3 Things Obama Must Do to Get Peace Talks Off Life Support
By Abraham Cooper & Dr. Harold Brackman
Published September 14, 2010
Egypt's Sharm el-Sheikh is the site of the latest round of U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, led by Secretary of State Clinton. The talks then move to Jerusalem and later in the month President Obama will meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu and P.A. President Abbas at the opening of the U.N. General Assembly in New York.
You can almost write the copy about this being “the last hope for peace” and that “painful concessions” will have to be made. First out of the gate are the Palestinians warning that any plans by Israeli 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.
This is of course a non-starter for Mr. 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.
While it’s no surprise that as President 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,” said the U.S. president.
Yet Mr. Abbas has a funny way of winning over Israelis. Just a few days ago, The Jerusalem Post referenced an interview that Abbas gave to the East Jerusalem newspaper Al-Quds. Abbas repeatedly told the interviewer that he will not compromise on settlements, refugees, Jerusalem, or a return by Israel to its 1967 borders.
While these moves can perhaps 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 others innocents. Then Hamas fired ten rockets from Gaza targeting civilians in Southern Israel over in last 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 of tolerance of Jews, recognition their neighbor’s long history in the Holy Land and its right to live in peace as 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 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 P.M. 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 world, 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 are sick and tired of being played for suckers by a “peace partner” either unwilling or unable to bring anything to the table but more demands.
Signals from the White House at this point are critical for the survival—much less success—of “the peace process.” Yet for some reason, President Obama chose this sensitive moment to announce a $60 billion dollars sale of weapons systems to Saudi Arabia.
To take the talks off life support, Obama must do three things. First, visit Israel and publicly acknowledge the Jewish people’s 3,000-year narrative in the Holy Land. Second, show the Palestinians that there are consequences for reneging on commitments. Third, the president should let friend and foe alike know that—no matter what—the Iranian regime that has given Hezbollah 60,000 rockets to threaten Israel will not be allowed to go nuclear.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Dr. Harold Brackman a historian is a consultant to the Simon Wiesenthal Center.