Palestinian Authority (PA) leader Mahmoud Abbas is the “greatest obstacle” to regional order, according to a statement by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman last week.
“If there is one obstacle that should be removed immediately, it is [Abbas],” he said, adding: “If he were to return the keys and resign, it would not be a threat, but a blessing.”
Anyone who succeeds Abbas, according to Lieberman, “would be better for Israel. If Abu Mazen [Abbas] goes, there would be a chance to reignite the peace process.”
Abbas, for his part, never missed an opportunity to assure the Israelis of his full compliance with their terms for keeping matters fully under their control. While his pretext for doing that was always that he wanted to reach a peaceful settlement, the Israelis were using such excessive concessions as a means to reduce the ceiling of Palestinian national rights and aspirations.
In recent days, Abbas outbid himself again when he blamed Palestinians for not accepting the 1947 UN Partition Plan which would have handed more than half of Palestine to the one third of the population who were Jewish at that time, and who had arrived only recently as immigrants and settlers.
But neither what Abbas has been regularly offering nor what had been granted by his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, was adequate for Israel’s purposes; therefore, Lieberman’s harsh admonition of Abbas should be no surprise. The problem with Abbas, from Israel’s point of view, is that he ran out of things to offer.
Former Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon also harshly condemned Arafat in early 2002 when he ran out of offers. Sharon then sent his tanks to Ramallah to demolish Palestinian institutions including Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters. Only the small section of the building where Arafat and his advisers were confined was spared destruction before the tanks were withdrawn to establish a cordon around the entire city. Arafat remained a prisoner under siege in his office until his mysterious death.
Both Palestinian Authority leaders, Arafat and Abbas, as well as many other PLO and Fateh personalities, took turns granting countless concessions to Israel but none was ever reciprocated and, of course, none was ever enough. Israel got all concessions absolutely free of charge.
In reviewing what the PLO and the PA leaders have so far agreed to offer Israel, one finds an astounding record. In September 1993, following the Oslo accords, PLO chairman Arafat’s letter to then Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin included wholesale concessions without any reference to Palestinian rights or to ending Israeli occupation. Arafat wrote: “The PLO recognises the right of the state of Israel to exist in peace and security. The PLO accepts United Nations Security Council resolutions 242 and 338. The PLO commits itself to the Middle East peace process, and to a peaceful resolution of the conflict between the two sides, and declares that all outstanding issues relating to permanent status will be resolved through negotiations. The PLO considers that the signing of the Declaration of Principles constitutes a historic event, inaugurating a new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability. Accordingly, the PLO renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assure their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators.
“In view of the promise of a new era and the signing of the Declaration of Principles, and based on Palestinian acceptance of Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny Israel’s right to exist, and the provisions of the covenant which are inconsistent with the commitments of this letter are now inoperative and no longer valid.
Consequently, the PLO undertakes to submit to the Palestinian National Council for formal approval the necessary changes in regard to the Palestinian Covenant.”
Neither did Rabin’s short reply make any mention of the inalienable, historic, legal and binding Palestinian political and national rights. All Rabin promised was the recognition of the PLO, but only as “the representative of the Palestinian people”, not even as an independent political entity. Rabin’s four-line reply was no match to the generous commitments made by Arafat.
All of this was almost two decades ago and reading these words now, the PLO letter looks more like a surrender document than a prelude to Palestinian liberation. It certainly set the course for everything that has happened since: all the commitments and obligations were demanded of the occupied Palestinians, while Israel committed to nothing and was free to do as it pleased.
Indeed, the occupation has been digging deeper with more expansionist colonies and more “irreversible” facts on the ground.
Abbas, who is now the object of Lieberman’s rage, has travelled along the road of accommodating Israeli dictates beyond any limit. Not only did he improve the negotiating terms established by Oslo for Israel by accepting the ludicrous formula of “land swap”, so that Israel would be able to annex the settlements built illegally in the West Bank and Jerusalem, therefore reducing even further the land of the Palestinian “state”, he also remained engaged in open-ended futile negotiations which bought Israel the time needed for additional construction.
The Palestine papers, disclosed in January by Al Jazeera, reveal shocking deals relating to the right of return, settlements and other essential matters.
Meanwhile, Abbas went out of his way to condemn and work against any form of Palestinian resistance. Despite Israel’s insistence on continued settlement construction and its brutal siege of Gaza, Abbas maintains full “security cooperation” with Israel, the primary purpose of which is to curb any Palestinian moves against their Israeli occupiers. His assurances to the Israelis that resistance or resorting to violence, no matter what, would never be permitted, have been a firm and standard commitment.
So after all this, what would make Lieberman happy? Obviously for Israel, those who tread the road of concessions and continuous retreat should never stop. Arafat was punished, despite all that he accepted, because he did not go even further.
At this point, there’s no hope of Abbas ever changing course. The question for all the others in the “international community” who claim to support the “peace process” is this: If Israel cannot make a deal with Abbas and casts him as an enemy, isn’t it time to stop pretending Israel is interested in peace with anyone? If so, is it not time to stop pretending that “both sides” are at fault and take firm, effective, long-overdue action to isolate Israel, to rein in its outlaw behaviour and force it to comply with international law?
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in the Jordan Times on Nov. 2, 2011.