Mahmoud Abbas and the Future of Middle East Peace
On January 14, 2018, PLO President Mahmoud Abbas gave a two-and-a-half hour speech in Ramallah, Israel. In his speech, he rewrote the history of the Jewish people and denied their historic claim to the land of Israel. His purpose, of course, was to emphasize that the Jews have no historical claim to land and, in particular, no claim to Jerusalem, and that instead, the entire land belongs to the ‘Palestinians’.
In the course of his speech, he also repeated a host of lies and blood libels that have been responsible for deadly violence against Jews for centuries. He even added some new ones of his own.
Among other things, he expounded on how the only reason there were Jews in Israel is because they were forced to go to there. He took this absurdity even further with the extraordinary statement that during the years of the Holocaust, European Jews chose to go to the Nazi death camps rather than escape to British-held Palestine. “The Jews did not want to emigrate even with murder and slaughter”, he said. To even suggest that anyone would choose to be packed into cattle cars for days without food or water on the way to the death camps is totally unbelievable and beyond obscene.
Abbas’ Fraudulent Claim to the Land of Israel
Abbas’ corrupted view of Jewish history notwithstanding, the Jewish people have lived in what is now the state of Israel for at least four thousand years. And in fact, there was never a time in all those centuries when Jews did not live in the land of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Abbas either intentionally ignores or denies the extraordinarily well-documented history of Jews in the land of Israel, despite thousands of artifacts and documents, dating back thousands of years, that testify to a continued Jewish presence in what is now Israel. He also alternately ignores or denies the Holocaust, and insists that Jesus was not a Jew who lived in the Judea, but rather, he claims, that Jesus was a Palestinian who preached Islam. This is ridiculous on its face, since Mohammed lived some seven hundred years after Jesus, and Islam did not develop until the seventh century AD.
The Palestinians, in fact, have no recorded history in the region. Their main claim to Jerusalem is the Muslim belief that Mohammed visited it once in a dream. In fact, a ‘Palestinian’ in the modern era was anyone, Muslim, Christian, or Jew, who lived in the British Mandate of ‘Palestine’. That distinction went away when the State of Israel was established in 1948 and ‘Palestine’ ceased to exist.
Mahmoud Abbas: Terrorist in a Suit
The most important truth to know about Mahmoud Abbas is that he has been involved in terrorism for all of his adult career, responsible for terrorist attacks against Israel and the murder of Israelis for decades. Most notable among the attacks for which he is accused were the Munich Olympics Massacre at the 1972 Olympic games in which 11 athletes on the Israeli wrestling team were murdered (Abbas is reported to have funded this ‘operation’), and the Ma’alot massacre in 1974, in which 22 Israeli high school students were murdered in cold blood (for which Abbas was credited with planning). Both terrorist attacks were horrible atrocities for which Abbas has never received sufficient credit. And they were only two among many.
Yet despite the terrorism that lies at the core of his personal history, Mahmoud Abbas has been the President of the Palestinian Authority (PA). In recent decades, the PA has become one of the world’s largest recipients of international foreign aid. It has received more than $25 billion, of which $5 billion has come from the United States.
But rather than using the funds to energize the economy and enrich the lives of his people, Abbas has used these funds to enrich himself and his cronies. He has, for example, built a $13 million palace for himself, one with two heliports, and purchased a $50 million private plane. And even more those funds are being spent every day to reward the terrorists who have murdered innocent Israelis and are now incarcerated in Israeli jails. Yet nearly 13% of his people remain in deep poverty, something he happily ignores.
Why Does This Matter?
Following President Trump’s announcement that the US would honor its commitment to acknowledge reality and recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Mahmoud Abbas cursed President Trump, saying “May your house be destroyed.” This was no idle insult, but a virulent Middle Eastern curse that wishes death and destruction upon him who is cursed and his entire extended family. In the same breath, Abbas also grossly insulted UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman. Yet President Trump continues to seek a pathway to peace in the region.
Years of trying to create peace between Israel and the Palestinians have ended in frustration and failure, largely because peace is not a part of Abbas’ true agenda. When Abbas lionizes the terrorists who kill Israelis in their homes, when he names streets and schools after murderers of Jews, when he encourages his people to use knives, cars, rocks, and guns to kill the Jews whom he calls the ‘enemy’, it is clear that more is needed than words of peace and conciliation. In fact, it is clear that one of the most serious obstacles to peace today is Abbas himself.
As a direct result of his intransigence, the U.S. has decided to withhold payment to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) because of its policies regarding the inheritance of refugee status from generation to generation, unlike any other group of refugees in the world.
On January 24, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley took it one step further. In order to punish Abbas and the PA for disrespecting President Trump and the U.S., she recommended canceling all further contributions to the PA until they are willing to negotiate in good faith with Israel.
In the Middle East, addressing the issues from a position of strength is the only way to deal effectively. And Donald Trump has struck the right tone. What President Trump stated so simply was obvious. He acknowledged what has been true for seventy years – that Jerusalem is the functioning capital of Israel.
Abbas said he would refuse all U.S. aid and insisted that there will be no peace until the U.S. decision on Jerusalem is reversed. That Abbas and a host of other Muslim leaders have taken offense at this was predictable. Students of the Middle East expected no less. When challenged, a Middle Eastern leader must show a strong resolve.
But long and painful history has taught that a strong diplomatic hand in the region gets far more results than a mealy-mouth application of diplomatic niceties. They simply don’t work in the Middle East because the culture perceives them, and the politicians who use them, as weak and pathetic. They are to be mocked and challenged, rather than respected. But a strong hand, even as it is rejected, must be taken seriously. And so it will be here.
Why Trump Should Move the Embassy Now
As long as the U.S. Embassy remains in Tel Aviv, the impasse will continue, and the fumes of Palestinian resentment and hatred will fester. The best thing the President can do for the future of peace in the region is to move the embassy to Jerusalem now, and create a fait accompli. This will accomplish three things: it will make clear to the Palestinians that this decision is final; and it will interrupt the hope that the decision can be reversed. It will also lay the groundwork for talks based on a new reality – that Israel is here to stay and that the Palestinians are not going to uproot them.
As Hamas and Hezbollah rattle their sabres on Israel’s southern and northern borders, there are other more hopeful signs. The UN is showing signs of retreating from its virulent anti-Israel postures, and other countries have expressed interest in moving their embassies to Jerusalem. Although Abbas continues to incite his people, he is 81 years old and will no doubt be replaced soon. The hatred that has been instilled in the Palestinian children as a matter of policy has taken its toll, but there may be a growing number of Palestinians who simply want to live their lives in peace.
This can be, though forged in fire, a beginning for a new status quo. And a hopeful future for a region that has had too little hope for generations.