Put Abbas to the Test

Editorial

getty images

Published March 04, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The tendentious exchange between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu these last few days underscores how differently each man views the third party in the on-again, off-again Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

That would be Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

So diametrically opposed are Obama and Netanyahu in their public assessment of the Palestinian leader that there may be only one way to find out who is right. And that is to test whether or not he’s bluffing.

Obama had oodles of praise for Abbas in an interview with Bloomberg Views released just as Netanyahu was arriving in the United States — an interview with an important message and terrible timing.

“I believe that President Abbas is sincere about his willingness to recognize Israel and its right to exist, to recognize Israel’s legitimate security needs, to shun violence, to resolve these issues in a diplomatic fashion that meets the concerns of the people of Israel,” Obama told the columnist Jeffrey Goldberg. “And I think that this is a rare quality not just within the Palestinian territories, but in the Middle East generally.”

And: “I think nobody would dispute that whatever disagreements you may have with him, [Abbas] has proven himself to be somebody who has been committed to nonviolence and diplomatic efforts to resolve this issue.”

Well, actually, Netanyahu would dispute that. And did. In his remarks) preceding the bilateral talks with Obama at the White House yesterday, the prime minister listed all the steps Israel has taken in the last 20 years to further the cause of peace.

“And when you look at what we got in return, it’s been scores of suicide bombings, thousands of rockets on our cities fired from the areas we vacated, and just incessant Palestinian incitement against Israel,” Netanyahu said.

“So Israel has been doing its part, and I regret to say that the Palestinians haven’t.”

If Obama went overboard in his praise of Abbas, Netanyahu overlooked the relative quiet that Israel is enjoying, thanks to the security barrier and unprecedented cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli security forces.

Incitement continues, but so does Jewish settlement building on Palestinian land — at a quickening pace. The rockets Netanyahu referred to came from Hamas-ruled Gaza, and if there’s an opportunity to help Hamas’s stock fall even farther, it’s in making a deal with the Abbas government.

In the end, that may be the only way to prove whether Abbas is a partner for peace, or the primary stumbling block in negotiations. Goldberg challenged Obama on just this point, noting that along with Abbas’s fine attributes, “he is also the leader of a weak, corrupt and divided Palestinian entity that is already structurally semi-powerless.” Is this the guy to deliver an agreement and persuade Palestinians to accept Israel, as a permanent neighbor?

“Look, I think it has to be tested,” Obama answered. “The question is: What is lost by testing it?”

And that is the question. What is lost by testing whether this Palestinian leader, unlike his predecessors, will be the one to finally be able to master history instead of being smothered by it? To make the compromises necessary to ensure a state for his people and the security Israelis need and deserve?

It may be too much to ask of Netanyahu, a leader with plenty of political capital and absolutely no enunciated vision of how to bring about the two-state solution he professes to want. It may be wishful thinking to imagine him swallowing his pride, agreeing with Obama, calling Abbas’s bluff — and negotiating as if he really meant it.

“We do not know what a successor to Abbas will look like,” Obama warned.

Does Israel really want to find out?


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found. http://forward.com/articles/202181/my-hunt-for-the-cossacks-in-ukraine/?
  • French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next could be a historic turning point.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.