It’s True: “No one speaks for Palestinians,” including Abbas

The Times of Israel just ran a story with the headline: “Abbas trashes UAE deal in call with Macron, says no one speaks for Palestinians”.  The headline is normal journalistic shorthand, because the text of the story quotes Mahmoud Abbas as telling Pres. Macron that “neither the Emirates nor any other country has the right to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people.”  So, Abbas’ statement was more qualified than the headline.

The tragic truth, however, is that the headline correctly captures the reality of the Palestinians’ plight: no one speaks for them, and that includes Abbas.  I don’t make that claim because Abbas was elected to a four-year term as president of the Palestinian Authority in 2005.  (If you do the math, you’ll notice a problem.)  Lots of governments have leaders whose claim to de jure authority—legal, legitimate governing authority—is not unimpeachable.  Rather, the crucial fact is that Abbas lacks de facto authority—the actual power, whether legal and legitimate or not—over the people he supposedly “leads”.  And that is why it can truly be said that no one speaks for Palestinians.

Notwithstanding the arithmetical expiration of his presidential term, Abbas is treated by a multitude of nations and international organizations as the “president” of the “State of Palestine.”  In September, for example, he will undoubtedly head over to the U.N. where, for the umpty-umpth time, he will be accorded all the honors of a head of state and will deliver yet another long-winded speech in which he threatens that horrors X, Y and Z will unfold if Israel doesn’t agree to all his demands.

The truth is that, given today’s reality, there can’t possibly be a “State of Palestine,” and so Abbas can’t possibly be its “president”.  There can’t be a “State of Palestine” because the Palestinian people, for reasons they would know best, have organized themselves into two separate and mutually-antagonistic political entities: (1) the area governed by Abbas and the P.A. in the West Bank, and (2) Gaza, which is governed by Hamas.  When Hamas violently seized control of Gaza in 2007, it fought and killed troops loyal to Abbas and the P.A., and members of Hamas undoubtedly also were killed.  We have no exact numbers, but blood was shed.  Since 2007, Abbas has not once set foot in Gaza.

We should pause for a moment to consider the implications of that last statement: since 2007, Abbas has not set foot in Gaza.  When you think about it, that’s an astounding fact.  After all, Abbas claims to be the “president” of “the State of Palestine,” and that state, according to Abbas, consists only of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem.  Taking those three pieces of real estate together, the Palestinian state would be among the smallest states geographically in the world.  It would be tiny.  Yet, over the last thirteen years, the supposed president of this supposed state has never set foot in one of the three small pieces of land he supposedly governs.

Why hasn’t Abbas visited Gaza since Hamas took control?  The obvious answer is that he doesn’t want to be assassinated—and we can all understand that.  But another thing we can understand, and Abbas and his supporters and international cheerleaders obviously cannot understand, is that, if Abbas doesn’t govern Gaza, he doesn’t govern the single most important faction of Palestinians he would have to govern to make peace with Israel.

The terrorists who fire missiles and mortars into Israel, and who send incendiary balloons over the border, and who dig tunnels under the border, are all headquartered and garrisoned in Gaza, not in the West Bank or East Jerusalem.  They are governed by Hamas, not Abbas or his P.A.  (And from time to time even Hamas has difficulty controlling some of the more radical terrorists in Gaza.)  Because Abbas cannot control a single person in Gaza—whether ordinary citizen or diehard terrorist—he cannot speak for “the Palestinians.”  He can speak only for those who recognize the authority of the P.A., and the people of Gaza, particularly the members of Hamas and other terrorist groups, don’t recognize that authority.

People who insist that Israel promptly accept a “two-state solution” to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict repeatedly assert that one can’t choose one’s enemy.  This is meant to imply that, regardless of how Israelis might feel about the past behavior of particular Palestinians, Israel will ultimately have to deal with the Palestinians if it wants peace.  But, although you can’t choose your enemy, you can and indeed you must carefully determine who leads your enemy.  Who speaks for your enemy?  There’s no point in negotiating and agreeing with someone from the enemy camp unless that person has at a minimum de facto authority over the most dangerous, violent groups in that camp.

Until the Palestinians settle on a leader who, whether through persuasion or force, can actually control the violent, terrorist groups in their midst, there will, I fear, be no truly lasting peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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