When Barack Obama goes to Ramallah next month he needs to probe whether the Palestinian president is looking for opportunities to make peace or excuses to avoid it by injecting new demands and racist invective.
Obama arrives in Israel on Wednesday, March 20 and spends the whole day there before going to Ramallah the next morning to meet Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. He is scheduled to return to Jerusalem by noon for more meetings and a major speech; he flies to Jordan Friday afternoon.
In Ramallah the President will have an opportunity to remind Abbas that he had said last fall that getting United Nations recognition would help advance negotiations with Israel, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the American president had said it would be a setback.
Obama should ask Abbas to show him how his attempt to circumvent bilateral peace talks actually furthered the peace process.
There were reports from Palestinian sources prior to the UN vote that Abbas would drop his preconditions for talks with Israel once he got U.N. recognition as a non-member state. But instead he upped the ante.
The day after Secretary of State John Kerry phoned to tell Abbas that he is coming to the region this month to talk about restarting peace talks, the Palestinians added a new demand: release all Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
Since 2009 Abbas has demanded Israel cease all construction throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem before talks could resume. He also at times has said there could be no talks unless Israel accepted the 1967 lines as the reference point for border negotiations.
Saeb Erekat, the PA chief negotiator, said returning to the peace table with would be “lunacy” unless Israel met Palestinian conditions.
Erekat also rejected holding a three-way meeting with Abbas, Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama during the president’s visit next month.
Obama also needs make sure Abbas understands that his anti-Semitic and anti-Israel attacks do much damage to his credibility and his relations with the United States.
In his UN speech last November 29, Abbas accused Israel of ethnic cleansing, aggression and apartheid among other offenses. He has repeatedly referred to Jerusalem on other occasions as being holy to Islam and Christianity, pointedly excluding Judaism. He also has accused Israel of “Judaizing” its historic capital and referred to the “alleged” Temple that once stood there.
Last month he told a Lebanese television station connected with Hizbullah that the Nazis and Zionists collaborated prior to World War II. He cited as a source his own doctoral dissertation, which claimed the number of Jewish Holocaust victims was in the tens of thousands, not millions, and the Zionists had inflated the death toll for their own material gain.
“He also wrote that the Zionist movement helped the Nazis wipe out the Jewish people in exchange for the transfer to then-Palestine through the Jewish Agency of the assets of the German Jews who immigrated there,” according to the JTA.
Abbas knows these demands are non-starters and can only widen the rift with Israel – and Washington — which raises serious questions about his commitment to peace and the two-state solution.