Don’t Make Excuses for Mahmoud Abbas’s Rantings

Jan. 18 2018

At a meeting of Palestinian officials on Sunday, Mahmoud Abbas gave a lengthy speech denying Jewish connections to the land of Israel, explaining Zionism and the Holocaust as part of a 400-year-old European colonial plot, and accusing Israel of poisoning Palestinians’ water. The obvious explanation for the oration, writes Eli Lake, is that Abbas was simply telling his audience what he believes. But some are not satisfied with such an explanation; they reason that “Abbas doesn’t really mean it,” and that the fault lies instead with President Donald Trump, whose actions have driven the Palestinian president to distraction and despair. Lake continues:

This is the interpretation of J Street, the Soros-family-funded advocacy group that touts itself as pro-peace and pro-Israel. A J Street statement . . . was careful to stipulate that [Abbas’s supposed] despair was “no excuse for calling into question either the Jewish connection to, or Palestinian recognition of, the state of Israel.” But let’s not lose the plot. This group asserts that Abbas would not have delivered his rant “if it were not for President Trump’s inept and disastrous missteps regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

J Street here is succumbing to a fallacy of international relations. Call it the prime-mover theory of geopolitics: there is always something America can or shouldn’t do that determines the behavior of its adversaries and allies. . . . But foreign affairs are never so simple as one cause having one effect. And this brings us back to Abbas. The eighty-two-year-old Palestinian leader certainly had reason to be disappointed with Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. He didn’t like Trump’s threats to cut off funding for the Palestinian Authority. But none of that quite explains a speech that wishes for the U.S. president’s house [or, more precisely, his family] to come to ruin, accuses Israel of exporting addictive drugs, and threatens to blacklist companies that do business in the West Bank and report their names to Interpol for bribery.

To explain this vitriol as purely a reaction to despair or hopelessness is to ignore recent history. Abbas was elevated to his position after George W. Bush asked the Palestinian people to elect leaders not tainted by terror. . . . Abbas [in fact] distinguished himself by delivering a brave speech calling for nonviolent resistance to occupation, when Arafat was praising the suicide bombers. The current Palestinian leader has been dining out on that speech now for fifteen years, while consistently rejecting peace offers and later [even] negotiations.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel & Zionism, J Street, Mahmoud Abbas

 

No, Israelis and Palestinians Can’t Simply Sit Down and Solve the “Israel-Palestinian Conflict”

Jan. 17 2019

By “zooming out” from the blinkered perspective with which most Westerners see the affairs of the Jewish state, argues Matti Friedman, one can begin to see things the way Israelis do:

Many [in Israel] believe that an agreement signed by a Western-backed Palestinian leader in the West Bank won’t end the conflict, because it will wind up creating not a state but a power vacuum destined to be filled by intra-Muslim chaos, or Iranian proxies, or some combination of both. That’s exactly what has happened . . . in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq. One of Israel’s nightmares is that the fragile monarchy in Jordan could follow its neighbors . . . into dissolution and into Iran’s orbit, which would mean that if Israel doesn’t hold the West Bank, an Iranian tank will be able to drive directly from Tehran to the outskirts of Tel Aviv. . . .

In the “Israeli-Palestinian” framing, with all other regional components obscured, an Israeli withdrawal in the West Bank seems like a good idea—“like a real-estate deal,” in President Trump’s formulation—if not a moral imperative. And if the regional context were peace, as it was in Northern Ireland, for example, a power vacuum could indeed be filled by calm.

But anyone using a wider lens sees that the actual context here is a complex, multifaceted war, or a set of linked wars, devastating this part of the world. The scope of this conflict is hard to grasp in fragmented news reports but easy to see if you pull out a map and look at Israel’s surroundings, from Libya through Syria and Iraq to Yemen.

The fault lines have little to do with Israel. They run between dictators and the people they’ve been oppressing for generations; between progressives and medievalists; between Sunnis and Shiites; between majority populations and minorities. If [Israel’s] small sub-war were somehow resolved, or even if Israel vanished tonight, the Middle East would remain the same volatile place it is now.

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More about: Hizballah, Iran, Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Middle East