The Failed Leadership of Mahmoud Abbas

Israel’s “Peace Partner”

Mahmoud Abbas is commonly described by world leaders as a peace partner for Israel, the best hope for peace between Israel and the Palestinians.  Unfortunately reality does not match that description, but the biggest victim of Abbas’ two-faced approach to diplomacy is not Israel but the Palestinians.

Abbas, like many other Palestinian officials, is often accused of delivering one message to the world media and quite another to his own people; however, even if we look only at what he said most publicly, his words show him for what he is.

Instead of being a leader for peace, which his people needs, his public speeches show (see appendix to this blog) that he consistently praises and supports the most criminal of Palestinian terrorists.  He also on occasion openly supports violence.  The most harmful part of this behavior however, has been his insistence on blatantly lying in order to incite hatred towards Israel and in the process destroy any credibility that he may have with Israelis.

When Israel evacuated Gaza in 2005, Abbas declared that “Gaza is awakening with new hope and promise”, but he failed miserably in stopping Hamas from turning Gaza into an Islamist dictatorship that spends all its resources on attacking Israel instead of building on the “hope and promise”.  Today instead of admitting his failure, instead of admitting that Israel’s blockade on Hamas is the result of Hamas’ terrorist actions, he accuses Israel of “genocide” when it dares defend itself, and he calls Gaza “the largest prison in the world”, therefore excusing Hamas terrorism and promoting hatred of Israel.

Failing to Understand Israel

Anyone who knows anything about Israeli society knows that no Israeli government, from any part of the political spectrum, would be allowed by the people of Israel to reject a credible peace offer.  Yet Abbas has been either incapable or unwilling to take advantage of Israelis’ yearning for peace and stability.

A basic understanding of Israeli and Jewish history shows that Israelis are extremely sensitive to issues of security and antisemitism.  Yet instead of addressing those concerns head-on, which any wise leader who wants peace would do, Abbas continually challenges and dismisses Israel’s security demands, he continually tries to isolate Israel (the new Jew) among the world’s nations, and he defiantly refuses to accept the obvious fact that Israel is the Jewish state.  If Abbas was determined to never make peace with Israel, it is unlikely that he would behave any differently.

Abbas claims that he wants peace, but his words contradict that claim.  His attempt to shame Israel in front of the world community into accepting a state of Palestine will not work, and he should know that.  Israelis have survived over 66 years of wars and terrorism, and they will not give up their security based on toothless claims of recognition of a Palestinian state.  In fact, Abbas’ approach is hardening even further the attitude of Israelis towards a negotiated peace, and it is leading to the election of ever more right-wing governments.

A Failed Leader

Abbas is likely fully aware of how he could make peace with Israel, and but it seems that he is hoping that Israel will eventually implode from its own greed for more territory and its own inability to deal with the issues of settlements and terrorist violence.  Assuming that this is Abbas’ plan, it may succeed in destroying Israel, but that would be at the expense of maintaining several more decades of statelessness for the Palestinians.  Also the Palestine that would be created from the ashes of an imploding Israel would be marred in civil war and may never become a successful state.  It would look like today’s Syria or Iraq.  Hardly an achievement.

Abbas has chosen to promote hate rather than peace.  He has chosen the path of lies and trickery.  He has chosen to continue to make the rejection of Israel his people’s main national project rather than lead a national project for the construction of a proud, peaceful, and successful Palestinian society.  He has chosen to continue the hate culture instilled on his people by the historical Arab antisemitism that led to their rejection of the Jewish state, rather than to lead them away from it.  He has failed miserably, and the Palestinian people, like any people, deserves better than this.

The success of a leader is judged based on results.  The result most needed by the Palestinians is a state that provides refugees a nationality and that gives all Palestinians an opportunity for a normal and stable life, away from bombs, hate indoctrination, and never-ending dependence on others’ charity.  After 10 years of his presidency, the dream of Palestinian statehood is more unlikely as it has ever been.  Abbas’ push for unenforceable and counter-productive recognitions of Palestine within the pre-1967 armistice lines only reinforces that fact.

