Why Abbas Was Right to Blink

Palestinian Leader Looking at Years of Talks With No End

Provocateur? What were Mahmoud Abbas’s motivations for stepping away from the process?
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Provocateur? What were Mahmoud Abbas’s motivations for stepping away from the process?

By Jay Michaelson

Published April 08, 2014.
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The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Right?

That’s the joke anyway — has been for the last fifty years. And it’s what I thought when I first heard that the Abbas government picked now, of all moments, to apply for membership in fifteen UN organizations.

Couldn’t they have waited a month, I thought, until after the current round of peace talks expired? Then they could blame the Israelis for the collapse and garner international sympathy. The pretext they offered – Israel’s non-release of prisoners — hardly seems to justify such an obviously provocative response.

But then I had the good fortune to talk with a number of keen observers of the conflict (my colleague J.J. Goldberg among them) and came to see things differently. Ironically, I came to agree with the Netanyahu government that Abbas wanted to tank the talks. But I also came to think it is the sanest possible choice.

At this point, can anyone still maintain the illusion that the current Israeli government is interested in a negotiated, two-state solution? The Netanyahu government, like many of its American supporters, says this is what it wants. But it’s a TSINO — Two State In Name Only. When it comes to any of the actual issues needed to bring a viable two state solution about — talking about Jerusalem, restraining settlement growth, building confidence on the ground — it demurs.

And, of course, the current cabinet includes several ministers who have gone on record as opposing a Palestinian state. The only scenario for peace is that Netanyahu goes rogue, inks a deal, and then passes it with support from the Left. Has Benjamin Netanyahu ever, throughout his entire career, acted in this way? Is this scenario at all credible?

As AIPAC and others in the pro-Israel Right continually remind us, Israel’s government was democratically elected. And it was not elected to bring peace with the Palestinians. That wasn’t even a central part of its platform; Iran and other threats loomed far larger, and Netanyahu was elected as the stronger, tougher leader on those issues. Over and over again, he’s said that these other issues are more important.

So now, if you’re Abbas, what are your options?


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