At a question-and-answer session with journalists attending last week’s Jewish Media Conference in Yerushalayim, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said two surprising things.
One, in his capacity as acting foreign minister he meets with hundreds of foreign leaders a year, dispelling the notion that Israel is diplomatically isolated. Two, he implores each and every one of these leaders to use their influence with the Palestinians to get PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas to the peace table. “If he says yes, I’ll cancel my schedule for the week and we’ll get down to serious talks, without preconditions,” he promises.
But not one of these leaders has succeeded in convincing Abbas to give direct talks a chance. Neither, for that matter, has the United States. That’s because he knows that negotiations are about give and take and he’s not interested in giving, only taking.
At the recent Fatah conference in Ramallah that unanimously reelected him party leader, Abbas spoke of his plans for how to end the conflict and bring about an end to what he calls the occupation. It can be summed up in one phrase: apply international pressure.
He was clear that he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. After all, to do so would mean that he truly accepts a two-state solution, one for the Palestinians, in Yehudah and Shomron (two when you consider Gaza), and one for the Jews, on the other side of the Green Line. But the idea of a Jewish state is anathema to him and every other Palestinian leader. He’ll take Yehudah and Shomron as a down payment, thank you, and the rest in installments.
When Abbas spoke to the Fatah conference, he didn’t say a word about the need to compromise. He also didn’t speak about the need to recognize and honor the connection of the Jews to the Holy Land and the futility of making up lies about Har HaBayis, even if they gain the backing of UNESCO. Instead, he expressed his support for “national resistance” — which at the very least means stabbings, rock- and Molotov cocktail- throwings and hit-and-run vehicular attacks.
And instead of pointing to any real achievements in nation-building in his 11-year reign — the economy wouldn’t survive a day without outside contributions — he spoke of his success at getting recognition for the Palestinians in a host of international forums, including observer status at the United Nations and membership in the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
The failure of Abbas to stay home and do the hard work — create jobs, build schools and hospitals, bolster law and order, fight incitement against Jews — has led to pessimism at home and abroad regarding the prospects of the Palestinians being able to build a viable state of their own. And his failure to honestly negotiate with Netanyahu, or any of his exceedingly generous predecessors (Ehud Olmert offered more than 95 percent of what the Palestinians asked for), led to the current diplomatic stalemate and hopelessness.
No one knows all this better than outgoing President Barack Obama, who invested enormous time, effort and prestige in trying to push the process forward. He may be frustrated with Netanyahu, with whom he has had a famously dysfunctional relationship, but he has to be equally frustrated with Abbas for failing to take responsibility for making peace.
Had Abbas stuck around and negotiated in good faith, pushing Netanyahu into a corner, he would have given the administration and Europe the excuse they needed to really pressure Israel. But he didn’t do his part, so they couldn’t do what they viewed as theirs.
Abbas has to learn that the international community will not do his work for him. It will not impose a solution on Israel because any such solution is doomed to failure. Only negotiations, give and take between the parties, can result in an agreement that has a chance to succeed.
That is the message we hope the president and his team will deliver to Abbas’ representatives who are now in Washington. Abbas’ lobbyists are meeting with senior administration officials to try and persuade them not to use America’s veto to block an anti-settlement resolution they intend to bring to the U.N. Security Council before President-elect Donald Trump takes office on January 20.
Such a resolution, if allowed to pass, would give a boost to the anti-Semitic BDS movement and convince Abbas that he can continue getting away with pressure tactics instead of negotiations.
The president, in his final days in office, has the opportunity to speak straight to Abbas about peace. To tell him that it’s time to recognize the historic rights of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel and negotiate in good faith with the Israeli government. To tell him that he will not get everything he wants in negotiations, but he’ll get nothing via manipulation and attempts to use the international community to impose a solution.
The biggest contribution to peace that Obama can make at this stage is to convince Abbas that the road to a Palestinian state runs through Yerushalayim and the government of Israel, not through the United Nations or any other foreign body.