Late on the night of September 13, 1993 — the day the Oslo Accords were signed on the South Lawn at the White House — I was making my way to the door of a hotel suite where a dozen American Jews were talking with Yasser Arafat, when a young man in Arafat’s security entourage blocked my way. “Thank you so much for coming,” he said. “It’s important that we meet like this.” And he extended his arm so that we could shake hands.
I looked at him quizzically and asked, “Who are you?” His reply: “My father was killed in Tunis in 1988.” I understood immediately: This was the son of Abu Jihad, Arafat’s closest associate and the co-founder, with Arafat, of Fatah. Abu Jihad was its military commander, mastermind of the infamous Coastal Road massacre, the 1978 attack on a bus near Tel Aviv that killed 38 Israelis and wounded another 70 — as well as the mastermind of numerous other terror attacks on Israeli targets in the 1970s and ’80s.
It was commonly thought that he had been killed by an Israeli special forces team. So I said to his son, “Then I know who you are.” He nodded gravely.
On November 1, the Israeli authorities, surprisingly, lifted their ban on the publication of the details of Abu Jihad’s assassination. And, as we learned from a 2000 interview with the hitherto unacknowledged man who pulled the trigger, the assassination involved plenty of derring-do.
Abu Jihad’s death, just five years before the Oslo Accords, was witnessed by his wife and by his son, Jihad al-Wazir — the son with whom I’d had the brief and hopeful exchange in the Arafat suite. Abu Jihad’s son, now head of the Palestinian central bank, announced that the family would have no comment on the grisly details. Who can say with confidence that Israel has no partner for peace?
And then, of course, there’s President Mahmoud Abbas. In an interview on Israel’s Channel 2 on November 5, Abbas declared his dedication to the principle of two states within the 1967 borders, and although he didn’t relinquish the principle of the right of return, he did say that he was willing to make do with visiting Safed, the city of his birth, as a tourist. For this he has been vilified by Hamas and others.
Who can say that Israel has no partner for peace?
That, sadly, is not a rhetorical question. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greeted Abbas’s interview with these words: “I can say that if Abu Mazen [Abbas’s alternate name] is really serious and intends to advance peace, as far as I am concerned, we can sit together immediately. Jerusalem and Ramallah are only seven minutes apart; I am ready to start negotiations today. I will take this opportunity to again call on President Abbas to return to the negotiating table without preconditions….”
No preconditions. This from a man who has declared repeatedly that Jerusalem, all of it, will eternally remain the undivided capital of Israel, a man who encourages its steady Judaization; the same man who has declared that Ariel will always be part of Israel, a man who comes to the table with a host of his own preconditions.
But didn’t this same man announce at Bar-Ilan University just three years ago that he favors a two-state solution to the conflict? He did. And then he proceeded to act — and still does — as if he’d never uttered those words, as if Israel will be content over the long term to sit and slowly whittle away the geographic conditions upon which a viable Palestinian state depends.
Who can honestly say that the Palestinians have a partner for peace?
Meretz was the only left-wing Zionist party to welcome Abbas’s comments, as did President Shimon Peres. They know, it seems, that Netanyahu’s calls for renewal of negotiations are meaningless, intended to preserve the fig leaf of Israel’s reasonableness rather than to articulate a serious policy. On November 6 Haaretz published an open letter from Israeli novelist David Grossman urging Netanyahu to move beyond vague assurances and begin talks with Abbas now.
The world is awash with problems and crises: the economy, climate change, Afghanistan, Pakistan and bloodletting in Syria, and the list goes depressingly on. It is doubtful that the United States will have the stomach for yet another try at brokering an Israel/Palestine peace, in light of the rest of its urgent agenda, the ongoing upheavals in the Arab world and of Netanyahu’s intransigence.
So the partners. And the parties themselves? Don’t hold your breath; see, instead, to your breaking heart.
Contact Leonard Fein at firstname.lastname@example.org