Over the past twenty years since the Oslo accords were signed, the PA has
not moderated its demands one bit.
Abbas Is Part of the Problem, Not the Solution
by Prof. Efraim Inbar
BESA Center Perspectives Paper No. 195, January 15, 2013
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Though much of the international community sees
Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas as a serious partner for peace, Abbas’
words and actions prove that he is interested in nothing less than the ruin
of the State of Israel. Instead of preparing his people for painful
concessions and peaceful coexistence with Israel, Abbas glorifies armed
struggle, insists on Palestinian refugees’ “right of return” to Israel, and
acts to criminalize and demonize Israel.
A version of this Perspectives Paper appears in today's Jerusalem Post
(January 16, 2013).
A little-noticed Reuters story on January 10, 2013, reports that Mahmoud
Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian Authority (PA), rejected a conditional
Israeli offer to let Palestinian refugees in war-torn Syria resettle in the
West Bank and Gaza. Abbas rejected Israel’s offer because he thought it
would compromise the claims of these refugees to return to their homes in
Israel lost during the 1948 war. According to this report, Israel agreed to
the resettlement on the condition the refugees sign a statement
relinquishing claims of return to Israel. Yet Abbas rejected this condition
and said “it is better they die in Syria than give up their right of
Instead of helping his people in distress, Abbas prefers to cling to “the
right of return” – a demand that no Israeli government will ever accept.
Palestinian leaders have for years rejected attempts to alleviate the
condition of their refugees by resettling them in proper housing in Gaza and
the West Bank, instead preferring to keep the refugees and millions of their
descendants in shanty towns and camps, as political pawns in the struggle
against Israel. These refugees constitute an important element in the
Palestinian self-image of victimhood and martyrdom.
Most of the international community rejects this Palestinian demand,
understanding that a mass influx of Palestinians could destroy Israel’s
Jewish character, and that this is a deal-breaker issue. No
Israeli-Palestinian peace can develop if the PA insists on the “right” of
return. Yet nobody in the international community spoke out against Abbas’
obstinate and radical refusal to take up Israel’s offer to resettle Syrian
refugees in the West Bank and Gaza.
The Palestinian leadership missed another opportunity to demonstrate that it
can behave in a constructive fashion and be of help to its people. Instead
of pragmatic politics, we once again see Palestinian adherence to radical
goals that prolongs Palestinian suffering and produces obstacles to peace.
Another recent display of this typical Palestinian preference for
intransigence was provided by the so-called “moderate” Abbas when he
addressed his countrymen on a Fatah movement anniversary on January 4, 2013.
Abbas avoided mentioning the land-for-peace formula or the establishment of
a Palestinian state beside Israel that could bring an end to the conflict
and the suffering of his people. He did not prepare his people for the need
to make concessions for the sake of peace. Instead, Abbas stressed the
perennial need to adhere to the path of armed struggle in order to realize
“the dream of return” of the Palestinian refugees and their descendants.
The only explanation for this behavior is that the Palestinian national
movement is very serious about the “right of return.” Despite attempts of
pundits who suggest that goodwill and Israeli territorial concessions can
bring about a Palestinian flexibility on this issue, there is no evidence
that the PA is ready to put aside its long-term goal of “return.”
Dismissing Palestinian behavior and rhetoric, or belittling its importance
with regard to the refugees, amounts to ostrich-type behavior of sticking
one’s head in the sand. The international community, either due to naïveté
or wishful thinking, has never recognized that so long as Palestinians
insist that refugees have a right to settle in Israel, they are not prepared
for meaningful negotiations nor will Israelis believe that they are. People
do not easily give up their dreams, and over the past twenty years since the
Oslo accords were signed, the PA has not moderated its demands one bit.
The insistence on a “right of return” complements Abbas’ refusal to
acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state and his denial of any links of the
Jews to their ancestral homeland. Moreover, Abbas is conducting a campaign
at home and abroad to demonize Israel and to portray Israelis as
colonialists and war criminals. These acts do not indicate moderation or a
quest for coexistence with Israel.
Abbas is also taking measures to encourage armed struggle against Israel,
even if these measures undermine the state-building efforts of the PA. He
supported several December 2012 parades of armed members of the al-Aqsa
Martyrs’ Brigades, the militia of Fatah, in honor of the anniversary of the
founding of the Fatah movement. Tolerant attitudes toward Palestinian
militias run counter to the main litmus test of a state, which is the
monopoly over the use of force. Turning a blind eye to the reemergence of
armed groups in Palestinian society erodes the main achievement of the PA in
recent years – the restoration of law and order, following the formal
dismantlement of militias.
The Palestinian armed groups may be tempted to engage in violent clashes
with Israel, which will turn out to be disastrous for Palestinian
self-determination and peaceful coexistence. While declaring his preference
for non-violence, Israeli leaders suspect that Abbas is hoping that a third
Intifada will bring better results than the second.
Abbas promised negotiations and moderation after the winning by “Palestine”
of an upgraded status at the UN as an “observer state.” However, since that
November 2012 vote, Abbas has only ramped up his inflammatory rhetoric and
irresponsible policies. The Palestinians continue to be in urgent need of
better political leadership to extricate themselves from pathological
patterns of self-destructive behavior.
Prof. Efraim Inbar is a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan
University, director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, and a
fellow at the Middle East Forum.
BESA Center Perspectives Papers are published through the generosity of the
Greg Rosshandler Family