Palestinian officials would be hard put to find much that was new in the recent interview Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman gave to the Palestinian Al-Quds newspaper. They have long known that once he became defense minister Liberman did an about face, opting to handle Hamas with kid gloves, replacing his longstanding vows to bump off Ismail Haniyeh with conciliatory and soothing messages. Even messages along the lines of “if you stop arming yourselves and digging tunnels we’ll give you a port” tow the Israeli government’s traditional line.
What is striking in the interview is Liberman’s attempt to dictate to the Palestinian public who their leadership should be. Liberman repeatedly attacked PA President Abu Mazen as a “non-partner” and said it would not be possible to sign a permanent agreement with him. It’s worth mentioning here, perhaps, that this is the same Abbas whose security forces are responsible with every passing month for preventing attacks, safely extracting soldiers and civilians who wander into PA territory, and arresting members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad. True, Abbas isn’t fighting incitement and has no plans to do so. And yet let’s say Liberman is right and there is no one to talk to on the Palestinian side. The only thing the defense minister accomplishes with such lines is to strengthen Abu Mazen in the Palestinian street.
But Liberman’s remarks reveal an even more troubling issue. For some reason the defense minister and apparently several other senior Israeli officials are inclined to believe that the day after Mahmoud Abbas departs, his successor will be a more moderate negotiating partner. Maybe Liberman still hopes — fantasizes — that his longtime acquaintance Mohammed Dahlan will be the one to take the reins of the Palestinian Authority, even though anyone a bit familiar with ongoing developments on the Palestinian side knows this is not an option. Dahlan’s chances of returning from exile and taking over the leadership of Fatah and the PA are nil considering the hoards of enemies he’s made in the Fatah leadership over the years. And ultimately, when the day comes and barring any surprises, it’s the Fatah Central Committee that chooses Abbas’s successor.
As for other candidates to succeed Abbas, there’s not much to say: Marwan Barghouti is sitting in an Israeli jail for five murders; Jibril Rajoub has taken a hard line against Israel in recent years; and then there’s Nasser al-Kidwa, who, to this day, accuses Israel of poisoning his uncle Yasser Arafat. Or alternatively we can just have fauda: mayhem and Hamas attacks. In short, chaos. But why confuse Liberman with the facts? As it is, he tends to skip out of any top level talks regarding the Palestinian issue even though it falls within his area of responsibility.
But enough with all this pessimism. Perhaps Liberman is right and instead of Abbas, Hamas will actually seize power in the West Bank and, having read the Defense Minister’s recent interview, it will be a kinder, gentler Hamas: no tunnels and no arsenal of rockets. Without attacks and without terror. A Hamas that seeks peace with Israel and strives to reach a two-state solution.