A Future for the Palestinians

Abbas, whose legitimacy as President has run out long ago, feels secure in Western support due to the West’s antipathy towards his likely Hamas replacement if free elections were held for a new President.  This does not change the fact that his Presidency is no more legitimate than the Hamas tyranny in Gaza.

Instead of propping him up, world leaders should demand that Abbas respect the most basic democratic principles and resign as President.  If someone more extreme than him is elected then Israel and other nations will need to deal with it, but the current situation is a lie that needs to be exposed.  Pretending that Abbas wants peace and is a legitimate leader helps no one, especially the cause of peace or the Palestinians.

Recently Abbas seems to have decided to abandon all hope for a negotiated peace and is instead using a dual track of high-stakes international diplomacy and local violence (Abbas Shuts the Door to Negotiations with Israel).  He is shamelessly using religion to raise tensions (Mahmoud Abbas Accuses Israel of Religious War), and he is further deflating the hopes of Israel’s peace activists (Abbas destroyed hopes of Israel’s peace camp).  Since Abbas has now himself put an end to the charade that he wants peace, Western leaders should stop pretending.

Palestinians should be given the opportunity to elect a leader who will offer them a real future and a real state, not tired old rhetoric and lies.  If they choose a Hamas terrorist as leader, that would at least clarify their intentions and put a stop to the ongoing charade of pointless peace talks, but this is not a forgone conclusion, and every people deserves a chance.

Appendix:  Abbas in his own words

Support for jailed terrorists:

  • “I recall our beloved prisoners who lie in the prisons of occupation.” (Israel withdrawal from Gaza)
  • “I salute the members of your council who are sitting behind Israeli bars and prisons, alongside thousands of our best.” (Palestinian Legislative Council, February 2006)
  • “Such steps must involve […] releasing prisoners. […] I look forward, Your Excellency, to the day when our prisoners are free. […] To Palestinian mothers who are awaiting the return of their jailed sons; […] to our brave prisoners […]: Have faith in tomorrow and the future.” (Annapolis Middle East peace conference)
  • “There remain thousands of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails and detention centers. They are all struggling for their freedom and must be released, bringing an end to their suffering. […] We cannot reach a peace agreement that does not liberate all of them from their chains and cells.” (Speech at the UN, 2010)
  • “The time has come for the thousands of prisoners to be released from the prisons.” (Speech at the UN, 2011)
  • “The occupying power is detaining in its prisons more than six thousand Palestinian prisoners […]. We wish to see them free to be with their families.” (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe)
  • “5000 fighters for freedom and peace are held captive in occupation prisons.” (Speech at the UN, 2013)

Support for violence:

Lies designed to inflame hatred towards Israel:

