Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, unlike his predecessor Yasser Arafat, meant it when he renounced terrorism and publicly pursued negotiations as the path to peace with Israel, but sometimes his rhetoric makes you wonder.
Case in point: his United Nations address last week. He may have been standing in Manhattan, but he was speaking to Ramallah and Nablus and Gaza. His inflammatory rhetoric may have been intended to show he could be as tough on Israel as Hamas, whose popularity in the West Bank soared after this summer's fighting, but he seemed to forget that it was being broadcast on the other side of the Green Line and in America as well.
His speech raised serious doubts about his commitment to peace. The State Department angrily denounced it and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his time at the UN, the Oval Office, television talk shows and every other venue he could find to refute and reject Abbas' unwarranted attacks.
The Palestinian leader's "fallacious terminology…extinguished the last flicker of hope among the remaining die-hard peace movement devotees" in Israel, according to Israeli journalist Shlomi Eldar. Israelis are increasingly concerned whether Abbas will uphold his part of the bargain if and when a peace agreement is signed between the two sides, wrote Eldar, who has covered Palestinian affairs for more than a decade.
Abbas should have known that would happen – Bibi's response was predictable, the State Department's shocked Palestinians – but he was apparently more worried about Hamas' rising stature back home.
It is a dangerous gamble that could explode, literally. Abbas' provocative rhetoric could easily be taken by the Palestinian street as a call to arms and a Third Intifada. In so publicly venting his anger, hatred and frustration, he made peace more inaccessible and violence more likely.