The first time that I heard a member of Brown University’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) speak out against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Fatah, and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), I was surprised. I had seen so many right-wing Zionist institutions condemn all three as linked to terror operations (as at least Fatah and the PLO certainly have been at times) and had shuddered at lines of the Fatah Charter that call for violence. In fact, just last semester I saw a lecture by a representative of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) that focused almost entirely on communicating that Fatah is no different from Hamas, the latter of which the ZOA portrays as in cahoots with Abbas despite its multiple attempts to overthrow the president in recent months. To me, it seemed almost unthinkable that Abbas would be too moderate for SJP.
There is a partner for peace
Looking at all the facts, however, I soon realized that my surprise was misguided. For all the energy that the American right wing puts into defaming him, Abbas is a moderate. His many symbolic moves against Israel and against peace, while they serve as excellent material for a ZOA presentation, are usually merely Abbas’s way of retaining some degree of support from the conservatives among his own people without doing any more tangible damage, an approach not unlike Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s frequent announcements of settlement construction (he often announces the same project several times in order to give an appearance of building more than he is), which allow him to politically survive more serious concessions*. It is no anomaly that then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the rhetorically inflammatory founder of Likud, was the man who was able to achieve peace with Israel’s greatest enemy of the time, Egypt, in 1979, giving up 97% of the land that Israel captured in the 1967 Six-Day War. In the Middle East, it is often a sheep in wolf’s clothing who is able to make real progress.
That is why my school’s SJP speaks out against Abbas. Perhaps the organization’s number one priority has always been to ensure that no peaceable agreement is reached between Israel and the Palestinians, lest the anti-Israel movement lose its revolutionary image and those students be forced to focus on the much less glorious task of supporting state-building. That Abbas will manage to achieve Palestinian statehood through the plausible diplomatic means that SJP and most other anti-Israel groups so fervently seek to undermine is a serious concern to many members of the anti-Israel movement. Unlike the ZOA, anti-Israel groups have not forgotten that it was Abbas who signed the historic Oslo Accords after playing a significant role in negotiations, and that it was Abbas who disbanded Fatah’s militant affiliates and converted the party from a politicized terrorist organization to a legitimate political entity. It is an understanding of that history that makes the anti-Israel students at my school disdainful of the Palestinian president.
Creating a climate conducive to progress
But if both Netanyahu and Abbas are potential partners for peace, one might ask, why have negotiations between the two always fallen apart? Unfortunately, there are more elements in play than the leaders in office. The political climate in the region, greatly influenced by the anti-Israel movement in the United States and the international community, has prevented peace from being achieved time and time again.
Abbas is under enormous pressure from Hamas, which remains a powerful force in both the Gaza Strip and the West Bank due to Iranian funding (renewed during last summer’s conflict). He is also constantly struggling to hold onto enough popular support to maintain his position as a moderate despite the impression that many Palestinians have, largely as a consequence of unilateral moves to bypass peace that organizations such as SJP have supported and governments such as Sweden’s have endorsed, that statehood can be achieved without reconciling with Israel.
Meanwhile, Israel constantly faces international isolation due to the anti-Israel movement worldwide, not just on college campuses, but also in the media, the United Nations, and elsewhere. Israel has always been willing to take the most serious risks for peace when its citizens have felt secure, but many Israelis are reasonably fearful when they see so much activity against them. In response to my last blog post, one anti-Israel activist told me that Israelis “deserve to be afraid” – that comment was the perfect reflection of the anti-Israel movement’s deliberate attempts to undermine the peace process.
In order to move the Israeli-Palestinian conflict toward a peaceable resolution, to provide Israelis with the security to which they have a right and the Palestinians with the state to which they have a right, the international community, and in particular the anti-Israel movement and the American right wing, will have to make some serious changes. We need to demonstrate much greater support for Israel so that its citizens won’t feel as isolated as they do; we need to stop condemning leaders on both sides who, however flawed, may hold the keys to peace; we need to halt Iran and Hamas in their tracks; and we need to oppose all moves to bypass the peace process. Only by taking these steps can we create a real climate for peace.
*It should be noted that although I have my own opinions, of course, I do not publicly support or oppose any candidate or party in the upcoming Israeli elections. As an American without Israeli citizenship, it is not my place to do so.