David Horovitz, founding editor of The Times of Israel, has written an op-ed about Mahmoud Abbas, the 87-year-old who is now in the seventeenth year of his four-year term as “president” of the Palestinian Authority.
Horovitz documents, with perfect accuracy, Abbas’s life-long habit of lying about the relationship between the Jewish people and the land of the modern state of Israel. This habit has produced, most recently, Abbas’s nauseating and almost comically absurd comments—regarding “apartheid” and “holocausts” supposedly perpetrated by Israel—in a press conference in Berlin with Chancellor Olaf Scholz.
Yet, notwithstanding the accuracy of Horovitz’s account, he misunderstands entirely the significance of Abbas’ malignantly distorted views.
Horovitz says that Abbas is “the biggest obstacle to a better future for his people.” He notes that, in Berlin, Abbas also said, “Let’s build trust.” Horovitz closes his piece with this:
“In our perilous reality, trust simply will not, cannot be built with a man who has failed our people and his own because of his manifest lifelong incapacity, his refusal, to acknowledge and come to terms with Jewish history — ancient and modern, in Israel and in exile.”
Lots of talk about trust. The blunt truth, however, is that Abbas’s personal attitude towards Jewish history and his ability or inability to inspire trust are, for all practical purposes, entirely irrelevant to a possible better future for Palestinians and Israelis. (And the same could be said of any future successor to Abbas as president of the P.A.)
“[T]he biggest obstacle” to that better future is not Abbas, it is Hamas. What is more, Abbas understands completely that Hamas is the biggest obstacle, and it is that understanding—not antipathy toward Jews or Israel—that fundamentally underlies his refusal to negotiate a final settlement with Israel.
Here is a thought experiment. Suppose Abbas wakes up tomorrow morning and his attitude towards Jews and Israel has changed entirely: Suddenly, he truly understands that Jews have an ancient connection to the land of Israel, and that it would be a wonderful, glorious development if a Palestinian state could live in peace side-by-side with Israel. He would be genuinely thrilled to sign a peace agreement with Israel.
But even as he marvels at his own changed attitude, another thought creeps into his mind. What would happen if he were actually to sign a peace agreement with Israel? Would he, as “president” of the P.A., be able to keep his side of the bargain and deliver peace to Israel?
Abbas, who is undoubtedly a very shrewd man (you don’t stretch a four-year term as president into a seventeen-year term—and counting—unless you’ve been around the block once or twice), would realize after a moment’s thought that, as head of the P.A., he would never be able to deliver peace, regardless of his new-found appreciation for Jewish history. The reason he would never be able to deliver peace is Hamas.
Hamas kicked the P.A. armed forces out of Gaza in 2007; Abbas hasn’t set foot in that territory since. That’s because he reasonably fears that, if he were to set foot there, Hamas would arrange for his assassination. From Abbas’s perspective, that’s not a happy prospect.
So, Hamas—an Islamist terrorist group whose members believe they have a religious obligation to erase any Jewish state from land that is an Islamic waqf until the end of time—is now the de facto ruler of some two million Palestinians in Gaza. Gaza also serves as a base for other terrorist groups allied with Hamas.
The crucial fact that Horovitz’s piece overlooks is that Abbas has no influence over the gunmen of Hamas and the other terrorist groups garrisoned in Gaza—none, zero, zilch, nada, EHfehs. But it is those very gunmen—the ones Abbas has no control over—who would have to lay down their rifles, and surrender their missiles, and stop digging cross-border tunnels, and cease donning suicide vests, and end their incitement of murderous attacks on Jewish Israelis, if there is to be true peace between Israel and a new Palestinian state.
Abbas is certainly shrewd enough to realize that he can’t deliver true peace, regardless of the warmth or coldness of his views regarding Jewish history. Even if he were to change his views completely, it is a lead-pipe certainty that Hamas and the other terrorist groups would not change their views. Abbas isn’t truly an obstacle to peace–he couldn’t deliver peace if he wanted to. The real obstacle to peace is the terrorists in Gaza, starting with Hamas.
Now, here is a second thought experiment: Suppose you were Abbas, and you of course realized that, as “president” of the P.A., you could never hold up your side of the bargain in a peace agreement. You then have to make a choice. You can sign a peace agreement and subsequently be revealed before the whole world as a “leader” who has no power over the most heavily armed and violent members of the nation you supposedly lead. Or, you can think up a hundred reasons for refusing to even enter into negotiations aiming toward a peace agreement and be treated by almost all the world as a respected statesman who leads a wrongly oppressed people. Which would you choose?
In a few weeks it will be September, and for the umpty-umpth time Abbas will head to Manhattan to address the U.N. general assembly. A red carpet will literally be rolled out for him. He will be solemnly and respectfully addressed as “His Excellency, Mahmoud Abbas, President of the observer State of Palestine,” and he will deliver the same droning speech he’s delivered for countless years every September. And we will all know the choice he has made.