After Dorothy’s dog Toto pulled back the curtain, do you think the Wizard of Oz was happy when everyone discovered he was a fake—a harmless, rather silly old man yanking on the levers of a very convincing special-effects machine? I don’t think so, either. Mahmoud Abbas is exactly the same kind of wizard, and the single most important goal in his political life is to prevent anyone from pulling back the curtain.
David Horowitz has written an op-ed entitled, “The absent peacemaker,” in which he speculates about what Abbas might have been thinking as (or if) he watched the White House ceremony in which Israel entered into formal diplomatic relations with the U.A.E. and Bahrain. Mr. Horowitz wonders whether Abbas might have been regretting a host of different things: his rejection of Ehud Olmert’s peace offer in 2008; his failure to take advantage of the 10-month settlement freeze in 2009 and 2010; his strategic decision to incite against the Jewish state and to leave Palestinians unprepared for the compromises that would inevitably be necessary to achieve a genuine peace between two sovereign states.
I think, however, that all these speculations overlook what is, for Abbas, the most fundamental, bedrock reality: Even if he wanted to embrace the so-called “two-state solution” and enter into a peace agreement with Israel, he would not be able to do so. And the reason why he would not be able can be summed up in one word: Hamas.
Abbas is the “president” of the Palestinian people in name only. I say this not because, in the fifteenth year of what was supposed to be a four-year term, he lacks de jure legitimacy as president. I say this because he lacks the force on the ground, the military power, the de facto authority to wrest control of Gaza from the hands of Hamas and the other Islamist terrorist groups garrisoned there, in the same way Hamas wrested that control from Abbas and his Palestinian National Authority in 2007.
The Palestinians who perpetrate violent armed attacks against Israel and its citizens are almost all members of the terrorist groups headquartered in Gaza. They are the ones who fire mortars and rockets into Israel, who send balloons with incendiary devices over the border with Israel, and who dig tunnels under the border to attack and/or kidnap Israelis. Those terrorists are the ones who would have to lay down their arms if there were to be genuine peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
It should be obvious to any clear-eyed person that Abbas has absolutely no ability to compel the terrorists in Gaza to lay down their arms. If the forces of the P.N.A. were up to that task, they would not have lost control of Gaza to Hamas in 2007. The terrorists today are undoubtedly better armed and trained, relative to the P.N.A., than they were in 2007. And, since then, Abbas has not dared to even set foot in Gaza; re-establishing P.N.A. authority there, under present circumstances, is an impossibility.
Hamas and the other Islamist terrorist groups believe they have a religious obligation to end Jewish sovereignty in any part of “Palestine” (which includes modern Israel), because, according to the charter of Hamas, all of Palestine is an “Islamic Waqf throughout all generations and to the Day of Resurrection.” The terrorists are willing to die–or, more precisely, to attain martyrdom–for their cause; the armed forces of the P.N.A. are no match.
If Abbas and the P.N.A. were to enter into a peace agreement with Israel, the Islamist terrorists would consider that as merely additional proof that Abbas and his cronies are traitors to Islam and authentic Palestinian nationalism. There might be talk about a “truce” with Israel, but there can be no true peace when the most powerful and lethal Palestinian fighters believe they have a religious duty to extinguish Israel as a Jewish state.
Mr. Horowitz asks with apparent amazement: “Does [Abbas] really want to throw in his people’s lot with Gaza’s terrorists (which saw fit to fire rockets into Israel during and after the ceremony), Hezbollah and Tehran?” But this assumes that Abbas has a choice with regard to Hamas and the other Gaza terrorists. He has no choice. He lacks both the force and the will to disarm the terrorists, and he therefore cannot end or even abate their violent attacks against Israel. He cannot control Hamas now, and he would not be able to control Hamas after he signed a peace agreement with Israel.
So, this is what I believe Abbas truly thinks about the recent diplomatic developments: “If I really do my best to get on board the ‘peace’ train in the Middle East, then it will ultimately be revealed to the whole world that I lack the requisite power or authority to deliver peace from the Palestinian side. That is, it will be revealed in the starkest terms that I have no control whatsoever over Hamas and the other terrorist groups. Therefore, the better course for me is to continue to make speeches about how much I want peace and how the U.A.E. and Bahrain have just made it more difficult to achieve.”
This better course assures Abbas that the curtain won’t be pulled back any time soon. The “international community” will continue to treat him as “His Excellency, the President of the State of Palestine,” with all the goodies that status delivers to himself, his cronies, and all their various friends and relations. Indeed, the very title of Mr. Horowitz’s op-ed—“The absent peacemaker”—with the honorific “peacemaker,” is one example of the benefits that accrue to Abbas so long as the world continues to believe he could make peace if he decided to do so.
No one should expect Abbas to put himself in a position where he will be revealed as the impotent, make-believe wizard he truly is. For Abbas, it’s much better to be an absent peacemaker than a fake one.