  • “Is it not time for the city of Jerusalem to become a city of true peace for all peoples of faith from all religions, and for Israel, the occupying Power, to cease all actions aimed at altering the character of the sacred city, imposing siege on it and forcing its inhabitants to leave, and desecrating the Christian and Islamic holy places in the city?” (Speech at the UN, 2007) – Israel has never done any of those things, and in fact it puts restrictions on Jews accessing Muslim holy sites.
  • “I have to defend the right of my people to open their eyes to a new dawn free of […] apartheid walls.” (Annapolis Middle East peace conference) – What Abbas calls an apartheid wall is to Israel a security fence that has dramatically reduced the number of terrorist attacks on Israel.
  • “The massacre today in the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) school at the Jabaliya refugee camp is new proof of the heinous crimes being committed against our people. […] The ongoing unjust siege and blockade imposed on our people in Gaza, where all elements of a normal life are negated. How can a people — any people — remain deprived of food, medicine, electricity, water and all necessities for development, construction, movement and travel? […] We must put an end to the massacre of my people.” (UN Security Council, 2009, First war between Israel and Hamas) – Israel’s defense against Hamas attacks is not a “massacre” or a “heinous crime” by any stretch, and Israel has never deprived Gazans of basic necessities. In fact, it provides truckloads of supplies daily.
  • “Israel is a state above the law, as it has been flouting all these resolutions and relentlessly carrying out oppression, arrests and detentions, killings, destruction, demolition of homes, siege, settlement expansion and establishment of the annexation apartheid wall, violating and undermining the rights of our people and presence in their homeland without consequence.” (Speech at the UN, 2010) – Not only is Israel not above the law, but its own courts often impose restrictions on its actions, and Israel’s actions are never “without consequence” since it has been suffering for 66 years from wars and terrorism in the hands of Abbas and his friends.
  • “Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued. […] The right to live free in the remaining 22 percent of our historic homeland.” (NY Times Opinion Pages) – Here Abbas re-writes history by claiming that the combined Arab attacks on Israel were simply meant to stop the expulsion of Arabs from Israel. He also re-writes history by claiming that all of Israel is Palestinian homeland when there never has been a Palestinian state anywhere at any time in history.
  • “A multi-pronged policy of ethnic cleansing […] We agreed to establish the State of Palestine on only 22% of the territory of historical Palestine. Apartheid policies and its construction of the racist annexation Wall […] Inspiring and courageous example of the strength of this defenseless people, armed only with their dreams, courage, hope and slogans in the face of bullets, tanks, tear gas and bulldozers. […] Negotiations will be meaningless as long as the occupation army on the ground continues to entrench its occupation. […] I also salute the Secretary-General, who said a few days ago that the Palestinian State should have been established years ago.” (Speech at the UN, 2011) – Israel is not engaged in ethnic cleansing, but Abbas has implied that Palestine must be free of Jews, which means that ethnic cleansing is probably his policy, but it is not Israel’s. If the Palestinians of Gaza were “armed only with their dreams”, there never would have been wars between Israel and Hamas.  Here Abbas repeats the self-contradictory lie that not negotiating with Israel will benefit the Palestinians.  Abbas blames Israel for the lack of a Palestinian state when such a state could have been created between 1948 and 1967 without Israeli approval.
  • “The demand that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a “Jewish” state is an unacceptable precondition, because there is a danger that it will turn the conflict raging in our region into a destructive religious conflict. […] Only 22% of the historical territory of Palestine. […] The Palestinian inhabitants are subject to a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing. […] The Palestinian Authority has in recent years worked hard to implement an intensive programme aimed at promoting and strengthening a culture of peace, justice, democracy.” (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe) – The Israel / Arab conflict has been a religious conflict since 1948 as a result of the Arab refusal to accept the existence of the Jewish state; in addition, Jews were persecuted by Arabs well before the independence of Israel. Far from promoting peace, Palestinian authorities continue to promote antisemitism through their schools and media.
  • “East Jerusalem has been under Israeli occupation since 1967. Israel has continually tried to lay claim to the occupied city while cleansing it of its indigenous population.” (Call to Withdraw Support from the International Jerusalem Winner Marathon) – Abbas tries to rewrite history by implying that East Jerusalem has no indigenous population that is Jewish, and he accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem which is not true.
  • The State of Palestine, which abides by the United Nations Charter, by international humanitarian law… […] 22% of the land of historic Palestine. […] What is required is to heed the lesson of history, to abandon the mentality of force and occupation, to recognize the rights of others, and to deal on an equal footing and parity to make peace. What is required is to stop relying on exaggerated security pretexts and obsessions in order to consecrate occupation” (Speech at the UN, 2013) – Hamas which runs Gaza clearly does not abide by any accepted human rights standards, and yet Abbas claims that Gaza is part of Palestine. Abbas denounces the use of force but fails to acknowledge Palestinian responsibility in initiating violence and the resulting need to ensure Israel’s security.
  • “A new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people. […] this genocidal crime […] a series of absolute war crimes […] we will always maintain our respect and commitment to international law, international humanitarian law and the international consensus.” (Speech at the UN, 2014) – Instead of recognizing the Palestinian role in causing the war, including terrorist missiles on Israel, Abbas claims that Palestinians are innocent.
About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports the Palestinians' right to self-determination in their own state. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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