A few days ago, the ToI published a remarkable blog by Avi Issacharoff. It insists that the idea that there is no Palestinian partner for peace is a “myth” that right-wingers have peddled since Benjamin Netanyahu became premier in 2009. Moreover, those same right-wingers have been “pretending that peace can be made with a partner of your own choosing rather than with an enemy.” In the same vein: “Abbas may not be Israel’s dream partner for a peace agreement, but he definitely was the relevant party for many years, until recently. The treatment he received from Israel and the White House made him and the two-state solution irrelevant, and any talk of the two-state solution has become absurd thanks to the reality created on the ground by the Israeli government.” A perfect summary can be found in the piece’s subheading: “Netanyahu is to blame for the two-state solution’s demise”.
I do not pretend to know whether the two-state solution is dead or not. I think one couldn’t be sure of its “demise” without first consulting a crystal ball, and I seem to have misplaced mine. But, putting that question to one side, I know for a fact that Mr. Issacharoff’s ruminations about Mahmoud Abbas and the role he could have played in nurturing peace between Israelis and Palestinians are profoundly mistaken. When it comes to Abbas, it is Mr. Issacharoff who is presenting myths.
I will merely mention in passing the fact that, because his four-year term as president of the Palestine National Authority began in 2005 and expired in 2009, Abbas actually is not the de jure leader of the Palestinians. Much more importantly, Abbas also is not the de facto leader of the Palestinians. In particular, he is not the de facto leader of those Palestinians who would have to lay down their arms—and their rockets, mortars, explosive balloons, and attack tunnels—if there is to be a genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians. This is a crucial point that Mr. Issacharoff chooses to ignore completely.
In 2007, well before the premiership of Benjamin Netanyahu, gunmen loyal to the Islamist terrorist group Hamas violently expelled from Gaza the military forces of the P.N.A., and this was at a time when Mahmoud Abbas was indeed the president. I believe that Abbas has not so much as set foot in Gaza since that bloody putsch. The State of Palestine that Abbas purports to “lead” is very small; it supposedly includes only the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. Why is it that, in the last thirteen years, Abbas hasn’t found time to visit Gaza? He flies to the U.N. regularly, and visits Arab and European countries. At the beginning of the Trump administration, he visited the White House. Why not Gaza?
My guess is that Abbas has a well-founded concern that, if he were to visit Gaza, he might leave in a burial shroud. From the perspective of Hamas and the other terrorist groups who are based in Gaza, someone like Netanyahu is an enemy, but Abbas is a traitor. They would be just as happy to assassinate one as the other. When he’s visiting the U.N. and other diplomatic venues, Abbas may be “President Abbas,” or “His Excellency Mahmoud Abbas.” Not in Gaza.
Mr. Issacharoff tells us that, when peace is being negotiated, it cannot be negotiated “with a partner of your own choosing rather than with an enemy.” This is a truism that tells us nothing about the qualities that a partner must have. Israel has signed peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan, and it obviously never chose the leaders of those countries. But both those countries shared one vital characteristic: Israel could reasonably believe that the then-current government, and succeeding governments, of each country would be able to enforce any peace agreement in its own territory, so that no substantial “free-lance” attacks would be directed against Israel after peace had been agreed. And that reasonable belief has been borne out. Israel’s peace with Jordan and with Egypt may not be especially warm, but nevertheless has endured.
The situation with Abbas and the P.N.A. he supposedly leads could not be more different. Any Israeli government would have to have its head buried in sand to believe that a peace agreement signed by Abbas would result in anything resembling peace. The Palestinian terrorists who attack Israel whenever they feel it is in their interest to do so are headquartered in Gaza. Abbas’ writ does not run to Gaza. He is powerless, impotent, irrelevant with regard to those terrorists, who would undoubtedly perceive such a peace agreement as yet another reason to think of Abbas as a traitor.
Mr. Issacharoff believes that people who think Abbas is not an acceptable, reliable, worthwhile partner for negotiating a peace agreement have mistaken myth for reality. But what vision of reality is reflected in the idea that, if Abbas and the P.N.A. sign a peace agreement, Hamas and the other terrorist groups in Gaza will lay down their arms and live in peace with Israel?