Just how serious is Abbas about peace?

Just how serious is Abbas about peace?
Abraham Cooper and Harold Brackman

Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010

Here we go again. This week the Middle East peace process visits Egypt’s Sharm el-Sheikh and Jerusalem, and next week President Barack Obama will meet at the United Nations with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. You can almost hear the predictable sound bites about this being “the last hope for peace” and that “painful concessions” will have to be made by both sides.

First out of the gate are the Palestinians, warning that any plans by Israel to renew West Bank and East Jerusalem construction would spell the end of the direct peace talks that Abbas agreed to only reluctantly and after herculean efforts by the Obama administration.

That demand is a nonstarter for Netanyahu’s center-right coalition government. Nobody really believes that the real obstacle to peace between Arab and Jewish neighbors are Israeli kindergartens and bathroom add-ons beyond the Green Line. The betting is that Netanyahu will let the freeze lapse, but limit the scope of new construction to “natural growth” of existing communities.

Although it’s no surprise that, as Obama urged Netanyahu to extend the construction moratorium, he also told Abbas he should be flexible and give Netanyahu political wiggle room. Abbas knows “the window for creating a Palestinian state is closing,” the U.S. president said.

Yet Abbas has a funny way of courting Israelis. Just a few days ago, the Jerusalem Post referenced an interview that Abbas gave to the East Jerusalem newspaper Al-Quds. Abbas repeatedly said he will not compromise on settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, or a return by Israel to its 1967 borders.

Although these statements may be dismissed as posturing, the other key point Abbas made was a dagger aimed at every Israeli — left, center or right — ­who wants to believe in the possibility of coexistence. When asked about Netanyahu’s demand that the PA recognize Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas replied, “Israel can call itself whatever it wants. We don’t have to recognize those definitions.”

Some might say that Abbas needs to mouth such words because he’s looking over his shoulder at an Iranian-backed Hamas — whose charter calls for the destruction of Israel, period. To ensure they are not forgotten by the White House, et al., Hamas’ terror coalition celebrated the resumption of talks by murdering, execution-style, a pregnant Israeli woman, her husband and two other innocents. Then Hamas fired 10 rockets from Gaza targeting civilians in southern Israel over the past six days.

Abbas’ weakness versus Hamas is a given, but there is nothing but cowardice and cynicism preventing his Palestinian Authority from preaching and teaching its people tolerance of Jews, recognition of their neighbor’s long history in the Holy Land and its right to live in peace in a Jewish state.

Instead, even as the Hamas rocket assault gathers momentum, addressing his own people in Arabic, Abbas has nothing to say for the peace process except to repeat Yasser Arafat’s notorious mantra that it’s one step along the road to removing the Jewish state. In sermons, broadcasts (including cartoons designed to brainwash toddlers), and school lessons, the message is repeated ad nauseam that Israelis are interlopers with no historic ties to the Holy Land while Jews everywhere are “apes and pigs” destined for annihilation.

Another incitement was the funeral attended by Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of Amin Al-Hindi, a senior planner of the Black September kidnapping and murder of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, as “one of the stars who sparkled ... at the sports stadium in Munich.” Not too long ago, a public square on the West Bank was named for Dalal Mughrabi, who murdered 38 Israelis, including 13 children, and an American photographer in 1978.

While the inevitable chorus from the Muslim and Arab worlds, America and the European Union pressures Israel to freeze settlements, who is going to pressure Palestinian leaders to freeze the hate?

The Jewish state has been making unilateral concessions to the Palestinians since 1993’s Oslo peace accords. Israelis hate suckers. This time around, there are near-zero expectations for peace because they’re sick and tired of being played for suckers by a “peace partner” unwilling or unable to bring anything to the table but more demands.

Every U.S. president since Harry Truman has tried to bring peace to the Middle East — and failed. If President Obama wants to be a game changer, he should follow up his historic Cairo speech with one in Jerusalem and publicly acknowledge the Jewish people’s 3,500-year narrative in the Holy Land.

Obama needs to treat Abbas as an adult, not a misunderstood adolescent, and hold him accountable for the unbroken trail of incitement. And most important, our president should reassure all Middle East leaders, from Abu Dhabi to Jerusalem, that Washington will never allow Tehran to go nuclear.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Harold Brackman, a historian, is a consultant to the center.