Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does not like change. Stuck in the past, he preserves the status quo, standing still as opportunities come and then go. Most of the time he appears tired and lost, becoming animated and determined only to solidify his own authority. He fears breaking down barriers to a better situation for Palestinians.
Every day, Palestinians lose so much due to a leadership that is living in the past, playing faded old cards. While Abbas’s senior aide Hussein al-Sheikh shuttles to Riyadh to explore options for the benefit of Palestinians, Abbas reprises past controversies, most recently going on a rant blaming Jews for antisemitism. Abbas claimed at a Fatah party conference that Hitler killed Jews because they lent money at high interest rates, not because he hated Jews. He also trotted out the old trope that Ashkenazi Jews are not originally from Israel but from an ancient Turkic people known as the Khazars, who collectively converted to Judaism.
Steffen Seibert, the German ambassador to Israel, quickly responded to Abbas’s controversial claims, calling them “an insult to the memory of millions of murdered men, women and children.”
It’s almost as if Abbas was trying to undermine his aide’s mission in Riyadh, as if he were saying, “I sent them an olive branch, but in my hand, I hold the axe that cuts olive trees from their roots.”
Is it his backers and funders who are encouraging him to sabotage what is being done for the benefit of Palestinians? Or is it a radical wing in Israel that is not pleased with the progress in serious peace negotiations? Whatever his motivation, the Palestinian people deserve better leadership that takes them into the future, rather than focusing on a past that Abbas still lives in.
The reality is that Palestinians need a leadership that more effectively represents their aspirations and desires. This authority needs someone who will lead efforts toward achieving lasting peace and cooperation with neighbors.
The controversial statements Abbas has made in the past highlight how disconnected he is from current developments and global trends. These remarks have damaged the image of Palestinians on the international stage and hindered potential peace efforts.
For real progress to be made, Palestinian leadership must deal with reality and build positive relations with all international partners, including Israel.
A peaceful future for the Middle East requires wise leaders committed to peace and progress, wiling to let go of outdated agendas and entrenched prejudices. The wounds and debates of the past serve no purpose in the search for a better future.