over the Temple Mount is as absurd as the notion of Abbas as a force for peace. After the 1967 war that reunited Jerusalem, Israel allowed the Temple Mount — the holiest spot in Judaism — to be placed under the authority of a Muslim Wakf. While Israeli rule allowed free access to all the holy sites for members of all faiths for the first time in the history of the city, the Temple Mount was the one exception. To this day, Jews are forbidden to pray there. But not even those restrictions are enough for Palestinians as groups organized for the purpose harass Jewish and other non-Muslim tourists. The mosques on the Mount are often used as staging areas for rioters with the sacred sites that Abbas says are threatened with contamination and routinely employed to store firebombs, rocks and shelter rioters from Jerusalem police.
While some Jews believe that restrictions on prayer on the Temple Mount are a form of illegal discrimination, the supposedly hard line Netanyahu government has not budged from them. The tiny minority of extremists that dream of replacing the mosques with a rebuilt temple have no support with Israel’s political parties and are prevented from doing anything that might threaten the site. Israel has also done nothing to stop the Wakf from committing widespread archeological vandalism on the area in an effort to erase Jewish history.
Rather than defending their holy sites what Abbas and the Palestinian mobs he is inciting want is to deny access to the Temple Mount to Jews. Moreover, this is part and parcel of their campaign to not merely re-divide the city but to return to the pre-1967 situation where Jews were banned from entering the Old City. While Abbas knows that Israel will never permit this to happen, the point of this campaign is to allow him to compete with the Islamists of Hamas for the affections of Palestinians who continue to view hostility to Jews and Israel as the only measure of political legitimacy. The more he talks about peace, the less popular he becomes and the more of a threat Hamas is to the maintenance of Fatah’s corrupt kleptocracy in the West Bank, notwithstanding his constant insincere threats about resigning. He is, after all, currently serving the 10th year of the four-year term as president of the PA to which he was elected. If fueling Palestinian anti-Semitism serves the cause of the corrupt Fatah kleptocracy, that is what he will do.
The most useful thing Obama could do now to further the cause of peace would be to send Abbas a stern warning that any further provocations will result in the end of U.S. aid to the bankrupt PA. He might also seek to reduce the amount of “daylight” between himself and Netanyahu, since the belief that Obama will eventually betray Israel to the Palestinians at the UN is also bolstering Abbas’s faith that he can get away with this sort of behavior. But instead, we hear nothing but silence about his vile language from Washington. Until that changes, it is foolish as well as counter-productive for the U.S. to talk about pressuring Israel to make more concessions for the sake of a peace the Palestinians don’t want.