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Mr. Bahbah, Abbas’s replacement will be another Wizard of Oz

Bishara Bahbah’s latest post poses in its title a question that he apparently believes is grave and momentous: “Mahmoud Abbas is 87. Who will replace him?”

But if you read the post to the end, you’ll find that even Mr. Bahbah doesn’t think that it really makes much difference who replaces Abbas.  Bahbah writes: “Among the three likely contenders, there are few fundamental ideological differences and their core policies towards Israel, the US, and the peace process should not be expected to deviate much from those of Abbas.”

(If any successor’s core policies won’t deviate much from those of Abbas, it’s a mystery why Bahbah also says that Abbas’s “health is a critical matter to the policies and politics facing Palestinians, Israelis, the United States, and many other interested parties.”  Is there some new branch of logic that Palestinians have discovered?)

So, what are the Abbas “core policies” that, according to Mr. Bahbah, will remain in place whoever succeeds Abbas?

Well, Bahbah says, first of all, that Abbas has an “ironclad” commitment to a peaceful resolution of the struggle with Israel.  Of course, Abbas presides over a Palestinian National Authority that pays stipends to terrorists and their families that increase with the deadliness of their crimes, and he also regularly praises terrorists as “martyrs”.  So, one might reasonably question whether Abbas’s commitment to peace is truly ironclad.  But Bahbah raises no such question.

The second core policy Bahbah enumerates (and one must applaud his candor here) is “no elections.”  Abbas is today in the seventeenth (17th) year of his four-year term as president of the P.N.A., so the no-election policy is very well-established among Palestinians.  Mr. Bahbah is candid enough to say that, if there were a general election among all Palestinians to choose Abbas’s successor, the likely winner would be a member of the terrorist group Hamas, which rules over Gaza.

So, the person who will be chosen to be the presumptive president of the presumptive future State of Palestine will not be chosen via a free and fair election of all Palestinians.  Rather, he (all three contenders Bahbah discusses are men) will be chosen by a vote of the members of the Fatah political party, which is currently headed by Abbas and which in effect controls the P.N.A.  Interesting, to say the least.

And those two “core polices”—a (supposedly) ironclad commitment to a peaceful settlement with Israel, and the rejection of a popular election to choose Abbas’s successor—are the policies Mr. Bahbah cites as surviving Abbas.  The rest of his post discusses the styles and prospects of the three contenders.

It’s quite clear, with all due respect to Mr. Bahbah, that the two core policies he identifies cancel each other out as a practical matter.

He says Abbas has, and his successor will have, a commitment to a peaceful resolution with Israel.  Let’s put aside the doubts I’ve expressed and assume that that commitment is genuine.  Nevertheless, the other core policy—rejection of a popular election to choose Abbas’s successor—is necessary, as Mr. Bahbah admits, precisely because a terrorist member of Hamas would likely win any popular election.

But the gunmen of Hamas, and of the other terrorist organizations garrisoned in Hamas-controlled Gaza, are the very people who would have to lay down their arms if there is to be true peace between Palestinians and Israelis.  The fact that a popular election would likely elect a member of Hamas is proof that any “ironclad commitment” of Abbas and/or his successor is, at bottom, irrelevant.  If Abbas and/or his successor cannot control and disarm Hamas and the other terrorists in Gaza, they cannot deliver meaningful peace with Israel.

The stark, unvarnished truth is that, over the seventeen years of his four-year term as president of the P.N.A., Abbas has played the role of the Wizard of Oz.  He has in effect hid behind a curtain, and from behind that curtain he has manipulated a public image that depicts himself as someone who can deliver peace with Israel, if only Israel agreed to his demands.

But for years he has refused to negotiate with Israel.  And when he does negotiate he makes demands that he knows Israel can never accept (including ceding sovereignty and control over the Temple Mount/Haram al-Sharif to a Palestinian state, and permitting the descendants of Palestinians who lived on what is now Israeli territory to “return” to their now-deceased forebears’ homes).

The reason Abbas makes unacceptable demands is very clear: He knows that, like the Wizard, he has made a very successful career out of pretending to be something he’s not.  He pretends to be someone who could deliver peace with Israel, but the truth is that—because he has no control over the terrorists in Gaza—he could never deliver peace.

Abbas’s successor will be nothing more than another Wizard.  He, too, will have neither the will nor the power to disarm the Gazan terrorists, so he undoubtedly will continue Abbas’s policy of making what he knows to be unacceptable demands in any negotiations with Israel.  That is a third “core policy” that will survive Abbas.

The more things change, the more they remain the same.

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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